Back in the summer of 1996 I enlisted in the KISS Army. Sure, I’d been drafted for a brief spell in 1992 when the crew came calling at Maple Leaf Gardens and Pdawg and I sat in the first few rows as the make-up less band played in front of Lady Liberty. But I can safely admit that I didn’t become a true fan of the band until I saw The Demon, Starchild, Space Ace, and The Catman on their reunion tour at what was then known as Toronto’s Skydome. The make-up was back, Space Ace had a smoking guitar, and The Demon actually flew. It was the spectacle that brought me in, but it would be the songs that have kept me coming back over the years.
Yes, it’s the songs. I know critics and non-believers would have you think that the music of KISS is the least important aspect of the band; that it’s all about the merchandising and marketing. But all you have to do is throw on an album like Kiss Gold or Unplugged to realize the strength of the band’s catalogue. KISS wouldn’t be on a sold out arena tour if the songs they’d written didn’t have some mass appeal that continues to resonate. Look, I’m no fool. The majority of the band’s 80’s output is not the stuff rock and roll dreams are made of, but that shouldn’t and doesn’t diminish their classic material, of which there is an abundance of riches.
Many of those riches were on display Friday night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre for the band’s first appearance in the city in almost a decade. Gone were original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, their places and make-up taken by guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. This was my first time seeing this line-up of the band, though having heard tapes and seen video footage from the last few years I knew that the current KISS is musically superior to the original line-up. While some are critical that Thayer and Singer are wearing their predecessors make-up and creating some of their signature moments, I don’t think it mattered to the majority of fans in the crowd, including the many children that were likely enlisting for the first time. 35 years on, the music and personas of KISS onstage are bigger than the people that play them.
The show started with a bang and then utter silence, the power going out during the ending minute of opening song “King Of The Nighttime World”. The issues were resolved about 10 minutes later, but there’s no question that momentum had been lost, even as the band brought out stand-by tracks like “Deuce” and “Hotter Than Hell”. What also became quickly clear was that Paul Stanley’s voice wasn’t what it was 5 or 10 years ago, though that didn’t stop the frontman from trying to push it to its limits, which wasn’t always a good decision.
I honestly was worried this show was going to be a dud, but around the 35 minutes mark or, KISS broke into a triple play of “I Stole Your Love”, “Parasite”, and “She”, classic 70’s era material that rocked hard and demonstrated just how remarkably tight the band is now. From there, KISS got the crowd back and went full throttle for another 90 minutes, including an amazing encore that included surprises like “Cold Gin” and “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”, two of my personal favourites.
Was it a perfect KISS concert? Not quite. For this fan, Stanley’s vocals were distracting at times. I could have also used a few more songs from the post make-up years (“Lick It Up” was the only one). But the band clearly were enjoying being on stage playing with one another and for the fans. With their new album Sonic Boom out on Tuesday, it’s clear KISS is on a roll.
Now all they have to do is get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this winter.