SET THE DON ON FIRE!
December 03, 2009
Essay by M
Photograph by Jessica N. De Santiago (Apples)
Excerpted from EP Culture Beat

"We all came here to escape from the world tonight," yelled Paul Stanley, lead singer of KISS, before the group launched into "Rock and Roll All Night."

KISS brought their fiery rock and roll show to the Don Haskins Center on Wednesday night. The platform shoe wearing rockers played a set consisting of KISS classics like set opener, "Deuce," "Strutter," "Dr. Love," "Love Gun" and "Lick it Up."

KISS is one of those bands that incite weird and very disparate feelings in people. Some say, "f*ck KISS," but other's say, "F*cking Awesome." People that say the latter are either super fans of the group or they were lucky enough to catch the blood and thunder of their theatrical live performances.

Once a person sees KISS, the convert's perception of how live rock and roll should sound, feel and to an extent look like, changes completely. These guys are damn exciting to see. They are a loud, awe-inspiring, all engulfing experience that you'll never forget.

When that black curtain emblazoned with the KISS logo falls, bombs go off and these 4 wild men in grease paint go to work. This squad of 7 foot tall superheroes w/ instruments who are - The Demon, the Star Child, the Space Man, and the Cat Man - glimmer and sparkle like something out of this world. Your mind finds it hard to get used to it at first. It does not know what to make of these unreal figures cartoonish and garish in nature - in a real life setting.

But, soon, your brain gives, and there they are, right in front of you, jumping and lurking about in clouds of dry ice fog. They spit blood, shoot rockets, fly over the crowd, practically set the venue on ablaze with bombs and towers of fire while burning your retinas with that extra huge light up KISS logo they never leave home without.

Very real. Very loud. Very trippy.

As you're taken in by the experience, you start to notice that these guys have basically taken the Chuck Berry and Alice Cooper ethos to the extreme. Then you begin to realize that these guys are driven, to the brink of insanity, to be world-class entertainers.

These guys are Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, founders and seemingly, permanent, members of KISS. They started this group way back in 1973 in the birthplace of many a rock group, New York, with two other guys, Ace Frehley, KISS' first lead guitarist and Peter Criss, KISS' first drummer.

As a struggling band, the four young New Yorkers with attitude and big dreams rehearsed constantly, played countless shows at dive bars, dilapidated hotels and other assorted odd realms you may have encountered in the early '70s.

By 1975, the group had released three albums to little or no critical acclaim or chart success, yet, retained a rigorous touring schedule.

However, they were playing to packed crowds on a regular basis, so they decided to release a live album to chronicle the bombast of their show. That album, "KISS Alive!," was a hit and has since become a classic and sold millions of units.

Their music from the 70's is arguably their best.

It was very riff driven, contained catchy choruses, very underrated lead guitar work (check out Alive!, seriously) and their lyrical content was shameless, ex: "Put your hands in my pocket grab on to my rocket!" KISS' sound was mixed just right in their best releases from that period: "Destroyer," produced by Bob Ezrin, "Rock and Roll Over" and "Love Gun" both produced by Eddie Kramer who engineered sessions for Jimi Hendrix.

And the rest, as they say, is KISStory.

KISS spent the rest of the '70's dominating their audience, selling millions of albums and merchandise. During the 80s all that behind the music stuff happened: there were line up changes, they experienced a drop in popularity, released tepid sounding albums. Most disheartening of all, they took off their makeup.

In 1996, KISS embarked on a reunion tour with original members Ace and Peter. It was a success and showed that the world wanted the super hero KISS back. The reunited KISS released an album, "Psycho Circus," but began the new decade with a "Farewell" tour. It seemed like old problems arose and Ace and Peter once again left the group. In hindsight, that "Farewell" tour was really one last hurrah for the original lineup.

KISS has continued, as always, with Gene and Paul. They have retained the original look of the group with Tommy Thayer on guitar, a longtime jack-of-all-trades in the KISS organization and Eric Singer on drums, who actually played with the group in the early 90s. KISS version 2.0 has released a new album entitled "Sonic Boom," which features a return to their 70's style of songwriting, riffing and producing. Their current tour celebrates the new album and lineup as well as KISS' 35 years in the music biz.

KISS understands that rock and roll should be loud, colorful, full of fire and passion and they always make sure to deliver only THE BEST in their live performances, with or without certain members in the group. Their performance was everything that a KISS show promises to be, a top-notch spectacle.

Gene spit fire and blood. Paul, who is quite possibly one of the best frontmen alive, flew over the crowd to a revolving platform. Tommy shot rockets from his guitar and Eric played a crazy drum solo. They also played songs that delighted hardcore fans, like "Parasite" and "Cold Gin" and played classic interludes found on their first live record. They ended their Don Haskin's performance with Detroit Rock City and let loose with pyro at the very end.

This strange rock and roll group that began in the 70's has been lambasted by critics, shunned by the 'normals' and have been unfairly ignored by the rock and roll hall of fame, until recently. Despite that, they seem to outlast fads and trends and have influenced many bands and guitarists, most famously Dimebag Darrell. Not all bands would benefit greatly from donning grease paint, but there's just something special about KISS.

KISS' show is a cataclysmic catharsis. These guys are one of the few practitioners of this lost art. A young band or musician may scoff at KISS, but they should really be paying attention and taking notes.