I’ve been fortunate enough to see over 20 shows in 2009, all of them special for their own reasons. I think it’s fitting that the last show of my 2009 Concert Year was KISS. I haven’t seen them in concert since July 2000 on what was then called ‘The Farewell Tour.’ Original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were gone by 2001, so I figured the days of me seeing KISS in concert were over [I skipped their tour stop in Va. Beach in 2004 because I really wasn’t interested].
Then something happened.
Seeing all of these great shows this year made me realize, no matter how great a concert is, be it Springsteen, Morrissey or even Sir Paul McCartney, there really is nothing like a KISShow. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have loved every show I have seen this year, and I have had many unforgettable moments. It all made me realize that, as much of a KISS purist as I thought I was, I wanted to see them onstage again, maybe for nostalgia’s sake, maybe just to say ‘Thank You’ and ‘Goodbye.’ So, after thinking about it for days, I bit the bullet and bought floor seats to see them at the always raucous Hampton Coliseum on Friday.
I hadn’t really gotten excited about seeing them yet. In fact when the alarm clock sounded Friday morning, as I woke up and started my day I actually said out loud, ‘Oh right. I’m seeing KISS tonight!’
I saw this show with my friend Eddie. He’s seen McCartney, Springsteen and U2 with me this year, so, knowing we’ve both seen some ‘mega-shows’ and knowing the current lineup that makes up KISS, I really did not know what to expect. I think I was actually nervous, hopeful I’d see a good show and it wouldn’t sour the memories I have of shows past, or be a poor impersonation of what’s come before. That’s what I was thinking about, and we hadn’t even found a place to park outside the venue yet!
SPOILER ALERT!! If you are planning to see KISS on this tour, STOP READING if you don’t want to know some specifics.
Okay. You’ve been warned.
We got inside and quickly found our seats on the floor. I had forgotten that the Hampton Coliseum, unlike it’s counterparts in Richmond and Norfolk, has access directly to the floor, so I didn’t have to navigate any stairs. That was a big plus.
The first thing I noticed was there were SO many little kids made up in face paint. I mean, I remember seeing kids at the Reunion and Farewell tour shows, but this time around, it seemed like KISS was a family ticket. When that happened in 1979 it was seen as being the tell-tale sign of KISS being uncool. Thirty years later though, I think it was very cool to see so many young faces, all of them much younger than almost every song they would hear. I saw that as affirmation that KISS is more than a band, bigger than Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and probably something that will still be going on long after Stanley and Simmons finally decide to put away their platform boots.
The show started, as almost all of them have since 1975, with the declaration that we ‘wanted the best’ and we ‘got the best.’ While that may not exactly be true, I was ready to believe. The opening riff of ‘Deuce’ roared, a blast of pyro erupted, and the madness began.
A lot has changed in the nine years since I last saw KISS, namely of course the absence of Ace and Peter. It’s funny. Back in 1982, they released one of their better albums, ‘Creatures of the Night’. The album tanked on the charts and critics dismissed KISS as passé in the wake of new wave and ‘NWOBHM’ [New Wave of British Heavy Metal]. Paul Stanley said fans and critics alike were ‘listening with their eyes’ and the makeup at that point seemed very dated, so it came off. As I watched Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer onstage, I realized that I could be guilty of the same thing. I miss Ace and Peter, but they aren’t coming back. This lineup is musically the most talented and ferocious, maybe ever. Tommy is no Ace Frehley, but he does a fine job of playing the riffs and tries very hard to bring his own style to some of the solos, though he plays them note for note like Ace did a long time ago. So, after once swearing them off as a live act when Peter was dismissed, I now was fully ready to accept Eric and Tommy and this new phase of KISSTORY.
Now, some show specifics:
Paul’s voice: Luckily this show came after two off days, so Paul’s voice was in fine form for most of the show. First moment of ‘Uh oh, he shouldn’t have tried that’ was the scream in the new song ‘Modern Day Delilah’, which he only attempted half-heartedly.
