Generation KISS and Children of the Grave played Count’s Vamp’d on Saturday, September 3, 2022.
Count’s Vamp’d keeps the rock coming in Las Vegas. Sin City’s premier spot for all things rock and metal, this past Saturday, bought rock and roll fans not one but two kick-ass tributes – Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath tribute Children of the Grave, and in their live debut, KISS tribute Generation KISS.
It wasn’t clear which act at this show was supposed to be the headliner; there was even some confusion in the venue as to which band was going to play first! Of course, several of the ads for the show billed the KISS tribute incorrectly as “KISS Generation,” so this wasn’t overly surprising. That said, I was happy just to get a chance to experience these acts playing the rock and roll of some of the greatest hard rock acts of all time in an intimate live setting.
Generation KISS is a new KISS tribute band formed by the former members of Sin City KISS; that group’s name was retired following the unfortunate passing of Louis Reyes, the Las Vegas Gene Simmons who largely served as the face of the band for so many years. I couldn’t tell you how many KISS tributes there have been in this city over the years – Sin City KISS, Las Vegas KISS, Wicked Luster, Lust of KISS… and those are just the ones I can think off of the top of my head!
The lineup for Generation KISS is Steve Mitchell as Paul Stanley, Mike Campion as Gene Simmons, Jeremy Varao as Ace Frehley, and Daniel Margasa as Peter Criss. Given the Vegas-based talent that had played in Sin City KISS over the years, including the likes of Keith Robert, Robert Wiggin, and Carl Ciadella, and of course, the late Louis Reyes, these musicians had a monumental task ahead of them. Campion, in particular, with Reyes’ passing, had some big shoes (or should I say Demon boots?) to fill. Were they up for the task?
I’m glad to see KISS music is alive and well in Sin City, and that the former Sin City KISS members are still on a live stage doing what they do best. I’m optimistic that they’ll stick with Generation KISS and forge it into something truly special. A setlist that gave audiences a nice mix of classic hits and deep tracks made for a fulfilling performance that went to a few places I’d never have expected!
Was this the best performance of KISS music on a live stage I’ve ever seen? No. That honor is held by a performance last year I saw of Bruce Kulick, Todd Kerns, Eric Singer, and Zach Throne I saw at Vamp’d at the end of last year (but given that that group included two members of the actual band, that may be an unfair comparison). But Steve Mitchell and company still brought their best to the table, doing what they could KISS-wise on a small stage. Obviously, there are limitations due to the size of the Vamp’d stage, so we weren’t seeing pyro and fire breathing, but we got choreography that included the “Deuce Dance,” smoke machines with lighting made to look like flames, and inflatable clowns for the title track from 1998’s PSYCHO CIRCUS, amusing and enthusing the audience. It was also good to see Campion putting blood capsules to good use; a must for an in-character Gene Simmons. A sign in the background illuminated the classic KISS logo’s letters, even if it never quite seemed to light up all four letters at once. Louis Reyes’ widow Tere Scott was in the audience, clearly enjoying herself and appreciating the guys keeping the KISS music going.
No one nitpicks a setlist like I do. I won’t deny that for one second. But this was the place I thought Generation KISS best succeeded. Finding that balance between hits and deep tracks is something many band’s don’t do; they obviously want to play the radio hits to appease the masses. The guys in Generation KISS made it clear from the beginning that this wouldn’t be a “regular” setlist. There were plenty of KISS classics that enjoy popularity and radio play, but it was their willingness to dig into the vault that most impressed me. When these guys said there would be surprises, they weren’t kidding. We got “Rip It Out” from the 1978 ACE FREHLEY solo release, debut album closer “Black Diamond,” a cut from 1979’s DYNASTY that thankfully WASN’T the disco-flavored hit, “Unholy” from 1992’s REVENGE, and the biggest surprise of all, “I” from 1981’s MUSIC FROM THE ELDER! Any band that digs this deep into the vault has my respect. Were there other songs I wanted to hear? Naturally, but the band did a nice mix of hits and deeper cuts despite that. I wish this had been a two-set performance so we could’ve heard more songs, because who knows where these guys would go into the back catalogue if given a chance?
