In 2007, my cousin Michael ran into Gene Simmons behind-the-scenes at an IndyCar race in Richmond.
“Gene,” he asked, “how come you’re still touring when I paid all that money to see you on that farewell tour in 2000?”
Simmons looked him in the eye and said, “There will never be a farewell tour because they always offer me more money.”
Michael joked, “But Gene, you have ALL the money!,” which made Simmons laugh and respond, “Yeah, I guess I do!”
Alas, the time has (apparently) come when Simmons and his Kiss partner, Paul Stanley, have decided that having “ALL the money” is enough money and that this farewell really means the end of rock’s most gloriously garish rock circus.
The finish line is in sight for the first leg of the year-long “End of the Road” world tour (Kiss next heads to Europe, before returning to North America in late summer), which stormed into State Farm Arena Sunday night.
In front of a sold-out crowd (save for a few handfuls of seats) that spanned generations and shared hairspray and white pancake makeup, Kiss thundered through two-plus hours of outsized, platform-boot-stomping rock ‘n’ roll.
Simmons, Stanley and guitarist Tommy Thayer beamed down to the stage on smoke-spewing hydraulic platforms for the opening “Detroit Rock City” and the throttle was never relinquished.
The octagon-shaped video screens pointed at the stage, the pyro, the fireworks, the roughly one billion lights, the bedazzled guitars and iconic, spandex-clad personas – all of it totaled one captivating night, one more time.
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It was immediately apparent that Simmons’ voice was in solid, gargled-with-gasoline form as he bellowed “Shout It Out Loud.” Stanley’s was much rougher – his between-song banter, delivered in comically exaggerated New York-ese, literally caused wincing – but he can still shimmy and preen and work a stage with well-rehearsed warmth and impressively toned triceps.
“I still remembuh the days of playing The Electric Ballroom,” he shrieked, referencing the band’s 1974 debut at the legendary Atlanta venue. “And here we are, on the ‘End of the Road’ tour-ah…We came to get crazy and rock and roll all night!”
What fans received was a cardiac injection of everything required of a Kiss concert: Stanley playing guitar behind his knees while Thayer ripped out a solo and Simmons bobbed his top-knot along to “Deuce”; Singer (whose family was in the crowd) twirling his drums sticks in both hands during “Say Yeah” and providing the steady kick drum punch in “I Love It Loud”; MTV-era greats “Heaven’s on Fire” and “Lick It Up” doused in flames and (on the latter) meshed with The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” performed under a cascade of blue lasers; Simmons wagging the most famous tongue in music during the depth-plumbing bass intro to “100,000 Years.”
Since the tour kickoff in late January, Internet sleuths have posted video “proof” that Stanley is sometimes lip syncing. Were some vocals sweetened? Probably. Who knows? And more importantly, who cares?
This is Kiss, not Andrea Bocelli. If you were ever attending a Kiss concert for unrivaled musicianship and pristine vocals, um, sorry you didn’t get the memo.
Even Stanley acknowledged the roots of Kiss – finally voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 primarily because of the fan vote - in a bit primed to rile the crowd.
“The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame HATES us!” he hissed to a roar of “Booooooooooo!!!” “But,” he continued, “they had to listen to YOU!” (“Whoooooooooooo!!!”).
Yes, despite their significant wealth and willingness to hawk everything from branded caskets to condoms, Kiss has always been a band of the people.
They thrill as Simmons gushes blood down his chin as he’s raised to the rafters for “God of Thunder” – a ghoulish pleasure that still amuses – and Stanley (“Hey, people!”) zips over the crowd, his 67-year-old frame precariously slung over a metal hook, to reach a circular, rising stage at the back of the arena.
While there, surrounded by a halo of blue and green lasers, Stanley shook his midnight-colored mane and displayed his finest prancing during “Love Gun” – Singer’s machine gun snare sealing the song’s end – and Kiss’ biggest worldwide hit, the disco-tastic “I Was Made for Loving You.”
For 40-plus years, the mantra of Kiss has been deceptively simple – crunchy guitar chords, sexual double entendres and costumes and makeup that will live in infamy on Halloween.
They’ve rocked and rolled all night for decades and never doubt, they worked hard for your money.
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