September 29, 2009
By D.X. Ferris
Photograph by Matt Mitchell

Halloween arrived early last night, when the Kiss Army invaded downtown Cleveland, Ohio, for a concert at Quicken Loans Arena. The show was the second stop of the Kiss Alive 35 tour, following a sold-out two-night stand in Detroit Rock City. The trek celebrates the 35th anniversary of Alive!, the band's first landmark live album - one of RS' Greatest Albums of All Time - which helped elevate the group from a New York makeup act to international rock icons.

With some luck, Kiss will return to the city in a few months: Last week, after a decade of eligibility, the popular favorite received a nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is headquartered blocks away from Q.

The arena was dotted with convention-worthy costumes and fans in pedestrian fatigues and face-paint. Couples wore black-and-white Gene-and-Paul designs, dads and sons sported matching makeup, and an elementary schoolgirl looked so comfortable painted as Starchild you'd think she was at a Dora the Explorer Live! show.

As frontman Paul Stanley proclaimed early in the set, "Tonight is all about celebrating the history of the band and the relationship with the Kiss Army."

In the years that followed Alive!, detractors have had a lot to say about Kiss, through its concept albums, solo indulgences, collectible dolls, unmasking, remasking, and forays into reality TV. But few have ever accused the band of putting on a bad show. And they still can't, regardless of what you think about their hard-chugging music and lyrics about rock, gin, loose women, liberated women, unwilling women and coerced women.

Some historical maritime skirmishes on nearby Lake Erie didn't use as much pyro and explosives as the group brought. Flame, fog, and fireworks surrounded rotating high-rise platforms. And the band looked like they have since bringing back the makeup in 1996. This stage set featured a trademark lit-up KISS logo under a tall large drum riser, and a video screen as wide as the stage was flanked by two smaller displays.

With under-arm wings and a wagging tongue you can see from the cheap seats, Gene Simmons is still a convincing, deep-voiced demon. He spat blood and flew to the top of the lighting rig, where he sang "I Love It Loud." As the band launched into "Love Gun," Stanley the Starchild zipped on a wire from the stage to a platform in the back of the arena. Over the set, he ran through his repertoire of reliable moves - disco strut, head-scratch, butt-shake, and stripper-style hip-wiggle. His voice was a hit - his pipes, after all, were strong enough to score him a starring role in a production of Phantom of the Opera.

Guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer were also on point. Wearing Spaceman and Catman makeup designs, the two recent additions expertly improved upon their predecessors. During a spotlight solo, Thayer wielded a guitar that spewed sparks, and gunned down a chunk of the lighting rig.

The set was an expanded staging of Alive!, with extra - in the words of Stanley - "classic classics" from the 1976's Destroyer, plus "Modern Day Delilah," the promising new single from the imminent throwback-style LP, Sonic Boom. The group made just two brief nods to its unmasked, no-makeup period of the '80s and '90s: "Lick It Up" and, as the crowd exited, "God Gave Rock N Roll To You II" played over the P.A. system like rolling-credits music from a big-budget movie.

The Kiss Army left the arena and spilled the street, chanting the "hey-yeah" refrain from "I Love It Loud." Fan Greg Krol grew up with the classic records and first saw the band on 1984's Animalize tour. He gave it a thumbs-up: "Best Kiss set ever."

Set List:

Got to Choose
Let Me Go, Rock N Roll
Modern Day Delilah
Hotter Than Hell
Nothing to Lose
C'Mon and Love Me
Guitar solo
Watchin' You
100,000 Years
Drum solo
(Paul teases crowd with the first bar of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven")
Black Diamond
Rock and Roll All Nite

Shout It Out Loud
Lick It Up (with a brief instrumental interpolation of the Who's Baba O'Riley)
Bass solo
I Love It Loud
Cold Gin
Love Gun
Detroit Rock City