November 07, 2009
By Greg Kot

Once you've seen a giant demon in silver platform boots sprout wings and spit blood and fire, what's left? For Kiss, that shtick was outrageous enough to get them noticed in the '70s until they were the biggest band in the world.

On Friday at the United Center, not a whole lot had changed. Rock's answer to the Ringling Brothers - Kiss cofounders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley - brought the circus to a near-capacity audience. Fans were blinged out in vintage Kiss tour T-shirts and face paint. A few adolescents have enlisted, but the Kiss Army consisted mostly of folks who came of age in the mid-'70s, back when 10-year-olds were toting Kiss lunch boxes to school and rocking "Kiss Alive" on the stereo loud enough to annoy Cat Stevens fans everywhere.

Still selling loads of tickets, Simmons and Stanley run the greatest self-marketing machine in rock history, perhaps the first pair of businessmen-rockers to put the "r" in band, as in "brand." They keep finding new ways to sell themselves: In the '70s it was everyday-is-Halloween masks; at Friday's show, $30 got you a USB leather wristband containing digital files of the night's performance.

The garish black-and-white makeup was intact, as it was when the band brought a shot of glam to New York City grime in 1973. Simmons wore his 60 pounds of demon regalia, while Stanley was the bare-chested star man. Guitarist Tommy Thayer became Frehley's futuristic space man and drummer Eric Singer yanked Criss' cat whiskers. Not that the fans seemed to mind. If anything, Thayer and Singer brought more punch and technical prowess.

The music makes no pretense beyond turn-off-your-brain appeal: big chords and gang choruses about love guns and love doctors. As Stanley said, "If you came here tonight to hear some band tell ya how to end world hunger" you were out luck. A minute later, Kiss delivered its mission statement: "I want to rock 'n' roll all night, and party every day."

The music itself was gimmick-free. As a bass player, Simmons created a thick, mulch-like bottom end for Thayer to deliver solos, and Singer kept the arrangements interesting with showy fills. On "Black Diamond," the quartet sounded downright musical, with sharp harmonies and Stanley quoting another warhorse, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," on guitar.

Most of the set list was drawn from the Kiss golden era, 35 years ago, and so was the stage show. For a band once celebrated for arena-rock spectacle, surprisingly little has changed. Fake blood, flaming geysers, Simmons and Stanley going airborne with the aid of ropes and a trapeze, Thayer's guitar turning into a cannon - it wasn't all that different from a Kiss show circa 1977. They're in the business called show, and business is still good.

Kiss set list Friday at the United Center:

1. Deuce
2. Strutter
3. Let Me Know
4. Hotter Than Hell
5. Shock Me
6. Calling Dr. Love
7. Modern Day Delilah
8. Cold Gin
9. Parasite
10. 100,000 Years
11. I Love it Loud
12. Black Diamond
13. Rock and Roll All Night

14. Shout It Out Loud
15. Lick It Up
16. Love Gun
17. Detroit Rock City