First some background info: Last week [July 21 and 27] KISS brought their ‘Hottest Show On Earth’ tour to Virginia for shows in Bristow [just outside of DC] and Virginia Beach. I was very lucky and surprised to attend both shows when, for a while, it looked like I was not going to be able to attend either. It wasn’t long ago I gave up on KISS as a touring entity, due to a series of events. If you’d like to read about that first click here. It’s not required reading by any means, it just fleshes out my love/hate/mostly love relationship with this band.
Dates were announced in June and immediately, my friend Eddie [whom, if you’ve read this blog, you know has attended many shows with me in recent years] and I were making plans to attend at least one of the shows and, we had a second idea: Let’s bring along Eddie’s seven year old son Dylan! Dylan really likes KISS, at least he said he did. And he said on numerous occasions when he saw me wearing a KISShirt how cool he thought it would be to see a KISShow. Well, original plans to attend with Eddie and Dylan fell through, so, I found myself wanting to see at least one show with no ride to get to a venue.
That’s when I did something I really didn’t want to do. I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a ride to a KISShow from a Facebook friend [so it would at least be someone I knew] and I was willing to pay for the ticket since said friend would be providing transportation. I posted that during lunch while at work and, by the time my lunch hour was up, I had someone express interest. I must take a moment to thank Julian. Someone I’ve known for probably more than ten years, though I never knew he was a KISS fan. He wanted to see the band because, he said ‘this could be it.’ I had the exact same gut feeling, that this tour would be the last to feature both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons in the lineup. I think one of them is going to decide to stop touring after this go round, with no big announcement or any hoopla, just quietly deciding to stop while they can.
Feeling like that, I began to really hope that something would happen that would allow Dylan to attend one of the shows because he’s a huge fan of Gene Simmons and, if this was Gene’s last tour and Dylan missed it, I think he would hate that. I felt this way but I made no mention of the show to Dylan’s mom Tucker and only mentioned the show on one other occasion to Eddie just to let him know that ‘great tickets were still available’ a week before the show.
Now, here is my cumulative review of both shows.
I attended the July 21 show in DC with Julian. It was his first KISShow. His favorite band is Gwar, so I knew he would at least appreciate what a spectacle he was about to see. I didn’t know how much KISS material he knew going in, but I wasn’t worried. I’ve taken friends and relatives to their first KISShow. Some know most of the songs, one friend knew next to nothing from the catalog save ‘Beth’ and ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’, and everyone I’ve attended a KISShow with says almost the exact same thing: ‘I’ve never seen anything like that…that was the best show I’ve ever seen!’
Julian and I arrived at the venue as the first of three openers was starting. We went to the merch booth and each bought a voucher that would allow us to purchase the audio from the evening’s show. KISS has made all audio from every show on this tour available for $25 per show. The recording is soundboard quality. You get the first ten songs after the show ends and then a few days later, go to a website and download the remaining songs from your show and add it to your digital library or burn the songs to disc. Great idea. It beats the bootleggers…and it made me wish this technology was available in the band’s 70’s heyday, or even the 1996-97 Reunion Tour. Ah, if only…
Our seats were about ten rows back in the section right behind the orchestra seating, so we had fantastic center stage views of the stage. Upon arrival to our section, Julian and I immediately struck up a conversation with Doug, a DC native who has spent the last eight years in Turkestan working for the US Embassy. He was in DC for a week and had two free nights. He knew he was going to see a concert of some sort but couldn’t believe it when he read that KISS were in town and tickets were still available.
KISS Fans. They really are like no one else. This is one of those settings where I am completely at ease, I feel I can talk to anyone and know that we have an immediate kinship. Some of us have 34+ years invested in this band, others are attending their first show with their parents. All of us love KISS [in this crowd, there is no ‘like’], so we are all brethren, friends and cohorts of a wonderfully shared experience. Yeah, you can find this kind of community in sports, but this is different. Those of us who have seen a show [or twenty] will look at someone there for the first time with a knowing grin and say ‘Just wait. You are in for a treat my friend,’ and leave it at that, letting them be surprised by the effects, explosions and music that make up a KISShow.
I sat there in my seat, between Julian and Doug, ready to take this in for perhaps the last time.
