BACK IN TOWN: AT THE STAPLES CENTER
December 01, 2009
By Gustavo Turner
Photos by Anna Webber

Twas the night before Thanksgiving and much of LA had either left town or stayed at home to prepare for the imminent family holiday, but you wouldn't have guessed that if you had been at the Staples Center, where KISS had convened its Army for a back-to-basics, old-school rock and roll show.

Faithful fans and curious gawkers alike were in for a special treat, as the band pulled all the stops for what ended up being KISS's first ever live concert webcast, streamed exclusively through Facebook.com and Ustream.tv.

The current tour pretty much follows the template of the second CD included with copies of KISS's new release Sonic Boom: a riff heavy, high-energy set of "classics" impervious to critical assaults or often justified accusations of cheesiness, embarrassing sexism, repetitiveness, etc.

The band is heading into its fourth decade unrepentant and, shall we say it, victorious. The foursome who took the stage last Wednesday led by life partners Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley reenacted the KISS of the good old early days, a kabuki circus full of fire, stage blood, and Borscht Belt stage banter.

Stanley and Simmons (to paraphrase their two favorite bands) got back to where they once belonged because it had been a long time time since they had rock'n'rolled. Bottom line: they delivered.

1. Half of the fun of attending a KISS show: the fans

When Gene Simmons thought up the KISS concept (read his amazing manual Sex Money Kiss where he explains his entire gameplan and how it succeeded), he realized that each concert could become for the fans a cross between the circus, the freak show at a country fair, and a year-round Halloween parade.

He was right.

2. The other half of the fun: showmanship!

It's really four guys on a stage, a couple of them pushing 60. And they really, really wanna give you a lot of bang for your buck.

KISS plays in front of a wall of screens that can flick in seconds from an illusion of Marshall stacks to the very flames of hell. Speaking of which, there's a lot of actual fire onstage, and the heat could be felt from the back of the Staples Center. Our photographer, standing next to the stage, was almost burnt to a crisp within 20 seconds of the band's entrance. (Yes, KISS is even closer to the firebombs and flares for the entire show, which partially explains Simmons' disturbingly melting makeup later on.)

3. Did we mention the insane, circus-like, old-school carny showmanship?

After a rumbling bass solo and black and white images of foreboding clouds, for no apparent reason Simmons starts gargling blood, as the giant screen focuses on his face. Right behind his head, the entire stadium can see super obvious wires--like "Gene-is-gonna-stage-fly" wires. This goes on for several minutes. Then, he flies to a platform over the stage, from which he regales the audience with "I Love It Loud". Everybody loves it, loud.

Later on, it's Paul's turn to dazzle the punters, by jumping on an acrobatic harness, flying across the stadium and doing "Love Gun" from an elevated platform in the middle of the crowd.

Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer also get their stunts: the drummer rotates 360 degrees during his solo, and the lead guitarist gets his chance to show the skeptics he can fill Ace Frehley's platform boots by shredding alone onstage while the other guys take a break. Thayer even riffs on Beethoven's Fifth and (so that you don't forget this is a KISS show and not a Steve Vai recital) he ends by switching to a guitar that orgasmically shoots fire from its neck, while a roadie throws fake light fixtures down from the rafters.

4. The music, against all odds, holds up (for what it is).

There were a few musical highlights, particularly towards the end. "Rock and Roll All Nite" is still untouchable, and the band was cooking during "Black Diamond" and "Lick It Up". Even though some of their lyrics and posturing (particular Simmons') are easy to mock, last Wednesday's stroll through their "classic" repertoire confirmed their status as a credible bridge between the heavy rock they started emulating in the early 1970s (The Who's Live at Leeds, early Sabbath and Deep Purple, Zep), and a lot of later American heavy metal. During "Calling Dr. Love," it was hard not to notice how much Guns N Roses and Motley Crue are indebted to the original Rock n Roll Circus.

5. The bizarre communion between KISS and their fans is something to behold.

Look at this audience shot:

Can you spot the Gene Simmons doppelganger in the audience? You know, the guy who probably woke up early the day before Thanksgiving and planned his whole pre-show schedule around decking himself out in an exact replica of whatever ghoul drag Simmons wears onstage, including hair and make-up?

This dude came to the show alone and spent the entire performance mouthing Gene Simmons' lyrics in perfect synch. You could switch from the stage and the giant screens to where this guy was sitting and not miss a line. That's motivation--and it's also testament to a kind of loyalty that these ancient clowns (we're calling them clowns in the Grand Gignol/Fellini way, so no judgment is implied) can inspire.

Or, as Paul Stanley put it from the stage near the finale:

"LOS AHHHNNGEEEEEHLEEEEZZZ!!! TURN UP THE LIGHTS. HOLD UP YOUR CHILDREN. WE WERE THERE FOR YOUR MOMS AND YOUR DADS AND WE'LL BE THERE FOR YOU!"