Classic-rock band Kiss may be playing "secondary markets" on its current tour, but the iconic showmen made last night's concert in Colorado Springs a memorable one with an excess of spectacle and gratitude.
When I was growing up in the 1970s, Kiss was the one band whose marketing schemes also infiltrated the lives of children. Sure, there were the lunchboxes, action figures and that absurd, quite terrible — yet not to say unenjoyable — movie Phantom of the Park that came out in 1978 at what might be argued was the peak of Kiss's popularity in mainstream culture. My own younger brother absconded with packs of Kiss trading cards on his seven-year-old raiding missions before hearing a single Kiss song. He was fascinated with the year-round-Halloween style of the band, and the music wasn't even a component of the appeal.
All of the gimmicks are noteworthy, but what the gimmicks excelled in doing was connecting Kiss with its fans. There was no MTV in 1973 when the band started. There was no Internet, and radio wasn't often picking up on hard rock at that time. Since its founding, Kiss has been soundly dismissed by critics as shtick and little else. Certainly the four solo albums released by the members of Kiss in 1978, a stunt mimicked later by Melvins, seemed to vindicate critics.
What this show at Broadmoor World Arena highlighted, however, is the fact that Kiss is a hard-rock/heavy-metal band, but its pop songcraft should be the envy of anyone on the Top 40 or Billboard charts. It's odd that classic-rock radio generally eschews the Kiss catalogue while its programmers frequently select several cuts by Foghat and Billy Squier for airplay and trot out the regular curiosities like Head East's “Never Been Any Reason” and “Don't Misunderstand Me,” by the Rossington-Collins Band.
Kiss's current Freedom to Rock tour is not conducted in support of an album, and a look at the tour itinerary reveals the band has largely been playing smaller markets than one would expect. Paul Stanley also said that the U.S. has sent soldiers off to defend America's freedom and that we, the people, need to support the people returning from their tour of duty with whatever material and emotional needs they might have, because the government isn't adequately doing so. Toward the end of last night's show, Stanley brought on stage a former roadie and military veteran to donate a check of $150,000 to a veterans' aid organization of which she is a part. There was then a performance of the Pledge of Allegiance and “The Star-Spangled Banner” as only Jimi Hendrix and Kiss could really pull itoff. Somewhere in there, Stanley even said that patriotism, if expressed in the proper way, was cool. Not what you would expect from a concert, even in Colorado Springs.
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See a full slideshow of Kiss in Colorado Springs.
With a seventeen-song set list, beginning with “Detroit Rock City” and ending with “Rock and Roll All Night,” Kiss treated the crowd to an ever-evolving ebb and tide of sights, sounds and tactile experiences. Stanley promised those new to Kiss that the show would be something they would never forget, and the band delivered. The borderline heart-attack-inducing pyrotechnic explosions, bursts of flame, larger-than-life projections of the bandmembers on the big screens and the banners adorned with the words “Kiss Army” all served to cement the experience in our brains.
Musically, the most striking impression was how well the four musicians sing and play together, how well integrated their parts are. It's the kind of thing you expect from say Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and while this is a different style of music, the members of Kiss harmonized exceedingly well.
But the band is still Kiss. Gene Simmons spit out blood during the intro to "God of Thunder" and went flying through the air at the end. Sure, Eric Singer's drum riser lifted high above the stage during the denouement of “Black Diamond.” Certainly, Paul Stanley rode a winch across the room from the stage to a small platform to pose and rock out during “Love Gun.” These are Kiss's signature moves, to be honest. But none of the spectacle failed to draw in audience members and take them along for the experience of a truly theatrical show equaled by few other rock bands.
Perhaps most impressive was that neither Paul Stanley nor Gene Simmons, both in their mid-sixties, complained even once about the altitude. Rather, they and their bandmates played with a palpably raw energy and conviction. Even “Cold Gin,” from the group's 1974 debut album, seemed fresh and energetic. You got the feeling that Kiss was performing for you, because Kiss includes its fans in the show with every song, whether with a joke or a sing-a-long or an anecdote. Playing what some money people in the music industry might call secondary markets was clearly a decision for Kiss to give thanks to a fan base that usually has to travel long distances to catch Kiss live. Throughout, Stanley cajoled the crowd into participating while reminding us that Kiss wouldn't be much without the fans.