July 19, 2009
KISS rocks, awes tens of thousands of faithful on Commons!

The sea of thousands of fans dressed up in rain ponchos, slickers and heavy weather gear looked more like the Kiss navy than the Kiss army on Halifax's North Common on Saturday.

Yet the fear of smeared face paint didn't deter the faithful from transforming themselves into the Starchild, the Demon, Space Ace and the Cat Man for the occasion. For all anybody knows, the real Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer could have been roaming the crowd and no one would have been the wiser.

I didn't feel compelled to put on the greasepaint, but if I had a time machine and could go back to the mid-70s to ask my 11-year-old self what bands he'd most like to see, the top two choices would be the Beatles and Kiss. The Beatles had been broken up for years at that point, and there was no way in Hades that my parents would let me go near those so-called "Knights in Satan's Service" and their legendary shows at the Halifax Forum.

Cut to three decades later and within the space of a week we've had ex-moptop Paul McCartney and those rock and roll action figures -whose acronym could more properly be Keep It Spectacular, Stupid - making for one giddily ecstatic inner 11-year-old by the time the legendary foursome took the stage on Saturday night to the primal pounding of Deuce.

Of course they didn't just walk on stage; the foursome descended from the lighting rig on a platform while a giant banner bearing a band logo as distinctive a trademark as the Nike swoosh dropped to the floor. Immediately they went into character, with Simmons on the prowl like a widow-peaked vampire, Stanley a strutting Mick Jagger cartoon and Thayer approximating former guitarist Ace Frehley's spaced out stage stance, swaying on his massive silver platform boots.

As with other shows on the tour, the early part of the set more or less mirrors the track list on Kiss's landmark live album Alive, which celebrates its 35th anniversary next year, and Stanley promised an evening of "vintage classics" - post-makeup tunes from the '80s like Lick It Up and I Love It Loud wouldn't show up until the encores - with Strutter and Got to Choose eliciting a wave of shouting along to the choruses and fists pumping in all their devil-horned glory.

"Halifax! How we doin' so far?" implored Stanley with that crazed, evangelistic tone so familiar from Kiss live albums of yore.

"I got a feeeeeeeelin'! Whoaaaaaaaaoooh! We're gonna make this place hotter than hell!"

Sure enough, the stage was bathed in smoke as they tore into the title song from the 1974 album, complete with sirens and Simmons doing a bit of fire breathing with a flaming sword. These guys didn't rewrite the rock showmanship rule book for nothing all those years ago.

"Okay Halifax! We played Montreal! We played Ottawa! We played Sarnia! We played Quebec City!" exclaimed Stanley, eliciting a low rumble of boos for each place name, except Sarnia which mostly just got shrugs.

"All you Haligonians, tonight is your night to show us that Halifax is number one! We want to come back, can we come back?"

A loud roar went up as he plugged a forthcoming album hitting stores on Oct. 6. "I promise you it will be as good as anything you will hear tonight! I swear on the Kiss Army!"

That's a tough promise to live up to, considering classic Kiss is built on a foundation of glam guitar, tuneful pop smarts and an oil tankerful of testosterone, like the amped-up garage rock with Beatles harmonies of Nothin' to Lose, unsubtle come on of C'mon and Love Me.

But given the band's dedication to its back catalogue on Saturday night, there's little doubt they know what fans both young and old want to hear.

The junior members of the Kiss crew got their spotlight moments as well, with Thayer taking an extended solo in the middle of the mastodon tempo and brute eroticism of Simmons' She, playing behind his head and setting off explosions across the stage.

Thayer's string-bending eventually morphed into whirring space sounds and a fragment of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, before coming back down to earth.

Singer got his chance to lay waste to the drum kit in 100,000 Years, and while he didn't offer up a flurry of polyrhythms or even a surfeit of cowbell, it cast a strobe lit spell on the crowd, which erupted in cheers as sheets of flame burst forth on the stage and the rest of the band returned with Stanley swinging the mic cord around his neck and Simmons spreading the bat wings of his battle armour.

The best was yet to come, however, when Stanley asked the audience for suggestions for an anthem to bring the world together in these times of trouble, even crooning a bit of O Canada in the process.

The answer he was looking for though was Rock and Roll All Night, whose party hearty lyrics were soon coming out of every mouth in sight, as cannons filled the air with smoke and confetti and fireworks exploded overhead in the greatest musical example of shock and awe since Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.