Take your most jaded music snob, who wouldn't give two sneezes for the low-altitude, tried-and-true rock of Kiss. Take any Pitchfork reviewer, who sees the histrionics, fire-breathing, and pyrotechnics as nothing more than a cleverly executed marketing ploy. Scour the music scene for the most adroit, self-assured listener, and with enough beer and persuasion, you'll illicit at least one honest statement about the 35-year old hard rock quartet: Kiss has a good thing going.Peas and carrots. Nitro and glycerine. Simmons and Stanley.
Indeed they do. Saturday's show, which clocked in at two hours on the nose, was everything Kiss fans could expect, and you can take that however you will.
It's at once a compliment to the 50-something rock tycoons, and a slight against them. The set began comfortably--a black curtain shrouded the stage, emblazoned with a silver Kiss logo. And at precisely 9 o'clock, Paul Stanley's shrill alto bristled through the sold-out crowd with the lines even he, in a gin daze after 35 years of touring, probably doesn't have to write on the back of his guitar: "You wanted the best? You got the best! The hottest band in the world!"
Drop the curtain and commence.
The stage set up was a delight--aside from some next-generation television monitors, which served as a backdrop to the drum riser and the light bulb Kiss logo, this was the Kiss stage fondly captured in photographs from their late-'70s prime. Through the first half of the set, which was heavy with hits like "Hotter Than Hell," "Cold Gin," and "Black Diamond," the show managed to express a majesty and a hair-raising sense of spectacle that was surely nostalgic even for generations of fans for whom the band's prime years are just paragraphs in a biography.
Musically, the set sagged in the middle. Limpid singles from their most recent album, Sonic Boom, tread the same ground as their great successes like Dynasty and Destroyer, but with the boredom and predictability anyone should expect from middle-aged performers who self-define as businessmen first and rock musicians a distant second.
But the set's final 45 minutes, which included their colossal hits "Rock and Roll All Night," "I Love It Loud," and a half hour encore which ended with "Detroit Rock City," was pure guilty pleasure. These are tired cliches, to be sure. But goddammit, they work like a charm. When Simmons breathes fire, a bellow fights its way from your mouth. When Stanley soars over the crowd to a back-of-the-house stage to perform "Love Gun," marvel is involuntary. When the flashpots detonate and the flame jets combust, you don't decide to blink from the light and the heat. Your body makes that call for you.
Never in modern music history has a band wielded greater cultural influence with lesser musical capital. But that too can be admired, if in a perverted sort of way. Behind their facepaint and body armor, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (Ace and Peter were unfortunately absent) cease to be themselves, and become precisely what we can only guess they meant to be all along--deathless icons, immune to senescence, who will be drooling blood, cashing checks, and wowing audiences until they can exeunt to a millionaire's Valhalla.