Review by Don Wilcock
There were enough pyrotechnics at Tuesday’s Kiss concert to burn down Detroit, Chicago, and LA. And if they’d stayed on the SPAC stage another 10 minutes past their 11pm curfew, they could have taken out half of the Big Apple, minus Brooklyn. Two huge cannons spewed more confetti than Neil Armstrong’s victory parade after his moon walk. And the sound was so loud, I forgot that I already had wax hearing protectors jammed into both ears. My son looked at me, smiled from ear to ear and yelled, “Now THIS is an arena rock show.”
I’m part of the early generation of rock critics who dismissed Kiss as a joke in tight pants, platform shoes and clown makeup. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as I creep into old age, it’s not to judge a book by its cover and to be prepared to change your mind. This show – and my interview with Paul Stanley – changed my mind about Kiss.
My son Michael is a 39-year-old celebrity deejay in the Hudson Valley. He grew up in an era when Tipper Gore, in her flaming ignorance, convinced the music industry to put parental warnings on LP jackets so the kids would know which albums had the juicy stuff in ’em. Countering Tipper Gore at that time was the idea that if parents were informed about what was good for their kids and what was bad for their kids – and were able to explain the difference between good rock and roll and bad rock and roll – their kids might make it past puberty without getting hooked on drugs, getting their girlfriend pregnant and dropping out of school.
Well, that was easy. Here I was a daily newspaper rock critic receiving as many comp LPs as I could glom from the major labels. So my kids and I listened to everything that came through the door, and I would just tell them the game. “Look, guys, some of these rockers want you to think of them as forbidden fruit. They want you to buy their product with the same mentality you have when you smoke cigarettes behind the garage. Just learn who the talented rockers are and recognize who’s selling you forbidden pleasures and who’s taking you to heaven by their music alone.”
Kiss was the first band Michael really loved. He tells me I took him and his brother to two or three concerts after Kiss stopped wearing their make-up. I don’t even remember that. I do recall that when their mother and I split up, I gave Michael all my Kiss albums. In regard to their music, I felt like the movie critic who has to see all the grade B horror movies, but then reviews them using the same criteria he does for “Gone with the Wind” or “Citizen Kane” and totally disregards the idea that fans don’t go to see “Friday the 13th IV” with the same expectations as they have for “Silence of the Lambs.”
So, yeah, if I apply the same critical judgments on Kiss as I do for the Moody Blues the night before at SPAC, Kiss loses out. Their songs are hard rock anthems, rallying cries for kids – now mostly middle-aged adults – who want to have a good time. Paul Stanley told his tribe – one of the largest audiences I’ve seen at SPAC since the Who broke the attendance record in 1970 – that the news on TV every night is all bad. “It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself,” he said, urging us to just enjoy ourselves and forget all the crap for a couple hours. He even asked for a show of hands on how many of us pray, saying he prays every morning, and not just when he wants God to give him something.
In other words, he connected on a very personal level. He commented on his love for this country and the importance of thanking our military for protecting our rights. He told the crowd, “Everyone deserves a front row seat, so I’m going to come to you,” and then slid on a glorified clothes line to a revolving stage in the middle of the amphitheater, performed “Love Gun” and pulled a child who looked no older than three out of the crowd, held him up, and they both waved to the masses.
I’ve seen many arena rockers who can make you feel like you’re the only one with them in the venue. The Stones and Springsteen come immediately to mind, but Stanley and Gene Simmons accomplished the same thing, and they did it for me, a guy who frankly couldn’t name a single Kiss hit they played. They did it with a combination of Grand Guignol, blood-spattering stage makeup, eye candy in the form of giant TV images of fire, meteorites, crashing boulders and flaming, classic Chevys. Yes, their music is minimalist, their lyrics cheerleading anthems, but they got my ya-yas out and brought back wonderful memories of my boy’s childhood and our shared experiences of rock and roll.
KISS SET LIST
Shout It Out Loud
Hotter Than Hell (Gene breathes fire)
I Love It Loud
Lick It Up (with “Won’t Get Fooled Again”)
Bass Solo (Gene spits blood)
God of Thunder
Hide Your Heart
Calling Dr. Love
Love Gun (Paul flies out to the audience)
Detroit Rock City
Rock and Roll All Nite
God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II
DEF LEPPARD SET LIST
Let It Go
Let’s Get Rocked
Two Steps Behind (acoustic)
Bringin’ on the Heartbreak (acoustic/electric)
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages