October 03, 2009
Photo By Terry Wilson

The lights go down. A low and steady tone rumbles from the amplifiers. Legions of fans, known as the KISS Army, leap to their feet as a roar of excitement fills the air at the John Labatt Centre last Tuesday night.

A booming voice says the familiar words that have signalled the beginning of every KISS concert. Words that many fans heard for the first time when they purchased the band's landmark 1975 live album Alive: "You wanted the best, and you got the best. The hottest band in the world -KISS"

KISS co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, rise through the stage floor as white smoke spews over the stage. Drummer Eric Singer is in place behind a massive kit perched atop an eight-foot tall KISS logo. Stanley and Simmons show no signs of slowing down as they approach their 60s. Stanley struts and leaps impossibly high in seven-inch platform boots, and Simmons's gyrations, lizard-like tongue-wagging, and Chesire cat grin make it obvious he's still having a lot of fun.

"Are you getting what you came for?" asks Stanley.

A deafening cheer is the response from just under 9,000 fans, ranging from salt-and-pepper haired veteran fans in the 50s to children, who appear to be as young as five or six. It's a trip back in time for longtime fans, and, for the youngsters, it's quite an indoctrination to the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll showmanship. Four camera operators feed video to a screen the full width of the stage, so there's truly not a bad seat in the house.

The heat from eight columns of flame erupting throughout the evening can be felt at the back of the arena. Lead guitarist Thayer's blistering solo features him shooting down sections of the lighting rig overhead with a thunderous boom and a streak of sparks from the neck of his guitar. Eric Singer delivers a masterful eight-minute drum solo that appears effortless, while his drum kit rises and rotates completely around.

Six huge confetti cannons shower enough paper streamers to rival a New York City ticker-tape parade, as KISS caps the evening of classics with their popular anthem Rock and Roll All Night, Party Every Day. The crowd chants, claps and stomps until the veteran rockers return to the stage for what Stanley calls "the longest encore you have ever seen."

Familiar hits Shout It Out Loud and Lick It Up have the heavy-set, 40-something man in the row behind me singing and shouting, causing more distress to my ears than the banks of amplifiers.

Simmons gets an eerie green spotlight for the primal, haunting grunts of his bass solo. Looking more demonic than ever, he spews theatrical blood and rises high atop the lighting rig to sing I Love It Loud, as the army chants "Gene, Gene, Gene!"

Stanley announces he's "coming out there to see you" and then skims over the floor seats via zip line to a small, rotating platform near the back of the arena to perform Love Gun, before ending the two-hour show with Detroit Rock City.

Musically, the band is tight, faithfully playing their classic hits from decades ago, and off ering up a taste of what's to come this Tuesday with the release of Sonic Boom, the band's first new studio album in 11 years.

The three-disk set will include the new recordings, a new generation greatest hits CD, and a live DVD shot in Argentina. Interestingly, Sonic Boom will be available exclusively at Walmart and Sam's Club, with a KISS Korner in each store also featuring new merchandise, including KISS Mr. Potato Heads.

Stanley tells the audience the band "feels an astounding warmth from the KISS Army in Ontario," and no doubt a new tour will pass this way next year in support of the new album.

The spectacle that is a KISS concert should experienced at least once.