October 22, 2009
The experience of attending a KISS concert begins long before the house lights go down. The roads leading to the arena are filled with loyal followers in everything from jeans and black concert shirts to very impressive replicas of KISS costumes from every era in the band's long history. The Irish pub we had dinner in prior to the show was packed with fans talking about "The Hottest Band in the Land," and as people walked about there were high fives, fist pumps, and energetic screams and hollers back and forth. Most of us had a good idea of the sensory assault we were about to subject ourselves to inside the St. Pete Times Arena, and we were sharing the energy built up inside us like the capacitors in the wall of amplifiers humming behind the KISS curtain on the floor of the arena.

Once inside the arena, you can begin to see the complete magnetism of KISS: people from all walks of life and three generations of members from the KISS-ARMY. From the babies with ear plugs, to the kids who'd clearly be missing school the next day, all the way to the gray haired fans like me who have been with the band since the 1970's, there was a common bond shared that only becomes more fortified when exposed to the heat of the pyrotechnics and the violent shaking of sound waves from the monstrous black sound system staring down at us like the God of Thunder himself. Not a single person is sitting down as the house lights begin to flicker on and off and we all stare at the black curtain emblazoned with simply "KISS." To either side of this curtain are gigantic video screens that light up with Doc McGhee, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer, and finally Paul Stanley running towards stage from back. The arena goes dark, the sound system begins to drone the infamous low hum, and the announcer screams "Alright Tampa. You wanted the Best? You got the Best. The Hottest Band in the World, KISS!"

Before the curtain can even hit the ground, Paul Stanley is wailing out the beginning riff to Deuce on his 1975 era flying V guitar, and the explosions are leaving us all temporarily blind. The sound system is deafening - as it should be. As the rest of the band joins Paul, you are finally able to take in the sheer magnitude of the stage. This isn't just KISS - this is wide screen KISS. What were once empty vertical stacks of Marshall amplifier cabinets in 1974 are now guitar amps stretching all the way from one side of the arena to the other... and they're doubling as video screens. I had never seen anything like it before. Eric Singer was drumming on top of the very large trademark KISS marquee, and above the wall-to-wall stacks of amplifiers was the biggest video screen I've ever seen.

After Deuce came Strutter, Let Me Go Rock 'n' Roll, and Calling Dr. Love. At this point, we were treated to the new single from the chart topping album Sonic Boom, Modern Day Delilah. It's a fantastic song with a menacing guitar riff held together by the monstrous power chords we all expect and love. And speaking of menacing, Gene is the complete embodiment of testosterone. He doesn't move. He lurks. He doesn't sing, he growls. He was completely on top of his game, and his underrated, hypnotic bass lines rattled my ribs and teeth for two complete hours.

Paul showed us all why he is the greatest front man in rock and roll. He taunted us with how loud and how great Pensacola had been two nights before, but this crowd surely gave him a night he won't soon forget - the capacity crowd was every bit as deafening as the band. He took us up and down the track list from Alive I, with a handful of work from the Alive II era. In fact, Tommy Thayer unleashed his powerful voice for the first time by singing the 1977 classic "Shock Me" and literally tore down the light set with his guitar solo. His work on the fret board of his Gibson Les Pauls was superb from start to finish. Eric Singer beat the skins of his drums so hard I am not sure his techs weren't replacing them between songs; he put out a wall of sound my ears won't soon forget.

As the show began to draw to a close, a Nor'easter formed during Rock and Roll All Nite and buried the entire arena in white confetti - it may as well have been a blizzard. The effect it gave the lights was mind blowing. The encore reached outside of the Alive I and II eras and took us to the 1983 classic, Lick It Up. Besides the new single and Lick It Up, the only other song from outside the original six studio albums was when Gene sang I Love It Loud from the rafters. The show ended with a trip to Detroit Rock City, and the road was paved with so much pyro and flash pots that it left the local fire marshal in tears. In addition to the sledge hammer of light and sound, now our skin was being roasted like in a rotisserie - it was fantastic. Full sensory assault.

And with that, the house lights came up, and we began the walk back to our car with our hair singed, ears ringing, and KISS burned into our retinas. There's no other show on Earth like it!

Will Jay