Two plus hours and twenty two songs later, exhausted and sore, the last chord rang out and the lights went up. The show was over [don’t worry I’ll get to specifics in a bit]. As I watched the show, I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, this is probably it. Enjoy it.’ Truth be told, I’ve said that to myself since the band’s ‘Farewell Tour’ which, ironically was ten years ago. As we left the venue, I said so long to Doug and wished him well as he planned to return to the middle east, and I reveled in hearing Julian exclaim that this was the best show he’d seen since Prince, maybe even better than His Purpleness…something that is a very high compliment indeed. On the ride home, I had it in my head that ‘that was my last KISShow’, and I was okay with that. It didn’t hit me or affect me that much, apart from the normal soreness and post-show blues I get following a KISShow. I was resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to see them the following Friday in Virginia Beach, and I was okay with that. Too many hassles with travel, tickets and trying to convince someone to go, so I was a bit relieved in a way. Plus, Taylor Swift’s new video was going to be on television Friday night, so I could watch that and enjoy it as a necessary distraction while two hours away, KISS played.
That’s how I thought I was going to spend my Friday. And then something happened.
On the Tuesday before the Virginia Beach show, I posted on Facebook the statement that I was gonna miss a KISShow in Va Beach and, yeah I’m bummed, but I’m over it. Then Dylan’s mom Tucker started to ask me questions: Are tickets still available? Could you get off work Friday afternoon? Can we pull this off as a surprise for Eddie and Dylan? And so, in the space of 24 hours, I went from lamenting my circumstances and the fact I don’t drive to trying to work out logistics and purchasing tickets for three.
By Thursday, the surprise was out of the bag, but excitement among Dylan and Eddie had reached a fever pitch. I’m still not fully sure what changed Tucker’s mind from ‘No’ to ‘Okay’ when it came to Dylan attending this show, but I was thrilled that things had worked out, mainly because Dylan would get a chance to see something unlike anything he’ll ever see again, and he’ll see it at a much younger age than I did. [I was supposed to see KISS in makeup in 1979 at age 5. Mom said no. I didn’t see KISS in makeup until 1996. Thankfully the Reunion Tour made up for one of my few regrets in life. I will always be grateful to the band for giving me that moment.]
Friday afternoon, Tucker meets me at work with Dylan and younger brother Bennett in tow. Dylan is all smiles with a star over his eye. We drive to meet Eddie at his office and, after pictures in the parking lot, the three of us, me, Dylan and Eddie, are off for a ‘boys night out’ filled with rock and roll.
We arrive at the venue, Eddie and Dylan both sporting ‘KISS Rock And Roll Over’ Vans shoes, which garner compliments immediately from fans as we exit the parking lot and make our way to the main concourse where the merch tables are. Here, we stood in line. For a long time. A very long time. Eddie bought Dylan a tour t-shirt, and I bought the audio as I had done at the previous show. We also bought earplugs for Dylan because we forgot them back at the house and, it was at my insistence and his mother’s as well that we made sure Dylan had the earplugs…in his ears…at all times.
It didn’t take much convincing. Once we found our seats, Dylan was holding his ears, so the plugs went in and did the trick for the rest of the night so that volume was a non-issue. As the last opener finished up, I think Dylan was a bit overwhelmed and unsure about what was gonna happen next. I put my arm around him and said ‘It’s okay Dylan. This is all like one big cartoon. It will be loud, but nothing’s gonna hurt you or burn you. I was nervous too at my first KISShow, and I still get a little nervous at each KISShow [that’s no lie either]. It’s okay. You’re gonna have fun.’
As Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ came to an end, I counted off facing Eddie, ‘Three…two…one!’ and then the lights went out and a droning bass note echoed loudly, so loudly you could feel it in your chest. Dylan stood up on his chair while Eddie put his arm around him. ‘Ya ready to rock!’ he asked. Dylan nodded, but I don’t think he was sure yet.
After the intro I’ve heard thousands of times on record and in person, ‘You wanted the best, you got the best. The Hottest Band In The World…KISS!!!!’ the band opened with ‘Modern Day Delilah’, a decent song from their latest record, ‘Sonic Boom.’ Admirable, maybe. But, when you have a festival crowd ready to hear classics like ‘Duece’ or ‘Love Gun’, the opener was a genuine head-scratcher. Even so, the spectacle that accompanied the song was more than enough to let Dylan know what he was in for. Next was ‘Cold Gin’, a song written by Ace Frehley, who is no longer with the band. While this song was a staple of their live set for decades, I really wished they would’ve played something else. Dylan just kinda sat back and took it all in. You have to remember, there is so much to look at on a KISS stage that it really is hard to decide who or what to focus on.
