by MIKE CHAIKEN
I was a little too young for the beginning.
But at least I got to see the “End of the Road” before I was too old for rock and roll (but too young to die, to paraphrase the Jethro Tull song).
Kiss is making its final rounds as a band, having announced their intent to retire after one touring last hurrah.
But, at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday night, rather than a crew of musicians intent on taking it easy on their victory lap, the four-man band – guitarist Paul Stanley, bassist Gene Simmons, lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, and drummer Eric Singer – stepped on the gas for their “End of the Road” tour, leaving the competition in their dust. They lived up to their self-proclaimed billing as “the greatest band in the world.”
Kiss had three albums out before I bought their first big hit, 1975’s “Alive!” Through the years, I followed their musical hijinks – from the artistic breakthrough of “Destroyer” to their first album without makeup “Lick It Up,” to the revelatory acoustic effort for their “Unplugged” special on MTV and then to the return of the makeup on “Psycho Circus.”
There were moments where I thought I was too cool for school for Kiss. But I always managed to gravitate back to them.
Despite the years of my Kiss-story, though, I never got to see them live, either as a fan or music critic.
“You mean you’ve never seen Kiss before,” said a buddy of mine on Saturday. “Oh, dude, I’m so happy for you. Wait till you see this.”
He made sure he didn’t give any spoilers. He said, “Just watch.”
His declaration of the band’s live prowess proved to be well-founded.
Once the curtain around the stage dropped, the first notes of “Detroit Rock City” sounded and the flames and explosions rocked the room.
Kiss didn’t come to play, they came to destroy.
The set and stage show were enormous. Most bands offer a smattering of flames and explosions to punctuate the songs. But Kiss regularly kept the audience on its toes with blinding flashes and ear-shattering sonic booms. The lights and video screens were imaginative. And Kiss members were flying, rising, and hovering over fans throughout the night.
It was rock as spectacle. And it was a fitting end for a band whose reputation has been built on its stage presence.
Of course, spectacle is one thing. After all, a night at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Conn. on the Fourth of July would offer up plenty of fireworks.
The key for a concert is the music.
For a fan like myself, Kiss exceeded expectations. The energy of the chords, notes, and vocals matched the excitement of the set and pyro.
The focus was mostly on the classic Kiss-eras. Many of the songs that brought “Alive!” alive were scattered throughout the night, such as “Black Diamond,” “Deuce,” “Cold Gin,” and “100,000 Years.” All were even better than I remember. Classics from “Destroyer” such as the epic “God of Thunder” as well as the aforementioned “Detroit Rock City” and the ballad “Beth” (with drummer Singer on the piano) were definite crowd pleasers.
And the band didn’t forget about its most recent material, pulling out the title track for “Psycho Circus” and “Say Yeah” from “Sonic Boom.”
Kiss even surprised me by playing the disco-tinged “I Was Made for Loving You” (which was their absolute biggest hit).
Of course, Kiss closed the show with their signature song, “Rock and Roll All Night,” where they pulled out all the stops to celebrate their career. (I’ll avoid a spoiler here. If you can catch them on this tour, “Just watch.”)
One of the dimensions of Kiss that will be missed as they hang it up is their relationship with the fans. Throughout the night, Stanley acknowledged the crowd and thanked them for giving the band such staying power. There was a genuine affection for the fans, which sometimes is lacking from bands. Kiss is old school and they are of the generation where bands built an audience by word of mouth because of the quality of their stage shows.
That universe is sadly gone in today’s music business.
But Kiss made it known again and again they are aware that without the fans they’d be nowhere near as prominent in the music industry.
Poet T.S. Eliot wrote the world would end with a whimper.
But Kiss is thumbing its nose at the poet by leaving the rock scene with a definite bang.
I give Kiss at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday, March 23 four out of four stars.