REVIEW: KISS revives magic from way back when

By Bruce Miller / SiouxCityJournal.com

The Democratic and Republican conventions didn’t get the kind of cheering that greeted KISS Wednesday night at the Tyson Events Center.

Returning to Sioux City for the first time in decades, the rockers started with several big bangs (no kidding, the 21-gun salute is still ringing in fans’ ears), lots of pyrotechnics and a level of showmanship that few have been able to claim.

Lead singer Paul Stanley said the latest tour – Freedom to Rock – was hitting cities where quality ruled over quantity. He detailed the Sioux City/KISS connection (five times since 1982) and the appreciation for years of support.

Like no other frontman in rock, Stanley got the crowd up and cheering, merely by “playing doctor” and checking its pulse. (It was more than healthy, by the way.)

Fellow founder Gene Simmons, meanwhile, displayed his guitar prowess, flashed the legendary tongue and made it around the expansive stage without missing a step in his oh-so-high heels.

Newer additions Tommy Thayer (lead guitar) and Eric Singer (drums) were able to keep the tradition alive with musicianship that sounded as fresh as it did in ’82. Singer was particular strong on “Psycho Circus,” a late ‘90s release.

“Detroit Rock City,” “Shout it Out Loud” and “I Love it Loud” got the energy up while the lighting, sound and pyrotechnics guys worked their magic. (The Fourth of July in Sioux City didn’t have this many fireworks.)

Unlike other veteran acts, KISS didn’t dine out on nostalgia. Thayer got a solo (“Shock Me”) that was respectable and Singer got his moment on “Black Diamonds.”

Yeah, the show was loud. Yeah, the smell of sulfur was stronger than you’d want. But Wednesday’s concert was more of a primer, catching up those who weren’t in the KISS army way back when.

Oldies like “Flaming Youth” helped turn back the hands of time and remind fans when the Municipal Auditorium was the place to be and KISS was the only band they wanted to see.

While he might not have been the most natural fit for KISS, opener Caleb Johnson had his own style that sort of matched.

Rousing the crowd with songs that didn’t quite seem like the stuff an “American Idol” winner would sing, he worked his way through a bunch of lung busters, scoring with “Sugar,” “Devil’s Daughter” and “Hanging with the Band,” a cut from his newest EP.

Dressed in a long black coat and black jeans, Johnson worked hard – perhaps too hard for someone who doesn’t seem like an opener. He got super support from a backup singer (who was just as good as any of his “Idol” competition) and a band that sounded much bigger than it was.

Johnson has a bluesy Ray Charles quality that would work really well on quieter songs – ones that didn’t always edge into Steven Tyler territory.

He’s talented. Now he just needs to write a song that takes advantage of his ability to turn a town’s name into an introductory run for everything he sings.

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