Then, Gene Simmons did his fire trick, holding aloft a torch and spewing fire toward the sky. I didn’t even see it live. I was watching Dylan. The smile that came across his face as that happened, along with a look of ‘What just happened? What was that? Wow, that was cool!’ was priceless. After that moment I think Dylan was sold on the night and was really ready to have a good time. Save for a quick beverage run by his dad during ‘Black Diamond’, Dylan was really into the whole show. I spent most of the night watching him, and making sure he was okay and could see, and when I knew key moments were coming up, I would motion to Eddie and say ‘Ya might wanna stand up for this…’
Now the setlist, and then some notes:
1.Modern Day Delilah
3.Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll
7.Crazy Crazy Nights
8.Calling Dr. Love
9.Shock Me [sung by Tommy Thayer] / Guitar and Drum solo
10.I’m An Animal
12.I Love It Loud
14.Black Diamond [with a verse and chorus of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ sung by Paul solo]
15.Detroit Rock City
16.Beth [sung by Eric Singer, done in the Unplugged arrangement]
17.Lick It Up [with a bit of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ during the solo]
18.Shout It Out Loud
19.I Was Made For Lovin’ You
20.God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II
21.Rock And Roll All Nite
The band did three songs from Sonic Boom. The biggest surprise was ‘I’m An Animal’ and, I admit after being ambivalent to the song on record, live it really crackled with an electricity that surprised me. It reminded me of ‘War Machine’ [from 1982]. Biggest surprise of the set was ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’, mainly because Paul Stanley has no business singing anything from this record. The record, recorded in 1987 is probably Paul’s best vocal moment in KISStory, but that was 23 years ago. Paul just can’t hit the notes anymore. Eric sang most of the song and he did a great job. It was just tough for me to watch Paul visibly struggling to hit notes he shouldn’t even try.
Eric sang Beth. I have no problem with that, really. In fact, that feat makes the trifecta complete: Every drummer for KISS [Peter Criss, Eric Carr, and Eric Singer] has sung Beth. The problem I had with the set was Tommy Thayer singing Ace’s signature tune, ‘Shock Me.’ He did a fine job, and part of me knows that fans expect to hear certain songs at a KISShow. I just wish this wasn’t one of them.
Dylan’s favorite songs are ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ and ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ so I was happy to already know that both songs were in the set. In fact, during ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’, Paul flew out into the crowd on his zip line and sang the song from a rotating mini-stage just a few rows away from us. Again, the look on Dylan’s face was worth everything.
But the best moment of the night was during ‘Shout It Out Loud’, when it all just kinda hit me at once that, yes this is probably my last KISShow. Enjoy it. Take it in. Cut it loose because there won’t be one tomorrow. So, during Shout It Out Loud, I went into my own world for a moment, remembering my first KISShow, the moments at KISShows that quite literally changed my life forever, the smiles, the goosebumps…and I raised my fist and screamed along with about eight thousand other ‘friends’. As the chorus was repeating and the song was coming to it’s loud, bombastic conclusion, I looked back at Eddie and Dylan. Dylan had a huge grin on his face…and his tongue was sticking out, arms extended ‘flashing the horns’ [Ronnie James Dio would’ve been proud!] When I looked over and saw that, no lie, I got choked up.
THAT’S what a KISShow is all about. If you’ve been, you know. If you haven’t…well then, you probably won’t understand.
Part of me hopes I am wrong and Gene and Paul and Company tour for a long time, but the realist in me is ready to say goodbye and feel good about it. To ALL of those who have attended KISShows with me, from 1988-2010, thank you for being part of some magic in my life. To Julian, thanks again for helping me see that show in DC and I am thrilled you had a great time. To Tucker and Eddie, thank you for…everything. And lastly, to Mister Dylan: You made the night unforgettable for me. I thank you for that. I hope you remember at least part of this show for a long time. And the true test of how great a KISShow is will come when you see your ‘next’ band…and then realize that not everyone blows stuff up!
‘That was AWESOME!!’ – Dylan Pickering, as he walked to the parking lot at the end of the night.
Yes it was Dylan, yes it was.
Thanks for reading,