December 02, 2009
By Larry Rodgers
Photo by Emmanuel Lozano

Kiss sounded better in Glendale than the 35-year-old band has in several years, hinting that the drama-filled exits of two founding members may have benefited things in the long run.

Longtime co-leaders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons kept a healthy-but-not-sold-out crowd at Arena on its feet with two hours of classics and a handful of songs from the band's new "Sonic Boom" album on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Kiss purists no doubt lamented the absence of guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss, but the band sounded sharper and more energetic as replacements Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer settled into their permanent status with the group.

The band, nominated this year for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, continues to stage one of the most over-the-top shows in rock.

The Glendale crowd, which included a number of children with faces painted to match their parents' heroes, ate up the extra-large helping of pyrotechnics, fireworks and acrobatics by bassist Simmons and singer-guitarist Stanley.

As if anyone needed reminding, master of ceremonies Stanley pointed out that Kiss concerts are all about escaping from the pressure of the outside world for a few hours.

If anybody came to the show seeking musical commentary on global issues, Stanley said in his shrill voice, "You came to the wrong damn place, people!"

Kiss dished out plenty of escapism through such classic tunes as "Strutter," "Calling Dr. Love," "Shout It Out Loud" and "Lick It Up."

The band tore through an extended version of "Cold Gin," with guitarist Thayer showing off his fast fingers, playing over his head and behind his neck. Wearing the "Spaceman" get-up formerly donned by Frehley, Thayer pulled one of his predecessor's tricks out of the bag as fireworks shot from the neck of his guitar.

Simmons, owner of the most famous tongue in rock, wasn't about to be topped in the showmanship department.

Wearing his bat cape, spiked shoulder armor and 7-inch platform boots, Simmons started spitting fake blood before being pulled by cables to a platform about 70 feet above the stage. The 60-year-old bassist even had a couple flame-shooting devices straddling him as he sang the dance-rocker "I Love It Loud" atop the lighting truss.

Stanley waited until the four-song encore to take flight, riding a cable and metal ring over the crowd to a small stage on the back of the arena floor during "Love Gun."

That pummeling tune showed off the solid backup vocals of Thayer and Singer.

Kiss may have created a new concert classic on "Sonic Boom" with "Say Yeah," a rocking anthem that allowed the crowd to sing along using the song's title.

By the time Kiss started to wind things down, playing its mega-hit "Rock and Roll All Nite" as tons of white confetti flew over the crowd, the band had more than delivered on its promise to make fans forget more serious matters for one evening.