Live Review: KISSby Mitch Goldman
Tacoma Dome, Tacoma, WA 8/31/96
This summer's KISS reunion and restaging of their classic '70s stage show has been the surpise hit of the concert season, but it's only surprising to those who haven't been paying attention; those who have know that bands such as Nirvana, the Melvins, Metallica and countless others have been singing the praises of KISS for years. I guess it's an age thing: at this point in time, the ranking rock oligarchy consists of people who were of prime age for KISS in 1975, when the New Y ork glam-metal-rock combo's live set KISS Alive! changed the face of guitar bands for millions of kids. Having skimmed the upper-edge of this age demographic, I remember clearly how exciting (despite the silliness of the make-up, costumes, a nd stage show) it was to crank up any of the four sides of Alive! and play air guitar in my room. For many, KISS was the first band that made us want to play guitar. Add that contingent to the entire generation spawned by Nevermind who never got to see the real KISS in the first place, and you've got a huge market from which to make a bundle. Which is exactly what KISS is doing.
Long-time members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have kept the KISS name alive over the years, but only with original drummer Peter Criss and the almost-insanely influential lead guitarist Ace Frehley is KISS really KISS. Unfortunately, I remember a si gnificantly more intense musical experience on the Alive II tour I saw in 1978 than what I got in 1996 in the Tacoma Dome; the volume was low, the tempos stretched, Gene's vocals were throaty (they should change "Calling Dr. Love" t o "Calling Dr. Phlegm") and let's face it, watching these forty-something's stomp around the stage in leather and platform boots, breathing fire, spitting blood, and breaking prop guitars is a bit ridiculous when you stop to think about it for m ore than a second. (The impeccably directed video images behind the band, while capturing the show in a more controlled-yet-exciting manner than you'd think possible, actually worked against the foursome when you got close-up views of their jowly, aging f aces splattered with make-up - not a pretty picture.)
Ace's playing was fine, but the band's loose vibe (actually a nice space for a middle-aged rock band to find with their songs, albeit totally at odds with the visual nature of the show) worked against his '70s-drenched guitar pyrotechnics (and I mean t hat literally; during "Shock Me" Ace returned to his classic smoking guitar effect, followed by the Les Paul that shoots fireballs out of the headstock). Still, Ace is one of those rare guitarists who can play a couple of notes and be instantly recognizable.
And the stage show was a lot of fun, with Simmons' flying through the air during the bass solo on "God of Thunder"; spitting fire in the climax of "Firehouse"; and rising 30 feet in the air (along with the rest of the band) on cherry pickers while the group played the most intense tune of the set, "Black Diamond." And of course, there were more explosions, flashpots, and blinding lights than in any single show I've ever seen; so much in fact, that the lighting gri d in the dome caught fire at the end of the set, delaying the encores for fifteen minutes.
The setlist, for a die-hard KISS fan, was perfect, probably a better amalgam of KISS classics than in any single set they played during the '70s; and the aforementioned loose-groove feeling made it fun for this 30-something to enjoy the show without ha ving to over-exert himself. But to take this show as anything more seriously than nostalgic rock-spectacle would be folly; KISS rules, but only in the comic-book world of our adolescent dreams. Hey, that's not a small accomplishment - nor, unfortunately, an enduring one.
SETLIST (9:01 - 11:15):
Detroit Rock City
Copyright © 1996
Back for more Live Reviews