“Gene Simmons is a marketing genius,” marveled a fan entering the SPAC grounds to see Kiss’ “Hottest Show on Earth” tour last week. He was staring at a sign offering audio recordings of the evening’s performance. Not quite a genius concept – bands have been selling live CDs of their concerts for a while now.
But entering SPAC near the Hall of Springs meant walking past the Kiss bassist’s tour bus, parked where fans could gawk at the flaming-guitar-emblazoned bus that also advertised A&E’s “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” reality TV show. Sitting inside the amphitheater for the show meant staring at another strategically placed bus that featured members of Kiss shilling for Dr. Pepper.
And just traipsing across the lawn meant encountering fans of all ages wearing every kind of Kiss merchandise imaginable, from t-shirts to kids’ costumes. So yes, Gene Simmons and his band mates have marketing savvy, you could say.
But the true genius of Kiss lies in how four blood-spitting, fire-breathing guys in black leather and Kabuki makeup – one with a menacing seven-inch-long tongue – became a dynasty clearly beloved by parents and kids alike. In part, it’s the cartooning of Kiss: after more than 35 years of Kiss costumes, comic books and lunch boxes, the band no longer seems shocking or scary to anyone.
The pyrotechnic-heavy stage show also has a lot to do with the band’s enduring success. A Kiss concert is a spectacle – one that’s still way more entertaining than just about any other arena rock show.
Drummer Eric Singer, who took over Peter Criss’ catman character starting in the ’90s, began the night’s first song, “Modern Day Delilah,” playing on a riser so high he looked almost in miniature. Gene can’t-stop-tongue-wagging Simmons stalked the stage, looking part-bat with leather wings and part-sadomasochistic dinosaur (a silver-studded triceratops).
Frontman Paul Stanley added a more human element, rocking a shirtless, hairy chest and making standard frontman exhortations in a ripping Queens accent. “Saratoga Springs, how you doin’?” he asked before “Firehouse,” when a video screen as wide as the stage alternated between close-ups of band members and shooting flames. (Later, the screen was used to plug the band’s most recent album, “Sonic Boom.”)
Simmons spat fire. Guitarist Tommy Thayer, who has taken over Ace Frehley’s spaceman character, shot fireworks out of his guitar. It may have been predictable at times. As was the band’s set list, which hasn’t changed much throughout the tour. But entertaining nonetheless. And though some of the new “Sonic Boom” stuff was lackluster, Kiss had plenty of hits (“Shock Me,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It out Loud”) to carry the show through.
“You know what’s going to happen next, don’t ya?” said a fan leaning over to talk to me as Simmons convulsed and twitched onstage in a green-strobe-lit seizure. “He spits up blood – like a gallon of it. It’s disgusting. He’s probably going to fly, too. Look, he’s hooked to wires.”
Sure enough, Simmons made a vampire turn, spitting up not-quite a gallon of the red stuff before levitating with his executioner-axe bass to stand on rigging overhead while singing the rock anthem, “I Love It Loud.” Entertainment genius.
If Kiss placed two bloodless emo bands on the bill to make the crowd clamor for gore, face paint and explosions, they succeeded. Although the awkwardly titled The Academy Is… was a bit more pop-punk and the Envy from Toronto was a bit more arena-rock (in the vein of U2), both five-piece bands in uniforms of skinny pants had singers who performed like recent graduates of rock star academy. In a word, contrived.
Review by Kirsten Ferguson
KISS SET LIST
Modern Day Delilah
Let Me Go, Rock & Roll
Crazy Crazy Nights
Calling Dr. Love
I’m an Animal
I Love It Loud
Whole Lotta Love
Detroit Rock City
Lick It Up
Shout It Out Loud
I Was Made for Lovin’ You
God Gave Rock & Roll to You (Argent)
Rock & Roll All Nite
THE ACADEMY IS… SET LIST
LAX to O’Hare
The Phrase That Pays
Bulls in Brooklyn
We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands
Fox on the Run (Sweet)
THE ENVY SET LIST
Never Want to Lose This Feeling
Don’t Let Go
Skin on Skin