I’m not going to nitpick how accurately these songs were performed live compared to their studio and live album counterparts. I go to shows to have a good time and rock out, hearing my favorite songs done live by solid musicians. Generation KISS did just that. The only minor issue I had during the show was where a portion of pre-recorded parts of older deep cuts were played over a speaker; this gave me false hopes that those songs would be getting performed by the band on stage. Imagine my disappointment when I heard Janis Ian’s “creeping chanting nun” intro from “Radioactive” on the 1978 GENE SIMMONS album, only to not hear them performing the actual song! Hopefully this will be refrained from in the future unless they’re actually part of/playing the songs in question. It also would’ve been nice to get an acoustic guitar version of “Beth” rather than the “orchestral recording with live vocal” version, though I loved the performance nonetheless. I wish these guys a great future of rocking the stages in Sin City, and I truly believe the best is yet to come.
Generation KISS Gallery.
Following the Generation KISS set came Children of the Grave, Las Vegas’ Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath tribute that’s been rocking Sin City for the past several years. Fronted by Michael Allen playing Ozzy Osbourne, the group also features guitarist Max Rico and bassist Keith Trombino. With Ozzy’s antics and escapades on and off stages across the world and all the epic rock and roll that’s come along the way, Vegas certainly needs a good tribute to the Ozzman, both his solo years and classic days in Black Sabbath. Only Allen is “in character” as Mr. Osbourne; as the band pays tribute to both eras, it wouldn’t be practical to have the other band members “play roles.”
Much like the Generation KISS gig that came earlier in the evening, one area that Children of the Grave truly wowed me in was the setlist department. Naturally, the set included most of the most popular songs from Ozzy’s Black Sabbath albums, particularly the earlier ones. But their ability to open the vault and play deeper cuts than expected was a true surprise. Sure, we heard things like “Black Sabbath” (the song), “Paranoid,” “NIB,” and “Fairies Wear Boots,” but this set also included songs you’ll never hear Ozzy play live anymore, including “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “Wicked World” from the debut album, plus the underrated classic “Symptom of the Universe” from 1975’s SABOTAGE. And they even managed to find room in the set for “Into the Void!” While the setlist mostly emphasized Black Sabbath, we did get a few Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy solo cuts, including “I Don’t Know” and “Mr. Crowley.”
The musicians, unsurprisingly, are well suited to perform this material. It’s great to find artists in Vegas who appreciate Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, and these are spirted renditions, to say the least. Michael Allen is entertaining as hell as Ozzy. Though he’s clearly far too tall and healthy looking to be mistaken for the real Ozzy, he certainly gets into the part, cross in hand and everything. His facial expressions mid-performance are absolutely perfect for the role. I half expected him to start biting the heads off bats, doves, and chickens, but maybe it’s for the best in a post-pandemic society that he didn’t quite go that far!
The only minor issue I had with this set was that it ignored the latter two Black Sabbath albums from Ozzy’s classic 70s tenure with the band, TECHNICAL ECSTASY and NEVER SAY DIE!. Tracks like “Rock N Roll Doctor,” “You Won’t Change Me,” “Dirty Women,” the title cut from the latter album, and my favorite Ozzy-era Sabbath song, “Junior’s Eyes,” would’ve all made great additions to the setlist. Still, I can’t complain much with the deep cuts we got here.
Generation KISS and Children of the Grave rocked the house, giving audiences a solid mix of hits and deep tracks from the respective artists they were paying tribute too. I’m certainly eager to hear subsequent performances by both groups, and hope to see them rocking the stage again soon!
Children of the Grave Gallery.
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos by Stephy Muzio for ZRockR Magazine – All Rights Reserved.