KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

KISS' Current Tour 'Ranks' Among Its Best

(Commentary, August 2010)

The Weekender
August 16, 2010

By Alan K. Stout
Weekender Music Columnist

click to enlargeIf you were to look through the pages of my 1985 high school year book, you would come across a big photo of me and a friend hanging out in our journalism class. And of course, we're both wearing KISS shirts.

Looking back on those days, I think there may have been times when I wore a different KISS shirt to school five days a week. In fact, it was a tradition at our school that myself and a pretty large group of friends all wore our KISS shirts to school every Friday. I guess it was our own little version of the KISS Army, though most of the shirts we wore were from the non-make-up "Lick It Up" and "Animalize" era of the group. But our passion for that wonderful rock 'n roll band was undeniable.

For the past few days — and all of these years later — I've realized that nothing much has changed. Oh, we've all grown up quite a bit. There are jobs and families now and all of the responsibilities that come when you're no longer 17, but in the days leading up to KISS' show in Scranton last night, I know some of us felt as if we were 17 once again. And once we got there, we most certainly did.

KISS crushed the Toyota Pavilion on Sunday. It was my 30th time seeing them, and as a good friend with a beaming smile said to me as we headed back to our car after the show, "It ranks."

Indeed. It ranked right up there with some of the best KISS shows, ever. And though I watched the concert with the same enthusiasm as I did some 25 years ago, I'm clearly not a teen anymore. After spending the past 18 years working in part as a music journalist, I now have the ability to compare KISS to hundreds of other bands I've seen play live, and I can now watch them with a much more seasoned eye.

And you know what?

I'm still pretty much in awe.

Last night, I sang along to the music so loudly and proudly that my voice on this August morning sounds a bit like Demi Moore. I guess it would be sexy if I was a girl, but for me, it just kind of hurts. My wife's ears are still ringing, and as I pumped my fists throughout the show and totally enjoyed seeing one of my all-time favorite bands rock my hometown, I was again reminded as to why I fell in love with KISS in the first place.

The songs.

KISS' set at Montage was one of the finest the band has ever strung together. From the punch of "Deuce," to the grandness of "God Gave Rock and Roll To You II," to the new material from "Sonic Boom," the show sometimes felt like an audio assault of the senses. The group was extremely tight, musically, and while Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had told fans that such would be the case — particularly after the reunited original lineup of the band dissolved once again a few years back — it's clear that was not lip service. Guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer have helped energize KISS, and for that, even the most loyal fans of the original lineup should be grateful.

I not only watched KISS play great songs amid all of their usual explosions and stage-flying on Sunday night, but I also watched a bit more closely as to how they sang, and as for as harmonies are concerned, they may have never been better. KISS is a band that is a product of its generation, heavily influenced by British Invasion acts such as The Who and Led Zeppelin, and especially The Beatles, and though they come with a much harder sound, that influence on their vocal style remains evident. Simmons once said KISS first set out to be a "heavy metal Beatles," and when you listen to a song like "Firehouse," that's exactly what it is.

KISS, in fact, has always done this with its music. The band has always been able to find something it likes in a musical style or trend, and often quite brilliantly, make it its own. In the late '70s, when even The Rolling Stones were doing albums like "Some Girls" and disco was king, KISS gave us "Dynasty." In the early '80s, when guitar shredders like Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads were all the buzz, KISS gave us "Animalize." Later in the '80s, when hard-rock got a little more slick with bands like Bon Jovi, KISS gave us "Crazy Nights," and when hard-rock later got a little more "street" with Guns 'N Roses, KISS gave us "Hot In The Shade." And even with the arrival of grunge, we got "Carnival of Souls."

It is an impressive and an incredibly versatile catalog of music, yet it all remains distinctly KISS.

On Friday, WILK-AM and WILK-FM talk-radio here in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre had me come on the air and talk about KISS' music and the band's ongoing staying power. I guess when you've written so many stories about the group over the years, you get to be known as "the KISS guy" in the area, and that's fine with me. When I was asked to name some of my favorite KISS concerts out of the many that I'd seen, it was their two shows in 1988 at The Ritz in New York City that first came to mind. Why? Because it was just the them in a smaller club. No costumes. No make-up. No stage show. Just a great rock band tearing through some great songs.

Sunday night at Montage, however — show #30 for me — is now also on that short list of all-time favorites. Yeah, I love KISS for its songs the most, but it sure is fun to see those songs draped amid "The Hottest Show on Earth." And though I've been fortunate enough to have interviewed and even met KISS quite a few times, it was great to feel like I was 17 again for a few hours and be there just as a fan. My wife and I were in about the third row, and while it'd be nice to think it happened because Paul recognized me from our past meetings, or because he spotted the rose tattoo on my arm, I actually think it was her pretty face and all of her singing and dancing that caught his eye.

Regardless of the reason, the result was the same: two Paul Stanley guitar picks for us.

What a night.

Clearly, it ranks.

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