Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Boys Are Back In Town: KISS At Staples

By Gustavo Turner/Photo by Anna Weber

Twas the night before Thanksgiving and much of LA had either left town
or stayed at home to prepare for the imminent family holiday, but you
wouldn't have guessed that if you had been at the Staples Center, where
KISS had convened its Army for a back-to-basics, old-school rock and
roll show.

Faithful fans and curious gawkers alike were in for a special treat, as
the band pulled all the stops for what ended up being KISS's first ever
live concert webcast, streamed exclusively through and

The current tour pretty much follows the template of the second CD
included with copies of KISS's new release Sonic Boom: a riff heavy,
high-energy set of "classics" impervious to critical assaults or
accusations of cheesiness, embarrassing sexism, repetitiveness, etc.

The band is heading into its fourth decade unrepentant and, shall we
say it, victorious. Who cares if the Spaceman and the Cat are now two
(very good) hired hands instead of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss? The
foursome who took the stage last Wednesday led by Gene Simmons and Paul
Stanley reenacted the KISS of the good old early days, a kabuki circus
full of fire, stage blood and stage banter.

Stanley and Simmons (to paraphrase their two favorite bands) got back
to where they once belonged because it had been a long time time since
they had rock'n'rolled. Bottom line: they delivered.

Here are a few memorable snapshots from the KISS show last Wednesday at the Staples Center:

1. Half of the fun of attending a KISS show: the fans

When Gene Simmons thought up the KISS concept (read his amazing manual
Sex Money Kiss where he explains his entire gameplan and how it
succeeded), he realized that each concert could become for the fans a
cross between the circus, the freak show at a country fair, and a
year-round Halloween parade.

He was right.

2. The other half of the fun: showmanship!

It's really four guys on a stage, a couple of them pushing 60. And they
really, really wanna give you a lot of bang for your buck.

KISS plays in front of a wall of screens that can flick in seconds from
an illusion of Marshall stacks to the very flames of hell. Speaking of
which, there's a lot of actual fire onstage, and the heat could be felt
from the back of the Staples Center. Our photographer, standing next to
the stage, was almost burnt to a crisp within 20 seconds of the band's
entrance. (Yes, KISS is even closer to the firebombs and flares for the
entire show, which partially explains Simmons' melting makeup later on.)

3. Did we mention the insane, circus-like, old-school carny showmanship?

After a rumbling bass solo and black and white images of foreboding
clouds, for no apparent reason Simmons start gargling blood, as the
giant screen focuses on his face. This goes on for several minutes.
Then, he flies to a platform over the stage, from which he regales the
audience with "I Love It Loud". Everybody loves it, loud.

Later on, it's Paul's turn to dazzle the punters, by jumping on an
acrobatic harness, flying across the stadium and doing "Love Gun" from
an elevated platform in the middle of the crowd.

New guys Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer also get their stunts: the
drummer rotates 360 degrees during his solo, and the lead guitarist
gets his chance to show the skeptics he can fill Ace Frehley's platform
boots by shredding alone onstage while the other guys take a break.
Thayer even riffs on Beethoven's Fifth and (so that you don't forget
this is a KISS show and not a Steve Vai recital) he ends by switching
to a guitar that orgasmically shoots fire from its neck.

4. The music, against all odds, holds up.

There were a few musical highlights, particularly towards the end.
"Rock and Roll All Nite" is still untouchable, and the band was cooking
during "Black Diamond" and "Lick It Up". Even though some of their
lyrics and posturing (particular Simmons') are easy to mock, last
Wednesday's stroll through their "classic" repertoire confirmed their
status as a credible bridge between the heavy rock they started
emulating in the early 1970s (The Who's Live at Leeds, early Sabbath
and Deep Purple, Zep), and a lot of later American heavy metal. During
"Calling Dr. Love," it was hard not to notice how much Guns N Roses and
Motley Crue are indebted to the original Rock n Roll Circus.

5. The bizarre communion between KISS and their fans is something to behold.

Can you spot the Gene Simmons doppelganger in the audience? You know,
the guy who probably woke up early the day before Thanksgiving and
planned his whole pre-show schedule around decking himself out in an
exact replica of whatever ghoul drag Simmons wears onstage, including
hair and make-up? See him?

This dude came to the show alone and spent the entire performance
mouthing Gene Simmons' lyrics in perfect synch. You could switch from
the stage and the giant screens to where this guy was sitting and not
miss a line. That's motivation--and it's also testament to a kind of
loyalty that these ancient clowns (we're calling them clowns in the
Grand Gignol/Fellini way, so no judgment is implied) can inspire.

Or, as Paul Stanley put it from the stage near the finale: