It is hard to believe it has been 40 years since KISS was first unleashed on the world. Coming from humble beginnings in New York, it was not long before these makeup-clad rock and roll soldiers took the world by storm. From the rise and fall of KISS Mania in the 1970s to several subsequent revivals and downfalls alike, the band has never really gone away, having always been around in some shape or form over the past four decades.
KISS first formed circa 1973 with a lineup that included bassist Gene Simmons (the Demon) and guitarist Paul Stanley (the Starchild), with guitarist Ace Frehley (the Spaceman) and drummer Peter Criss (the Catman). Come the late 70s/early 80s, major lineup and musical changes occurred, although the “classic” incarnation of KISS reformed circa 1996. The reunion, unfortunately, did not last, and eventually replacement players had to be sought out to keep KISS going. The Spaceman role is now filled by Tommy Thayer (formerly of Black N Blue) and the Catman role is now filled by Eric Singer (formerly of Badlands, Black Sabbath, and Alice Cooper’s band, he had also been a member of KISS prior to the 90s reunion). To date, this lineup of KISS has recorded two studio albums – Sonic Boom in 2009, and Monster in 2012; the latter marks KISS’ 20th studio album, and one of their strongest works in years.
One of the things that is most interesting about KISS is the fact that their appeal, even after 40 years, remains universal and widespread. There are people the same age as Paul and Gene that grew with the band over the years and are still fans. And their children. And their children’s children. It is not uncommon to see people of all demographics in KISS shirts, from long time veteran fans to school aged kids, all over the world. Adults love them for their musicianship and energy on stage. Kids love them because they are colorful, larger than life characters on the live stage. Making something that appeals to people of all ages, races, genders, backgrounds, and so forth is no easy task, but KISS is the band that pulls it off, and has been doing so for decades.
This is KISS’ first residency; the residency concept at the Joint seems to be becoming increasingly common these days. Guns N Roses, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard have all done them out here in recent years. The Joint was renovated a few years back, and the results are astonishing. It is a venue that can pack fairly large crowds, but also remains smaller and intimate than most “big” venues. Even far back from the stage, you can see the action just fine.
Before I continue with my actual show review, there is one matter worth addressing. Many people have come out and been attacking the band regarding their decision to put Tommy and Eric in Ace and Peter’s makeup, effectively having them “play” the characters the old, classic band portrayed. In fact, at least one major media personality in the hard rock and metal world has effectively boycotted going to the band’s shows over this. I will be the first to admit that Tommy and Eric should be able to create their own characters and personae, but to boycott the band over this is ridiculous. Tommy and Eric definitely get a chance to shine both on records and on the stage, and this fan, for one, is pleased to see Gene and Paul finding a way to keep this band alive. Truth be told, they could not have found better players, and many people are just happy to see KISS still in action, in some shape or form. This fan falls under that category.
Upon hearing KISS would be doing a residency here, this fan knew he had to go and see them – despite my years of being a fan, I had never seen the band live before (aside from seeing some former members doing things here and there). I finally decided to lay down the money and go. So, how did this show from these classic hard rock legends turn out?
In terms of showmanship on stage and theatrics, I can hands down say that KISS’ show at the Joint as a part of this residency is one of the best I have ever seen. From the moment the curtains opened up, flames and sparks were spewing, and Eric Singer was playing atop a drum riser so high, his head was damn near to the ceiling! One thing is for certain; your eyes never left the stage and the performers for the duration of the show. The audience even got to see things like Gene Simmons taken into the sky atop a dangling structure for a killer rendition of God of Thunder, and Paul Stanley was even taken from the stage via harness to a lower rafter section on the opposite end of the venue, where he performed a pair of songs! This is a band with unbelievable theatrics, and even with the more limited space a venue like the Joint offers, they easily made the best of what they had, and then some. When flames were blasting forth on stage, you could feel the heat from them, no matter how far back from the stage you were! Keeping the audience’s attention for an entire show is no easy task, but these guys make it look easy. Admittedly, the blizzard of confetti at the end of the night was a bit too distracting from the action on stage, but certainly does not deter this fan's opinion of the evening!
