'Hottest Band in the World' sounding better than ever

By Chris Dickerson / For The Herald-Dispatch

No offense to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, but their circus is not the greatest show on Earth.

That title belongs to KISS.

Whether you love their music or not, anyone who has seen KISS in concert will tell you there is nothing else like it in entertainment: Four larger-than-life men wearing greasepaint, leather and seven-inch heels, breathing fire, spitting (fake) blood, flying around the coliseum while pumping out two hours of hard-driving rock and roll classics. And they’re accompanied by a spectacular laser, light and video show as well as enough pyrotechnics to destroy several small countries.

And on Sept. 10, the Tri-State will get a chance to see the “Hottest Band in the World” for the first time since 1988 when KISS concludes its Freedom To Rock tour at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. The Dead Daisies open the show.

Last week, I drove to Dayton to take in the show. And even after having seen the band too many times to count, I can say I haven’t seen and heard them look and sound as good as they do right now, more than 40 years after they first took the world by storm.

One thing that struck me is how the band clearly is having a lot of fun performing. They are smiling, laughing and joking with each other on stage. It’s infectious, making the audience enjoy the show that much more.

And, their musicianship is better than ever. Paul Stanley is, in my opinion, the greatest frontman in rock history. Listening to him sing and get the crowd involved is akin to a fiery Southern Baptist preacher on a Sunday morning in a small church. The only difference is that Stanley is preaching to an arena full of thousands of devoted followers. And Stanley’s voice sounds as good as I ever remember it.

While most recognize Gene Simmons for his onstage Demon persona or his outspokenness, most people overlook his fantastic bass playing and vocals. He just seems to get better and better with age.

Original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss no longer are with the band, but the two “new” members breathe fresh life and attitude into KISS.

Tommy Thayer, who became a member of the band in 2002, brings boundless energy as the Spaceman. He’s a fantastic lead guitarist, and he has grown quite comfortable in taking center stage to show off his playing and even his vocals. He sounded great singing “Shock Me.”

Eric Singer, who has been the KISS drummer for 20 of the last 25 years, is one of the best drummers in the business. He gives KISS a powerful beat, and he also shines vocally. He sang “Black Diamond” and “Beth” during last week’s show.

When most people think of KISS, they think of the over-the-top theatrics and the standard rock lyrics about girls. But to the legions of members of the KISS Army, the band is about standing behind something you believe in, being true to yourself and making the most out of life no matter what obstacles are thrown in front of you.

Simmons has been known to say KISS isn’t just a band, it’s a way of life.

A perfect example of that is “Lick It Up.” On the surface, it might seem like a stereotypical rock song. But the lyrics are about making yourself your top priority. “Life’s such a treat, and it’s time you taste it,” Stanley sings triumphantly. “There ain’t a reason on Earth to waste it. It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself!”

The nearly two-hour setlist has all of the KISS staples: “Detroit Rock City,” “Deuce,” “I Love It Loud,” “God of Thunder,” “Love Gun,” “Shout It Out Loud” and, of course, “Rock and Roll All Nite.” It also features “Flaming Youth,” which hasn’t been played regularly since the song came out on the band’s landmark 1976 album “Destroyer.”

Simmons also has been known to say KISS isn’t just a band, it’s a brand. To prove that, fans can throw down as little as $10 for a KISS lanyard or as much as $1,250 for a VIP Meet and Greet package that includes a photograph with the band, an autograph session and a pre-show acoustic performance by the band backstage.

Opening the show with a lively and entertaining hourlong set were The Dead Daisies, a musical collective featuring former Motley Crue vocalist John Corabi, drummer Brian Tichy, guitarist David Lowey and former Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich and bassist Marco Mendoza. Their set included original material – such as “Make Some Noise,” the title track from their latest CD – as well as some fresh takes on rock classics such as “Fortunate Son” and “Helter Skelter.”

Last week’s show was three hours of great music, great showmanship and great fun for all ages. I saw people in their 70s and children as young as 2 or 3, many of them wearing the makeup and/or costumes of their favorite band member.

At each show, the crowd hears this before the curtain reveals the stage. “You wanted the best! You got the best! The hottest band in the world … KISS!” Last week – like they do every night and certainly will on Sept. 10 – they lived up to that mantra.


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