« You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world: KISS!”
This announcement has preceded most KISS concerts since their debut in 1973. Now, it hasn’t been quite true for a while, especially the last ten years, when Paul Stanley’s once powerful voice deteriorated drastically. Their last few Montreal appearances were…painful.
But a KISS show is more than the music. So what did we get last night at the Bell Centre, as KISS made its first of two appearances in our city on their ‘End of the Road’ farewell tour (a sequel to 2000’s not so final farewell tour)?
We got lights. More bombs than most warzones. Smoke. Fire. A fire-breathing, blood-spitting bass player. A flying guitar player. A grand rock spectacle of the highest magnitude, because, if KISS has been berated for their musicianship and song writing over the years, no one can deny that they invented the modern arena concert, with their influence reaching across all genres of music. A KISS show is an experience for all the senses, a never-ending succession of effects dialed up to the max. And if you’re a casual fan, they probably played every KISS song you know, as the setlist was very much focused on the hits.
Oh, and what about the music itself? The band actually sounded great. Musically they were tight as ever, and vocally, even Paul was on point. Of course, it has a lot to do with the fact that they’re now getting assistance from pre-recorded tracks for his more demanding vocals (At one point during “Psycho Circus”, Paul moved his head away from the microphone before finishing the word with no audible effect). That bothers me quite a bit but listening to him croak through another set would have bothered me more. There’s still quite a bit that’s live though (or I was completely fooled), and he sounded great. Not “1992 great”, but “pushing 70” great. Definitely better than he’s sounded in a while.
As the curtain dropped, the band came down from the rafters on levitating platforms playing “Detroit Rock City”, followed by “Shout It Out Loud” and “Deuce”. Hey, it doesn’t get more bombastic than this. The inclusion of “Say Yeah” from “Sonic Boom” remains a head scratcher though, considering Paul Stanley’s insistence that playing deep cuts would drive the casual fans to the beer stands. But it was hard to argue against most of the choices.
The setlist relied heavily on the first six albums, the ones that put them in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. The classic KISS tricks were all present: Gene Simmons’ fire breathing, his blood spitting routine before playing “God of Thunder” from a platform raised to the roof. Tommy Thayer sent rockets from his guitar, “destroying” lighting pods doubling as attacking flying saucers, Eric Singer’s drum set levitated for his drum solo, Paul Stanley flew to a B stage at the back of the floor to play “Love Gun” and “I Was Made For Loving You”…in short, everything anyone attending their first KISS concert would want to see. And judging from Paul Stanley’s informal raised hand survey, there were quite a lot of people losing their KISS virginity last night.
But then, how do you please fans who’ve seen this many times? By cranking everything up to 12 (we’re way past 11 at this point). More pyro, more bombs, more smoke, more confettis. Do you realize how hard it is to sing along to “Rock ‘n Roll All Nite” with a mouthful of confetti?
It was a night of excess ripped from a comic book, a smorgasbord of party anthems, smoke and lights, from a band who pretty much invented the visual arena concert.
And you know what? I’ve changed my mind. They’re still the hottest damn band in the world. And I’ll say farewell again in August when they’re back in Montreal for a return engagement.
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