KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout


KISS: Big, Loud, Proud And Fantastic

(Concert Review, August 1996)

The Times Leader
August 2, 1996

By Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

click to enlarge

KISS' Gene Simmons told me last month that the band's highly anticipated, long-hoped-for, summer reunion tour would "blow your face off."

Gene Simmons did not lie.

KISS' super-hyped, super-charged, show-of-all-shows tour featuring original members Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss bolted into New York's Madison Square Garden last weekend for four sold-out shows, taking over 60,000 pumped-up fans on a highly enjoyable ride into the band's marvelous grease-painted past.

With more fire, more smoke and more pyrotechnics than ever, KISS' latest smash-mouth audio assault and visual spectacle is like none this writer has ever seen. (Yes, I've been a fan since '76). And although the mere sight of the four men on stage together was probably enough to satisfy many in attendance, when the group stormed into the power-packed opening number, "Deuce," it was pure pandemonium.

Big, loud, and shamelessly proud, KISS went for the kill, delivering such classics as the soaring "King of The Night Time World" and the grinding "Cold Gin" with a vengeance. Simmons scowled, Stanley pranced and Frehley consistently nailed each lick, with enormous video screens above and around the stage providing crystal clear, beautifully shot close-ups of the action.

A sense of macho unification on stage only enhanced the atmosphere, with Simmons and Frehley strutting across the stage, slapping high-fives as they passed one another. Stanley, as always, served as the ringmaster, setting up songs with short stories and easily imploring the crowd's participation.

Frehley sang his classic "Shock Me," and followed it with a long fiery solo that saw his guitar blow smoke, shoot rockets and eventually fly off over the stage. Not through yet, the "Space Ace" strapped on another Les Paul and continued to burn through familiar riffs and slices of Beethoven.

Simmons spewed fire from his mouth at the conclusion of "Firehouse," slamming down the blazing torch with an authoritative anger that seemed to encompass his big, nasty, get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-or-I'll-kill-you approach to performing.

The grungy nugget "Watching You" satisfied the die-hard fans' appetite for the more obscure, and Stanley dedicated the classic "Strutter" - the first song on KISS' first album - to all the women in the audience. Simmons' delightfully nasty "Calling Dr. Love" displayed KISS' eternal knack for a cool riff, and Stanley's pounding "Rock Bottom" showed that the voice of the now 44-year-old Star Child is showing no signs of wear.

For the dozen years from 1983 to 1995 that KISS performed without costume and make-up, Simmons maintained a charismatic stage presence. Now, however, the beast is back. Once again in the guise of the bat-lizard, Simmons spat blood, rumbled through a particularly evil-sounding bass solo, then shot up to a podium at the top of the arena, bellowing at the crowd below before barking out the dark, churning rocker, "God of Thunder."

Perfect.

KISS alternated performances of "I Stole Your Love" and "Let Me Go Rock and Roll" on various nights at The Garden, and Frehley's "New York Groove" seemed more appropriate than ever at these obviously very special homecoming shows. The fist-pumping crowd went absolutely berserk during the performance of "Shout It Out Loud," and fireworks galore were set off to the drum beat of the classic "Love Gun."

The show's greatest visual spectacle occurred during the set's closing number, "Black Diamond." Simmons, Stanley and Frehley - amid a fury of fireworks - rose high and far out over the crowd on hydraulic platforms. With the guitars pounding out the song's closing notes, Criss' massive drum set also rose high over the stage.

Magic?

You bet.

The group returned for encores, first burning through "Detroit Rock City," then leaving Criss alone on stage for a beautiful, albeit shortened version of "Beth." The show ended with an extended rendition of the perennial classic "Rock and Roll All Night," with the entire crowd on its feet gleefully singing along. With bombs blasting and confetti falling, Stanley - to the beat of the song's final notes - smashed his guitar to pieces.

For 20- and 30-somethings, the reunion tour of the original line-up of KISS is pure fantasy. With the passing years making the group's '70s shows almost mythical in nature, the pressure was on the band to not only live up to, but surpass, it own legend. Playing better than ever and looking lean and mean, KISS, as always, delivered the goods.

For Frehley, the tour is a triumph. Consistently gracing the cover of guitar magazines and often named as a major influence on young guitarists, Frehley is considered one of the kings of big guitar arena rock. The love the fans have for him is obvious, as the crowd roared each time he was singled out on the huge video screens. Criss remains the lovable Catman with the raspy voice and the solid chops, and Stanley and Simmons - forever the heart and soul of KISS - never left the arenas in the first place.

I may have seen KISS play with more passion - even in the '80s, when they were touring with new material and needn't worry about six-inch heels and choreographed moves - but they've never been bigger or more beloved.

Blow your face off? You can count on it. You wanted the best, you got the best. And somewhere on the back wall of Madison Square Garden, someone, hopefully, is trying to remove my happy mug.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: We had some fun with this one. In the mugshot that always accompanied my column, the page designer removed my face. The implication, of course, was that KISS had indeed blown it right off.