Thursday, October 29, 2009

KISS Makes Music City "Rock City"

Published by Dave Paulson

Even with Halloween just a few days away, there was no question why the freaky makeup-wearing masses had descended on lower Broadway in Nashville. Kiss was in town.

The hard rock vets brought their trademark blend of costumed camp, ear-splitting riffs and explosions to the Sommet Center Wednesday night, and a full house howled in approval of every triumphant pose, double entendre and pyrotechnic burst.

After 35 years, the band's stage presences much like their set pieces seems to run like clockwork. It wasn't long after the opening one-two punch of "Deuce" and "Strutter" that frontman Paul Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons were side-by-side at the foot of the stage, preening for the photographers below.

Of course, that was one of the simpler spectacles of the evening. Soon, the band's famed theatrics and special effects took center stage. As Stanley had promised The Tennessean earlier this week, they'd brought all their iconic tricks along giving some a modern, super-sized twist.

The band has long been known to perform in front of a gargantuan wall of guitar amplifiers, purely for cosmetic purposes. They've only gotten shallower with age. Wednesday's amps were actually speaker-shaped video screens that frequently projected images of the member's faces and classic Kiss album covers.

Speaking of faces, there were a pair of them in the band's ranks that might have been a little less familiar to the audience, makeup and all. Guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer are essentially playing the parts of original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, who both finished their most recent runs with Kiss in 2002.

The two have adopted Frehely and Criss's makeup and costumes, and Thayer even went so far as performing "Shock Me," a song originally sung and written by Frehely.

But neither the casual showgoers or diehards seemed to have any objections to the new guys playing dress-up. Both endeared themselves to the crowd through their solo turns (each band member got the stage to themselves at some point) particularly Singer, who stick-twirling flair was well matched with the spinning drum riser that propelled his drum solo.

Still, Stanley and Simmons were held in another league of regard, and deservedly so. Stanley was a relentless milker of audience enthusiasm, addressing the fans between nearly every song and imploring them to get as noisy as possible.

"I know this is Music City. I don't want to make it too loud for you," he taunted before launching into "Parasite".

At 60, Simmons is the band's oldest member, but might also be the most well-aged, on-stage, at least. There's something timelessly cool, menacing and plain fun about his "Demon" persona and getup. His solo turn, amidst a torrent of fog, was obviously the most anticipated moment of the evening. As his bass rumbled, he mugged for fans' flashbulbs before spitting up fake blood, ascending to the ceiling on wires and performing a song on top of the lighting rig.

It's a good bet that it was a first for the Sommet.

As the band's main set came to a end, Stanley explained to fans that if they expected the band to make any political stances on stage, they had come to the wrong show. Instead, the band closed by urging fans � as they had done for the last three decades � to "Rock and Roll All Nite."

After the confetti cleared and the band had taken their bows, Stanley announced that the band wasn't through yet.

They launched into a lengthy four-song encore that kicked off with "Shout It Out Loud" and "Lick It Up" (the latter of which included a surprising tease of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again".) Stanley swung over a thrilled crowd on a wired apparatus to a small, rotating stage at the other end of the room to take on the band's 1977 classic "Love Gun."

Closing the evening with "Detroit Rock City" and a barrage of flames, fog and sparklers Stanley saluted the Nashville audience one last time.

"Tonight, you're not just a city," he said. "You're a rock city."