KISS adds patriotism, charity to rock ’n’ roll spectacle

By Travis Heying / THE wICHITA eAGLE

In one month, Gene Simmons will turn 67. His KISS bandmate Paul Stanley isn’t far behind at 64. In other words, it isn’t 1977 anymore.

But 39 years after they played a show at Henry Levitt Arena that people still talk about, there they were, on stage at Intrust Bank Arena, spitting blood and jumping around in platform boots with the same youthful enthusiasm that made them famous.

Maybe it’s the makeup.

The patriotism-fueled “Freedom to Rock” tour stopped in Wichita on Monday night and played for a crowd of 8,000.

“You wanted the best and you got the best! The hottest band in the world… KISS!” Those lines have been repeated before their shows for 40 years and the band that invented the gargantuan rock show made an entrance like only they can. Behind a falling black curtain, three band members, Simmons, Stanley and guitarist Tommy Thayer, stood on a riser shrouded in fog. The letters K-I-S-S flashed behind them. The opening notes of “Detroit Rock City,” arguably their biggest hit, pulsed straight into a pyrotechnics blast that would have only surprised a first-time KISS concert attendee.

During the second number, the appropriately titled “Deuce,” Stanley sat down on the edge of the stage, nearly knocking a photographer in the head with his platform boots, but once positioned, hammed it up for the assembled photographers like an excited kid.

And speaking of kids, during “I Love it Loud” Stanley pulled a young girl up on stage and tucked her between himself and his guitar while she helped him play the song. In the sea of assembled fans, kids as young as seven were wearing makeup mimicking the different band members.

One might think the formula would be stale by now. Watch a YouTube video of KISS in 1977 and you’ll notice that not much has changed about their show. There are two different band members, but with the makeup, even that difference is negligible. Gene Simmons still spits blood and breathes fire. There’s still one pyrotechnic blast after another and it was ear-splitting loud. But the band delivered hit after hit with an enthusiasm that made it feel fresh and fun.

Every band member took a turn at lead vocals, and every song and harmony was spot-on. “Shout it Out Loud,” “Lick it Up” and “Cold Gin,” songs that spanned the entirety of the band’s four-decade career were performed. The crowd, even those on the sides of the arena, stood the entire show.

There are few spectacles in music like KISS, and every bro-country act that passes through Wichita these days, Luke Bryan, Eric Church and Jason Aldean to name a few, put on shows that are molded from the blueprint that KISS created.

But those acts don’t have an anthem to close a concert with like “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

But before getting to that, the band paid tribute to military veterans and offered up a $150,000 check to the charity “Hiring our Heroes.” Even Vice Mayor Lavonta Williams joined the band on stage for the Pledge of Allegiance.

After a “Star-Spangled Banner” segue, the arena was filled with confetti, explosions and 8000 people pumping their fists in the air singing “Rock and roll all night and party every day.” Paul Stanley shattered a guitar on stage and a fireworks display fit for the Fourth of July lit up. It doesn’t get any more Rock and Roll, or American, than that.

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