Sunday, March 03, 2019

A Masked Ball: If This Really is Farewell, KISS Goes Out With a Bang -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act David Garibaldi (painter)
March 2, 2019
United Center, Chicago

To my awareness, no rock act has ever so overtly delighted prepubescent boys any more than KISS.

In the mid-70s, they amplified the glam theatrics of David Bowie, Alice Cooper, T-Rex and the New York Dolls while eliminating almost any sense of subtlety, irony or androgyny.

Simplifying the riff-heavy metal of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, the New York quartet--initially comprised of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss--donned full character makeup and costumes while pumping out trashy testosterone tunes like "God of Thunder," "Love Gun" and "Rock and Roll All Nite."

Live--and I was too young to see it except on TV, but was smitten nonetheless--they employed a cacophony of flashing lights, pyrotechnics and explosions.

Though never part of the Kiss Army fan club, my little self ate it up, with KISS Double Platinum becoming a cherished part of my fledgling record collection.

But if the band's foray into disco--see "I Was Made for Loving You"--didn't completely curb my interest, it had waned by 1983 when I was in high school, KISS was out of makeup and Frehley & Criss were out of KISS.

Cut to 1996. On the Grammy Awards, as introduced by Tupac Shakur, the original foursome reappears in full makeup and classic costumes. 

A full reunion tour followed--it should be noted that, sans full regalia, Paul & Gene had kept KISS going with other musicians, including drummer Eric Carr, who would pass in 1991--and in July 1996, I saw KISS in concert for the first time, at the Rosemont Horizon. 

And candidly, I thought they largely sucked. 

I was 27 at the time, so while reliving part of my childhood held a bit of fun, I wasn't that removed from it. 

Sure, seeing the costumes and explosions was cool, but I was acutely struck by how simplistic the songs were and how terribly tinny they sounded instrumentally.

Theoretically, that could have forever cured me of my KISS curiosity, but in 2009 my pal Paolo--who I had met just the year before but who has remained my most steadfast concert and theater companion--convinced me to see them at Summerfest in Milwaukee. 

With Frehley and Criss again gone--replaced, as still, by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer--the show was better, but still would've seemed sufficient. 

But after doing a "Farewell Tour" in 2009 and seemingly frequently threatening to hang up their boots, KISS is now in the midst of their End of the Road Tour, supposedly to last another 2 years. 

And though we didn't get tickets until Saturday morning, and wound up having to sit apart, Paolo and I went to the show that evening at Chicago's United Center.

(Having seen favorites like Tom Petty, David Bowie and Prince pass on in recent years, and other such as Rush, Elton John and Bob Seger retiring from the road, we take "last chance to see" pretty seriously, whether a bit dubious about the marketing or not.)

Again quite candidly, this time around--both nostalgically and musically--I loved KISS.

My seat was in the top deck on the side of the stage, limiting my view of the video backdrop and other visuals, but I could see and hear the four band members just fine, feel the heat from numerous fire blasts and nearly have my ear drums ruptured by multiple explosions.

It was truly an audiovisual feast, and from the opening song--"Detroit Rock City"--KISS really sounded great.

Perhaps Thayer and Singer are just better musicians than Frehley and Criss, or--in donning the same outfits and makeup--at least have far better amplifiers.

Sure, Stanley's incessant, often inane stage patter seemed well in keeping with Saturday coincidentally being the 35th anniversary of the release of This is Spinal Tap, and yes, most of the lyrics are still rather silly, if not outright sexist.

But post-1980 selections--see the setlist here--like "Say Yeah," "Heaven's on Fire," "Lick It Up" (with its inclusion of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" classic scream) and "Psycho Circus"--came off considerably better than I would've imagined.

Childhood joys like "Shout It Out Loud," "Calling Dr. Love," "Do You Love Me" and "Rock and Roll All Night" had me bouncing in my seat, drummer Singer nicely handled piano and vocals on "Beth"--as did Criss back in the day--and tunes like "Deuce," "100,000 Years," "Cold Gin" and "Black Diamond" reminded that KISS had some nice chops on their self-titled debut album, released 45 years ago last month.

I can't quite give the show a full @@@@@, but with a robust 2 hours, there were few moments I didn't at least enjoy, and plenty that I loved.

Gene Simmons turns 70 this year and Stanley is 67. Even with makeup belying their age--and vocally both sounded quite good--the End of the Road is probably indeed near, even if the KISS brand could conceivably carry on with franchises and holograms.

My guess is that they'll probably come through Chicagoland at least once more, but though I won't swear to it, I doubt I'd go again.

So if this really is farewell, I'm glad a 40+ year relationship with some ups and downs has ended with a surprisingly great KISS.

Here's just a bit of "Rock and Roll All Nite," shot by me:

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