That whole ‘Alive 35’ thing: The premise of the tour at the outset was to play the classic album ‘KISS ALIVE!’ from start to finish. Well, from the first show on the tour that idea went out the window with certain songs from the album being omitted from the live set. Now this marked my 16th KISShow and, going in, I had two songs I wanted to hear live for the first time [not counting unplugged versions played on the 1994 KISSKON tour]. Those songs were ‘Got To Choose’ and ‘C’mon and Love Me’, both featured on ‘KISS ALIVE!’ so I figured I had a good shot at hearing them. ‘Got To Choose’ is song three on side one of the ALIVE! record so, after ‘Deuce’ and ‘Strutter’ and some stage banter, I was all geared up to hear that song. Well, they ‘skipped’ ahead to side FOUR of the album, thereby throwing this whole ‘ALIVE’ recreated premise out the window. They did play both songs, but I had to laugh at not getting what I expected. It wouldn’t be the last time that evening.
Gene: Greasepaint really is an amazing thing. When Simmons is onstage wielding his Axe Bass, spitting fire and blood, even taking flight to the rafters, he truly is ‘The Demon’ and you forget this is the same guy who is at times a bumbling idiot on a reality television show. I didn’t think I would be able to take him seriously again onstage. I’m very glad I was wrong.
Eric Singer: For me, Eric was the star of the show. His drumming just brings an amazing power and attitude to the band’s live set. He is one of the best drummers around and proves it every time he gets behind the kit. He may be wearing Peter’s makeup, but I don’t think he’s in Peter’s shadow anymore.
Tommy Thayer: He is a very talented guitarist. There was only one moment where I felt uncomfortable and that was during his feature solo spot, complete with the Ace trademark rocket-launcher prop. I just thought to myself, ‘Couldn’t he get his own trick?’ but I know that fans expect certain things from a KISShow, so, I know why he does the effect, I just wish he didn’t. Otherwise, he nailed all the solos on all the songs. I miss Ace, but I don’t miss Ace’s sometimes sloppy playing. The only reference I can make for non-KISS fans as a comparison is one involving the television show ‘Friends’. There’s an episode where Ross is making a list of ‘Pros and Cons’ of two women, Rachel and Emily. The only ‘Con’ in Emily’s column is ‘She’s not Rachel.’ That’s how I feel about Tommy. He’s great at what he does and he is the guitarist in KISS now. It’s just, he’s not Ace.
The set: It leaned very heavy on stuff from 1974-75 so I got to hear some great songs not played in a long time like ‘She’ and ‘Parasite’. This however marked the first KISShow I can remember where ‘Calling Dr. Love’ wasn’t played [They would play it the next night in South Carolina in place of ‘C’mon and Love Me’ so, I think I won!]. Also, no ‘God of Thunder’ was a surprise, though not missed honestly. The biggest surprise of the night though came during the encores when ‘Lick It Up’ morphed into The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, complete with a Keith Moon-esque solo from Singer. It marked the first time in ages that a KISShow threw me a curveball like that. I stood there, mouthing ‘Oh my God!!” as I began to recognize the Townshend riff. I hope that moment stays in the set for the remainder of the tour.
All in all, I was blown away at how great the show was. I knew it wasn’t going to be as euphoric as The Reunion Tour or as life-altering as one night on the Farewell Tour was for me but KISS still use more pyro and confetti than any other band out there and they still deliver what the fans want: Two hours of fist raising, sing along arena rock and roll. Given the current economic climate, there’s nothing wrong with that.
This lineup of KISS could go on for a long time. I’ll be there when they come back around.
That’s a promise.
Thanks to Eddie for attending this show with me, it’s one I will always remember. And to Anthony and Leigh Anne from Ohio: It was a pleasure meeting you and seeing what turned out to be a great show with you.
3. Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll
4. Hotter Than Hell
5. Got To Choose
6. Modern Day Delilah
7. C’mon and Love Me
8. She [with Tommy Solo]
10. 100,000 Years [with Eric Drum Solo]
11. I Love It Loud [Gene Bass Solo]
12. Black Diamond
13. Rock And Roll All Nite
14. Shout It Out Loud
15. Lick It Up
16. Cold Gin
17. Love Gun
18. Detroit Rock City