Of course, people love KISS for their musicianship as well. How were the actual musical performances of the songs? You will be pleased to know that, even well into their 60s, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are still kicking ass. If anything, the band rocks harder and heavier in concert now than they ever have before in the past. These newer, heavier, harder rocking arrangements of the older songs definitely distinguish themselves apart from the studio recordings and make the live experience something drastically different than just sitting at home listening to the records. But, at the same time, the band’s arrangements and performances still respect the original source material and are by no means a bastardization. KISS knows how to rock a crowd like no other band, both in terms of putting on a show and actually performing their music. Nice to see a band that can still do both!
On a similar side note, it is not uncommon to hear complaints about Paul Stanley’s voice not being what it used to be. After seeing the show last night, I cannot possibly grasp what people are talking about. No, he does not sound exactly the same as he did in his 20s – who the hell does? But he sounds great vocally and does justice to the material. My hat goes off to all of the members of KISS, old and new alike, for keeping things going, and perhaps most importantly, for still being able to make quality rock and roll, on the stage and in the studio alike, after four decades.
Needless to say, the setlist is one thing that I was dreading seeing. When you have a band like KISS and 40+ years of material to choose from, picking an hour and a half’s worth of material to fill a set is no easy task, since there is so much that must be represented, from major hits to deep tracks alike, from old songs to newer compositions. Well, this KISS fan is proud to say that the band actually managed to pull off a balanced, quality setlist here! Fans got most of the hits they were expecting – Detroit Rock City, Deuce, Shout it Out Loud, and the obligatory rock radio anthem, Rock and Roll All Nite. The sheer variety of deep tracks was truly impressive, ranging from fare like Parasite to War Machine. Even the 80s “no makeup” period was not neglected, with classics like Lick it Up and Tears are Falling. We even got a cut off the band’s latest studio album, Monster.
There are a few minor nitpicks with the setlist, of course. The two classic hits that were criminally omitted from this performance, of course, were Strutter and Calling Dr. Love. The title cut from the band’s 1998 reunion album, Psycho Circus, seemed a very odd inclusion, as it was the title track from an album whose primary purpose was to promote a reunion of the band's classic lineup that no longer stands. A few albums were overlooked entirely, but when you only have 90 minutes or so to play, obviously you cannot cover everything. No two fans will totally be in agreement on their views of the setlist of this show, but overall, it was more than satisfactory. Many of these deep tracks were an unexpected surprise.
Here is the complete setlist from this show. Note that there have been some subtle changes from night to night (according to fan-posted setlists, the running order of the tracks has differed somewhat from show to show, and that at least one prior show lacked Deuce but featured I Was Made for Lovin’ You). Without further ado, here is the setlist itself:
-Detroit Rock City (from Destroyer, 1976)
-Creatures of the Night (from Creatures of the Night, 1982)
-Psycho Circus (from Psycho Circus, 1998)
-Parasite (from Hotter Than Hell, 1974)
-War Machine (from Creatures of the Night, 1982)
-Tears are Falling (from Asylum, 1985)
-Deuce (from KISS, 1974)
-Lick it Up (from Lick it Up, 1983)
-I Love it Loud (from Creatures of the Night, 1982)
-Hell or Hallelujah (from Monster, 2012)
-God of Thunder (from Destroyer, 1976)
-Do You Love Me (from Destroyer, 1976)
-Love Gun (from Love Gun, 1977)
-Black Diamond (from KISS, 1974)
-Shout it Out Loud (from Destroyer, 1976)
-Rock and Roll All Nite (from Dressed to Kill, 1975)
There is not much else left to say. Show 3 of KISS’ Vegas residency was a monumental success in more ways than one, and I am glad to have been in the audience, seeing these rock gods doing what they do best yet again. Of course, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the band, and whether such residencies are going to be a possibility in the future as well. This is a band that has endured hardships, tragedies, vicious underhanded reviews, the ire of many decency groups, and everything the world could throw their way – but they have come out on top every time for a reason. This is classic hard rock the way it was meant to be played and experienced on a stage. Thumbs way up for this show from KISS’ first ever residency!
Photo Credit: Jason Green- ©2014 ZRock'R Magazine and Jason Green Photos- all rights reserved