When you talk about pop culture icons, recognizable faces, the complete package of musical hooks and over the top showmanship, I’m pretty sure there’s no greater band out there than KISS. Sure, there are more musically accomplished bands (all you Beatles fans can unclench now) than the one that features a 61 year-old flying multimillionaire dressed in a combination Kabuki/Karloff ensemble, but when it comes to bang for your buck, no other act comes close.
I’ve been in the KISS Army for the past 14 years now, ever since I saw the original line-up of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss on their reunion tour after nearly 20 years apart. When I first experienced the band in make-up, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t grow up on them. In fact, I thought they were kind of scary. But once I watched as Gene flew to the rafters of Toronto’s Skydome and Ace shot fireworks out of his custom Les Paul guitars, I was hooked. I love a rock spectacle and KISS delivered on that night. But a spectacle doesn’t matter if a band doesn’t have the songs. And contrary to what rock critics and the board of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame would have you believe, KISS have songs that are every bit as spectacular as their stage show. Forget the obvious songs that get played to death on rock radio, tracks like “Detroit Rock City”, “Beth” or “Rock And Roll All Night” – had those three been KISS’s only contribution to rock history, they’d still be worthy of remembrance. But the band’s catalogue is far richer – “Cold Gin”, “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”, “Strutter”, “Creatures Of The Night”, “Goin’ Blind”, “Deuce”, “Lick It Up”, “Domino”, “Do You Love Me”, “Shock Me”. And you know what the best part of that list is?
I could go on. And on.
The music of KISS isn’t for intellectuals. And it doesn’t have to be. That’s what Talking Heads are for. KISS isn’t trying to save the world. They know Bono’s got that covered. What KISS has always tried to do was simply be the band you’ve always wanted to see. And more than 35 years later, even with Ace and Peter long gone and Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer firmly in place beside Gene and Paul, they’re a band that everybody wants to see, from grandparents to parents to children. And they give fans their money’s worth. Biff Bam Pop’s Pdawg took his wife and two children to see KISS at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatere this past Friday and paid $20 dollars for two seats on the grass, because the band was letting kids in for free. Pure genius.
Some critics hate KISS because of all the merchandising behind the band. KISS Kaskets, KISS Kondoms, KISS Komics (including ones from Marvel and Image Comics) – there hasn’t been an opportunity that Simmons and Stanley haven’t exploited if there’s a dollar to be made. But to those that can’t handle the crass commercialization that’s always been a part of the band, a few things to consider – U2’s tours have been sponsored by Blackberry; on their current tour Aerosmith’s Joe Perry jams with a Guitar Hero avatar of himself. It’s all the same thing, except KISS did it first and best. Still do.
The KISS I watched onstage this past Friday was on absolute fire. It was the best I’d seen the band perform since that amazing night at Skydome in the summer of 1996. The set list was flawless, the band was tight and were undoubtedly happy to be on stage. For those that think that they’re simply on the road for the guaranteed cash they’re receiving from their sold out tour, here’s something to think about – Gene and Paul are multi-millionaires. In the past 5 years Stanley has become a renowned artist, his work selling for thousands of dollars. He doesn’t need to be on stage and put his body through wear and tear, but he does it because he’s a musician. Regardless of what you think of the man, the same goes for Gene. If they weren’t musicians who loved the thrill of playing, they wouldn’t be doing it. They wouldn’t sit on planes (even if they’re private) or sleep in (first class) hotels – they’d be home with their families counting their money.
KISS rules now as they did before because they’re there. For you. For me. And even for the naysayers who just don’t get it. Anyway, who needs the Hall Of Fame when you’ve got an entire army behind you?