KISS @ Wachovia Center

PHILADELPHIA, PA—Before I give my impressions of the concert, let me start with some background of this group to “set the stage.” I feel that this is pertinent for a band that started out as both a visual attraction and oddity and have went on to drastically change how they look and who’s been in and out of the band, to the point of possible confusion to some reading this.

In ’72, Gene Simmons (real name Chiam Witz) along with Paul Stanley (real name Stanley Eisen), formed a band that after several name considerations, became KISS. This was Stanley’s idea and much better I think than one being tossed about, this being Albatross. They wore kabuki style makeup and spandex-based black and silver costumes, each as a different and distinct persona which gave them much of their notoriety and popularity. This was especially true with young males who got into the escapism aspect that they exuded.

In ’83, they took off their makeup and the accompanying outfits. They said that they didn’t want to be caricatures of themselves and that they needed to be a band that could keep going into their second decade without depending too much on their exterior projections. After having several member changes from ’80 through ’96, with only Simmons and Stanley remaining throughout, it was decided in ‘96 to have reunion tours of the four original members in full, ‘77-‘78 era regalia. The primary motive behind this was surely to revive their concert audiences who desired the now nostalgic reality that drew them to the band in the first place. In doing so, they were able to make a ton of money on these tours, something that Simmons in particular places as a paramount objective in life. In defending their return to what they had previously dismissed, they said that enough time had passed that we’re worthy of putting it all back on. And since they had it would be awkward to go back to being without the makeup and costumes, or outfits, as they prefer to categorize them. It’s not original guitarist Ace Frehley or original drummer Peter Criss that are currently on board, though. Frehley quit for a second time in ’03 (the first being in ’82) and Criss was let go for a second time in ’04 (The first being in ’80). Wearing their makeup and outfits are Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer.

And now, after a couple of years of very little activity, they’re slogging it out on tour in support of their new studio record, Sonic Boom, their first in 11 years. The reason for my prologue is because the overwhelming feeling that I had, as someone that grew up with them as my favorite band, was that I was torn between the two identities they’ve espoused. Those are, naturally, the one with the makeup and outfits and the one being themselves. It’s an interesting and universal paradox. Should one be the person behind the curtain or the one in front of it? Clark Kent or Superman? One of the prices to pay of being the latter was the literal and figurative weight of having to live up to your character. This primarily applies to Simmons, who as his demon persona, “needs” to constantly stick his tongue out and look sinister in his big dragon boots, chest plate armor, large codpiece and bat wings. And I wonder how he feels, at 60, doing all this.

He has said during the non-makeup years that he felt freer onstage without the heavy regalia, and that he could run around more and be himself. And yet the Demon is a part of himself, one that he created (as the other three originals did for their characters), and he’s said that he feels “regal” in the gear, and that it feeds his fantasies. However, after so many years of doing the same kind of moves and what sometimes come off as poses, it can easily get tired once again. This includes both the acts of Simmons “drooling blood” and of Stanley smashing his guitar. The former wasn’t continued when the makeup was dropped, and the latter was only done periodically, I believe. Simmons’ fire breathing did continue at times though, and this is cooler, at least to me, than any of the other acts that he does. I use the word “act” because it all can have that feeling to it. This also applies to the pointing that Stanley does too often for my taste.

As expected, Simmons and Stanley aren’t as active onstage as they were, although Stanley comes closer than Simmons does. Thayer and Singer are several years younger than they are, and have more energy to show for it. Musically, they are a better band with Thayer and Singer, as Frehley and Criss aren’t playing at the same level that they were in the ‘70s, while Simmons and Stanley are. However, both of their voices were somewhat strained, but this is temporary. They played virtually all vintage material, which is what the audience wanted. Only one song from the new album was presented, the single called “Modern Day Delilah”.

Unlike in their entire past, the very well-known lighted KISS logo was down low on the stage, right on it in fact. It had always been higher up, usually very much so. I liked the change, and the way they look standing in front of it. There was an interesting array of makeup era album covers being rotated on the screens on the sides of the stage, and the lighting was colorful and tasteful.

The bottom line has to be the strength of the music and songs themselves, and they were all quite good. I’ll go ahead and buy what they’ve always said, which is that they’re the band that they had wanted to see on stage. However, realize two things when considering this: They were a complete counter alternative to the “hippie” bands that had been so popular and rife just before their formation, with guys that were wearing flannel shirts and jeans, needed a shave and were playing with their backs to the audience as they would often jam and tune up amongst themselves. The second thing is that I doubt they ever truly thought that they’d still be doing this 37 years later, which puts a dent in the freshness of it all. But hey, as Stanley always says, “We’re entertainers.” Strut your stuff, shake your ass, jump up and down, and try your damndest to do that for us then, Starchild.