July 14, 2009
Halloween came early this year. The Bell Centre was filled to the rafters Monday night, with a sellout crowd of 15,000 Kiss devotees on hand to celebrate the band’s Kiss Alive/35 tour.

And these weren’t fly-by-night fans, either. This was the diehard contingent. Kiss T-shirts everywhere, old and new; face paint galore (let’s play count the Gene Simmons look-alikes). Many proud parents brought their kids, who were all too happy to get in on the action – a 10-year-old boy in the row in front of me eagerly asked to peek at my set list.

Cheers erupted when a giant KISS banner was unfurled shortly before showtime, as songs by the Who blasted over the PA. The lights dimmed, and the arena went wild.

“All right Montreal! You want the best? You got the best – the hottest band around: Kiss!”

They descended from the ceiling, of course. A platform came down carrying original members Simmons and Paul Stanley, plus guitarist Tommy Thayer. Drummer Eric Singer was already at his post, sitting on a raised platform of his own, above a massive KISS sign lit in Vegas-style lights.

All were in standard band attire, full makeup, outlandish outfits, knee-high boots with six-inch heels – you know the deal. The stage was open-concept, except for the wall of speakers as backdrop. And there was the music.

Guitars were wailing from “go.” First song Deuce brought pyrotechnics, power chords and synchronized head-bobbing from the three men up front.

This was rock ’n’ roll spectacle by the band that wrote the book. Big dumb hooks made for full-on fun. The crowd sang along to the second song, Strutter, with its classic rock groove.

“Whoooooa! Montréal,” Stanley cooed. “How’s everyone feeling tonight? ... Tonight we’re celebrating Kiss Alive. We’ll be playing a lot of that vintage stuff.”

The hits came in a steady stream: Got to Choose, the power-chord-fuelled Hotter Than Hell (complete with smoke, sirens and Simmons blowing fire), the bluesy C’mon and Love Me, and Parasite (one of a handful with Simmons on vocals).

Almost every song in the main set was culled from the band’s first three albums – classic repertoire for true fans.

Stanley’s voice rang out strong and clear, and his showmanship was second to none. He bantered with the crowd throughout the night, promising a return visit in October when the band’s new album drops.

“Will you come to see us?” he asked. The crowd roared in response.

Thayer shot rockets out of his guitar in an extended solo; Singer also got his chance in the spotlight. The pace waned late in the set as the displays of prowess grew a tad too numerous.

But redemption came with the set-ending smash Rock and Roll All Nite, as confetti rained down on the crowd. Print deadline beckoned, but with Shout It Out Loud, Lick It Up, I Was Made for Lovin’ You and Detroit Rock City on the set list for the encore, 15,000 Kiss fans were in for a bang-up finish.