My history with KISS started around the age of 9 years old with KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and the HBO special. I was all in. Double Platinum and Alive! were my first two KISS albums. I was an Ace guy, but loved Gene, and Paul and Peter after that. I lost interest when Unmasked came out, briefly bought back in for Lick It Up, saw them a couple times in the ‘80s out of sheer convenience, then checked out again until Unplugged aired. Since then the old stuff has again been in regular rotation. I married a girl who grew up on “God of Thunder” and (in) “Detroit Rock City.” I regretted missing the reunion with Ace and Peter, especially the first show in Tiger Stadium, but I didn't lose any sleep over it. I had better things to do with my time and money. As members came and went, money kept coming in, YouTube evidence of Paul's deteriorating voice or his artificial ways of masking it surfaced, and the announcement that this it - THE END OF THE ROAD – was made, I was indifferent, if not mildly annoyed. Still, those early records were in rotation.
Detroit was a huge city for KISS, second only to New York, and maybe even equal. The city embraced them early and often, and it was Alive!, recorded (*cough*) at Detroit's Cobo Hall, that broke them. The morning of the Detroit show my wife was in a funk, tickets pulled up on StubHub, looking for someone to be her partner in crime for the concert. Hell, she was even willing to spring for the tickets. I couldn't go, and her friends didn't exactly rally behind her with Starchild grease paint on, so she missed out. The subject came up again a couple times over the next week & a half as she moped around the house humming classic tracks and asking me which album they were on. Until this past Friday night. An hour earlier it wasn't even on the table, but now we had tickets and a hotel room walking distance from the arena. In the morning we would leave for Pittsburgh. If I'm being honest, I was kinda dragged to the show, but when I clicked “Purchase” on the tickets I made the decision to approach it with an open mind, and regardless of my gripes, have fun. By the time we started pre-gaming I was legitimately pretty excited.
The PPG Arena is your standard, modern hockey arena I suppose. Long lines to get in, but a pretty smooth operation. If you put the work in you can find a decent whiskey in a plastic Penguins cup, and there's no shortage of merch-booths and food for every palette. We walked down to our seats, about 12 rows back on the Gene-side. Tickets said 7:30 pm. We'd heard about a painter who did a short bit to open the show, but the ushers were talking about a 30-minute film that would start at 7:45, then KISS at 8:30. There was no painter and no film, just a looping 2-minute video commercial for the KISS KRUISE. At 8:45, 75 minutes after the advertised show time, the lights went down. Mildly annoyed that we could have used that hour-fifteen in a few other ways, we stood up to “YOU WANTED THE BEST YOU GOT THE BEST!” This was it.
They went into “Detroit Rock City” and it was pretty clear from the start that this wasn't your average concert. We could feel the heat from the pyrotechnics and the band was clearly fired up too. I quickly took out my ear plugs and realized that it wasn't that loud at all and sounded better without. We were loving the set-list as we got “Shout it Out Loud” and “Deuce,” but the stinker “Say Yeah” four songs in was the perfect opportunity to get a drink. I made it back for most of “I Love it Loud” and stayed put for the rest of the set. Highlights for me were “100,000 Years,” “Dr. Love,” and “Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll.” The encore included an unnecessary “Beth,” with Eric Singer playing a sequined piano that would have made Liberace blush, followed by an unexpected “Do You Love Me?” before they wrapped it up with “Rock and Roll All Night.”
It was possibly the least boring show I've ever seen: an explosion here, a laser show there, platforms elevating and Paul flying out to the second stage for “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Loving You,” not to mention the blood-spitting, fire-breathing, tongue-wagging antics of The Demon. The guitar solo (mostly stolen from Ace's Alive II “Shock Me” solo) and the drum solo (largely lifted from Peter's Alive! “100,000 Years” solo) were a bit cliche, but whaddya expect? Somehow we survived into the next tunes.
There's a lot you can say about and against KISS, and in my book it's mostly valid, but you can't say these guys are phoning it in. They came out on their game and didn't stop until it was over. At 67 years old, Paul Stanley is as good a front-man as there is, and even though his raspy, hoarse, between-song banter didn't exactly match the healthy, vibrant signing we heard through the mains, he deserves a nod for the work he put in. Gene was great - I've said for years that he's an under-rated bassist and singer. And other than the fact that they're hired guns wearing the makeup of members long belittled and forgotten by the bosses, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are top-notch musicians who not only held their own, but added some youth and excitement onstage.
It was nearly midnight by the time we got out of there. As we walked back up Liberty Street toward our hotel I had to admit that it was a damn good time and I was really glad I went. It was everything KISS said it would be, and it was nothing they said it wouldn't. No political rants, not even any cussing from the stage, just a super high-energy show, a whole bunch of great songs, a celebration of one hell of a run, and an arena full of satisfied customers. I might just have to go back for the next Farewell tour.
Pittsburgh Set List:
Detroit Rock City
Shout It Out Loud
I Love It Loud
Heaven's on Fire
War Machine (Gene breathes fire)
Lick It Up
Calling Dr. Love
100,000 Years (with drum solo)
Cold Gin (with Tommy Thayer guitar solo )
God of Thunder (with bass solo)
Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll
I Was Made for Lovin' You
Do You Love Me
Rock and Roll All Nite
Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos - www.thetucos.com
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Twitter: @jeremyportermi | Instagram: @onetogive | www.rockandrollrestrooms.com