By Crystal Larsen

Irvine, Calif.

With the Fourth of July in the rearview, the smell of fire and smoke was still in the air on July 5 for the first Southern California stop on Kiss and Def Leppard's joint summer tour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine. Traveling across the country to celebrate Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley's 40th year of keeping Kiss alive, two of rock's most illustrious bands put on a show that was hotter than hell … and not just because it was still nearly 90 degrees by sunset.

Owning the first portion of the evening, Def Leppard burst onstage at 8 p.m. to the tune of 1981's "Let It Go" as a black sheet emblazoned with the band's fiery logo was lifted to reveal one of rock's most celebrated drummers, Rick Allen. Allen sounded like he was playing with four arms instead of one as he led the band through a 14-song set of some of their biggest hits. Highlights included the driving instrumental "Switch 625," which showcased bassist Rick "Sav" Savage and the unmatched guitar prowess of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, the latter of whom was in excellent form despite his current battle with cancer; "Hysteria," during which frontman Joe Elliott saluted tourmates Kiss by singing an excerpt from the band's "Beth"; and a performance of the acoustic number "Two Steps Behind." The latter performance took on a special meaning as Elliott noted they recorded the live portion of the song's accompanying music video on that same stage.

With three songs left in their set Collen kicked off the opening riff to "Pour Some Sugar On Me," which gave the audience full reign to shout along to the lyrics. They signed off with an encore performance of "Rock Of Ages" and "Photograph," leaving the words "I want rock and roll/long live rock and roll" ringing in my ears until Kiss took the stage.

The last time I saw Kiss was in 2012 in Chula Vista, Calif., for their joint tour with Mötley Crüe, and I had no idea what to expect as I watched security guards dress themselves in raincoats as they prepared for the band to take the stage. This time, I still didn't know what to expect, but I did know that I was not allowed to enter the photo pit until the kabuki drop fell and was fully out of the way, otherwise I could be killed, according to a venue representative.

But fortunately all went according to plan, as often seems to be the case with Kiss shows, and the band emerged in their painted and sparkling glory to welcome the crowd to their "Psycho Circus." At one point early on in their set, Stanley informed the crowd that they'd play some songs the crowd knew and some they didn't. But whether the songs were familiar or not, there was never a dull moment in the band's 90-minute set.

Some of those moments included the time Simmons pestered a man in the third row to get up from his sitting position, and then rested his big silver boot on a security guard's head; or when Stanley ziplined over the crowd to a smaller satellite stage near the soundboard to perform "Cold Gin" and "Black Diamond." And when Simmons, truly looking like the demon, spewed blood from his mouth during his bass solo before he was suspended in the air to perform "I Love It Loud" from a stage atop the lighting rig.

Fire torches, fake blood and fireworks that sparked from the stage (and sometimes out of Tommy Thayer's guitar neck) combined to create a long-running one-of-a-kind stage spectacle that only the loudest band on Earth can pull off.

As the stage erupted into fireworks and confetti fell from the sky during the finale performance of "Rock And Roll All Nite" it felt like the Fourth of July all over again. Except we weren't wishing America a happy birthday, we were congratulating Kiss on shouting out loud for 40 years, and hoping for 40 more.

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