NIAGARA FALLS — Children dressed as demons. Grandmas studded in spikes. Macho men plastered in makeup. And a full-collared priest standing without any irony in general admission.
This — and then some — is a Kiss concert.
If you’ve never seen Kiss, as I hadn’t, you truly can’t prepare for it. I’ve seen a lot of theater, quite a bit of circus, some opera, and more than my fair share of WWF wrestling in my day (thanks to an older brother who hogged the remote control in our youth). I have never, ever seen anything like this.
The legendary glam rock band brought its Kissworld Tour to a packed makeshift outdoor venue at Seneca Niagara Casino on Saturday night. It was the most fun I have ever had in a parking lot.
Forty-four years and many iterations into its tenure, the band formed by the Starchild (vocalist and rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley), the Demon (vocalist and bassist Gene Simmons), the Spaceman (original guitarist Ace Frehley), and the Catman (original drummer Peter Criss) is still at it. Guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer replace Frehley and Criss, respectively, and their teeth, if they still have them, are long. But their wigs are flowy and their foundation is spotless. These Rock and Roll Hall of Famers came to rock, and rock they did.
“Deuce,” a headbanger from their debut album, launched a nonstop set of hard-thrashing anthems that pulled from all eras of their career. It’s fair to assume that many in attendance, probably a few of them beneficiaries of the casino’s compliments, came for their inevitable encores.
That mainstream audiences don’t know the group’s deep cuts makes sense. Kiss may be a household name, but it appeals most directly to the adolescent hard rocker once hanging out in your parents’ basement — the quiet bicentennial teenager who lived for Simmons and Stanley’s comic book flair and parent-defying attitude. They definitely snuck out of the house to listen in their friend’s car late at night.
If you identify as any of the above, rock on. It looked like you had a ball last night. Like it was your high school reunion.
Stanley would be your class president. He’s a real character. If you came out only to hear his ridiculous stage voice introducing each song, with an inflection that can’t be geographically identified, you would have gotten your money’s worth.
“Firehouse” was particularly nostalgic for the diehard fans around me. The song ended with flames shooting out of a guitar. Impressive. “Shock Me,” from 1977’s “Love Gun,” kept things steady before Thayer owned the stage for a lengthy solo. His fingering was more intricate and personable than most other songs in the set.
Here’s the thing, as I see it: These guys are insane entertainers. They’re intense. They’re flammable. Simmons’s mouth, and that infamously long tongue of his, drip with (stage) blood. They own this genre of hard rock. They invented it.
But their songs barely tap the heights of artistic brilliance that their performance reaches. They’re not breaking the musical mold. So what? They’re consistent.
“Psycho Circus,” the title track from their 1998 album, sounded like a classic from 1974. Stanley and Thayer went head to head with competing solos while Simmons gyrated those Spandex-clad hips. And they sold it.
A set-closing “Black Diamond” went full-scale theatrical, with a lyrical intro from Simmons and purple-clad disco ball turning ominously in the flys. You can hear strains of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” in this, kissing cousins of 1973. And these harmonies brought up some classic Fleetwood Mac, if you listened closely. This is a great song.
The encores delivered the big hits. Casual fans lived out their rockstar dreams. Rabid loyalists reunited with old friends. And that priest probably rock-and-rolled all night, and might even party every day from now on. That’s a Kiss concert. Party on, Grandma.