Gene Simmons, the ravaged, spidery leader of KISS, makes no secret of his philosophy.
"Clearly America and the world in general is tired of musical whiners and ready for some good entertainment," he pontificated recently. "We're here for the long run, and here to entertain."
Back in makeup for the first time in forever, the quartet burst into Marine Midland Arena Sunday in all their '70s glory -- white faces, lipstick, the works.
Simmons wore his batlike cloak, black cross garters and thigh-high silver boots. Guitarists Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley matched his black-and-silver sparkle. All wore wild platform heels -- except for the drummer, Pete Criss.
As always, looks weren't everything. KISS smacked of special effects.
Simmons spat fire and, less enjoyably, gross red stuff we were supposed to believe was blood. Fireworks went off, in time to the beat, with the sharpness of pistol shots. A guitar burst into flames.
Strings hoisted Simmons into the air until he bellowed from a narrow platform far over our heads. From across the stage, Stanley and Frehley, similarly airborne, added their voices. An unforgettable tableau saw the stage soaked in fiery light, while sirens screamed and red fire-engine lights flashed.
KISS played all old songs, songs people knew by heart, and they turned them out in short order, neat four-minute versions, free of pretention or windy solos. They belted anthems like "Shout It Out Loud," "Back in the New York Groove" and "Do You Love Me."
The band members presented a good-humored, camp demeanor. They strutted and minced about the stage, singing into any available mike. Simmons played the guitar against his shoulder, behind his neck and between his legs.
A few things have changed. Simmons isn't young any more, and his age shows through his makeup. His voice isn't the voice of a young man. When he wasn't wagging that tongue, his face fell into a sad-clown grimace.
And a telling concession to the years lay in a speech Stanley made. "I don't want to tell you, Buffalo, how to live your life," he shrilled. "But if you're going to be drinking, catch a ride home with someone who hasn't been drinking. 'Cause we're going to be back! And we want to see all of you again!"
That's not something we would have heard 20 years ago.
But the important things are still the same. When Simmons stepped out on stage, he was literally quivering with excitement. You could sense his lust to perform, and that's something that can't be faked.
The only cheap touch came toward the evening's end, when Criss sang "Beth" as an encore against a canned background.
Still, the show ended well. After leading countless choruses of "Rock and Roll All Night," Stanley smashed his guitar to bits and threw the pieces into the crowd.
The night finished with a burst of fireworks, and the band members floated down from the heights along with the sparks. Simmons spat euphorically as he descended. The fans, emerging into the lobby, joined in one spontaneous bellow, filling the arena with shouts and whistles.
You've got to hand it to KISS. That's entertainment.
Sunday, Marine Midland Center.