August 11, 2010
Legendary rockers mine classics

Posted By Jeffrey Ougler

A recent episode of Gene Simmons Family Jewels had the Kiss bassist spouting off the old adage of how standing still in business is akin to writing one's own suicide note.

Granted. But when it comes to cobbling set lists, this legendary band eyes neither the future nor even the near present all that much. Tuesday night's rock extravaganza at Sault Ste. Marie's Essar Centre was a platform-heeled musical leap into the past, save for a few tunes from 2009's Sonic Boom.

But for Simmons and his Kiss cohorts, for whom music means business, it's only prudent to subscribe to the age-old market rules governing supply and demand. Just imagine if the band hadn't closed the show - or at least included - a fiery rendition of Rock and Roll All Nite, complete with accompanying explosions, Simmonsesque tongue wagging and levitating stages. The masses would have certainly shouted out loud, calling for something much more severe than Dr. Love. Kiss appeared to supply the demand of the 4,700 who packed the house - the massive stage shaved seating capacity somewhat.

Essentially, the show lived up to its promotion as being part of The Hottest Show on Earth Tour.

A colleague mentioned earlier this week that middle-aged men in the audience would likely be brought to tears upon hearing the first riffs of Detroit Rock City. I scoffed. Now I think she was likely bang on.

On the early song-selection front, Kiss should be given full kudos from deviating from its standard Detroit Rock City opening, choosing, instead, to kick off with Modern Day Delilah from Sonic Boom. From there, the band detoured to its 1974 debut album for Cold Gin, originally sung by former lead guitarist Ace Frehley. Gene Simmons's gravely voice carried the tune well.

Other classic numbers - and not necessarily Top 40 hits - included Deuce, Let me Go Rock 'N' Roll, Firehouse, 100,000 Years, Love Gun, Black Diamond, Calling Dr. Love and Shock Me (lead guitarist Tommy Thayer handled vocals on this Frehley standard).

Along with Modern Day Delilah, other Sonic Boom selections were I'm an Animal and Say Yeah, each of which the band played - and plugged - with such polish and passion it was if the quartet's very lives depended on each and every soul in the audience going out and picking up a copy of the album first thing in the morning.

Perhaps it was pure demographics, but some of the tunes included in the two-hour gig that gleaned the most applause and fan participation were 1980s numbers, such as I Love it Loud and Lick it Up.

The audience itself was a curious mix of seniors, middle-agers and a younger set that included a healthy selection of scantily-clad teeny boppers, who would have been prime candidates for one of Simmons's more recent proposed business ventures: a bikini car wash.

There were some cleverly painted faces, but fewer folks sporting all-out Kiss costumes than what appeared at the Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., show a few years back. But, in 2007, the band played only a handful of concerts and likely attracted a much more fervent brand of enthusiasts from all four corners of the globe.

Stanley and Simmons were the ultimate showmen Tuesday night, proving their professionalism beyond a doubt - even when playing for an audience a fraction of what they're accustomed to.

"It's all about who you are, not how many you've got," said Stanley, rhyming off a few of the Canadian cities Kiss has played. Sudbury's mention was met with boos.

Stanley was also humble about delays in the Sault landing the hard rockers.

It was announced in June the makeup-clad quartet would make good on its promise to play Essar Centre in a makeup date for its postponed Dec. 15 show. The Sault placed third in an online contest last year that let fan votes route the band's fall North American tour, but bad weather cancelled the final show of the tour.

"Did you think we weren't going to come? We're here." Stanley said. His moment in the sun was gliding over the floor seats with the aid of a cable and singing You Were Made for Loving Me from a small, rotating stage in the north end of the arena.

Simmons, the man of many words in his hit reality show, remains The Demon on stage, rarely saying more than "Oh yeah" but arguably singing as well as he did during the band's salad days.

A true highlight of the show was drummer Eric Singer and Thayer showing their stuff at the conclusion of Shock Me, with Thayer's blistering guitar solo, done primarily with the axe lodged behind his head, and Singer proving his mastery of the drum kit on a short, but thundering solo. Any barbs about the two relative newcomers taking on Peter Criss's Catman persona and Frehley's Spaceman character quickly become moot.

It's hard to pinpoint the basis of Kiss's current popularity.

Is it pure nostalgia? A resurrection of the band's brand due to Simmons's reality TV stint? Or, perhaps, it's purely the music. Kiss might tell you God Gave Rock 'N' Roll to You. On Tuesday night in Sault Ste. Marie, it was Kiss that delivered.