KISS… the mere mention of the band’s name typically brings with it polarizing reactions. People either throw up the rock ‘n’ roll horns in deference, or turn up their noses with disgust. Either way, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and crew have always garnered attention, and lots of it. So what can you say about KISS that hasn’t already been said? It’s a tall order for sure. It’s likely taller than Gene’s total height from hair-bun to demon boots, which I’m estimating is near 7ft. The notorious and self-dubbed “Hottest Band in the World,” has been one of the most well documented artists since they emerged from the gritty streets of New York City in 1973. They are a rock and roll institution and marketing machine with millions of faithful fans, as well as a large contingent of detractors.
One thing you notice at a KISS gig these days, (besides the pungent wall of weed odor permeating throughout the arena), is the vast chasm of age difference between a majority of the fans in attendance. You obviously see herds of middle-aged rockers who grew up the band “back in the day.” But more interesting is the plethora of pre-adolescent kids present with painted KISS faces, and hand horns flying high, while rocking out to tunes that were written a good 30 years before they were even born. I don’t think there’s another band out there that has as large a fan base of kids as KISS. It’s very cool to see…
Okay… all that said, it’s confession time: I’ve never been a huge KISS fan. I didn’t grow up worshipping the band like so many millions of others over the past four plus decades, though I grew up during their heyday. I was never a member of the Kiss Army, and I didn’t buy the majority of their records… not even the classics from the ‘70s. **Gasp… Shock… Horror** You see, in my music collection, I only have a total of about one album’s worth of KISS tunes that I return to semi-regularly. Much of the rest of their 20-album catalog doesn’t really do it for me… But here’s the thing; the KISS songs I do dig… I LOVE as a matter of fact! For my money (and now Gene and Paul’s), they rank right up there with some of the best rock tracks of all time. But they’re not necessarily the big “hits” that most people associate with the band. Great album tracks spanning their career like “Hard Luck Woman,” “Larger Than Life,” “The Oath,” “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose,” and “Unholy,” and “Thou Shalt Not” from 1992’s underrated Revenge album, are some deeper tracks that are exceptional, but not quintessential KISS typically heard at KISS concerts.
Like every other touring band that wants to put butts in seats, KISS primarily plays the hits. And the requisite hits played at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford, IL on 8/20/2016 included set stalwarts “Detroit Rock City,” “Deuce,” “Calling Dr. Love,” “Cold Gin,” “Lick It Up,” “I Love It Loud,” “War Machine,” “Love Gun” (which was augmented by Paul Stanley flying on a harness out to a platform in the middle of the arena), and “Beth,” sung by drummer Eric Singer, channeling his inner Peter Criss. Yes, Gene spit blood and breathed fire; Paul spewed his campy stage banter, and guitarist Tommy Thayer ripped through a relatively short guitar solo section. All standard fare KISS components.
But, the most notable part of the show happened when the band honored the military by having a local veteran join them onstage, along with the town’s Mayor (who was greeted to a mixed response from the amped up crowd) while announcing KISS’s contribution of $150k to the Hiring Our Heroes veteran’s foundation. Finally, we were led into an arena-reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance (the first time I’ve ever experienced this during my 35+ years attending rock shows), and a full band version of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The Freedom to Rock Tour definitely lived up to its name, and was a very classy addition to the evening.
Now, my life would go on just fine if I never heard “Rock and Roll All Night” again, but of course KISS has to play it… Every. Single. Night. And this night was no exception. The cool difference here is that in Rockford, IL, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen joined KISS onstage for this final encore number (it’s a pretty common occurrence for Rockfordians to see Rick make an appearance with most notable acts that pass through the area). Complete with hyperactive lights, synchronized explosions, pyrotechnics, and copious amounts of confetti, this KISS show ended literally with a bang. Even though this wasn’t’ my first time seeing KISS live, it was quite a spectacle to witness, again. It was truly impressive to see “The Hottest Band in the World” be just that.
The Dead Daisies opened the show to a half full Rockford arena, but played a badass set of original material from their three studio albums, as well as no fewer than four cover tunes (surprising for a band with plenty of original material, and only doing a 10 song set). A super group of sorts, and I really don’t like that descriptor, but it doesn’t make it any less true, The Dead Daisies currently consist of past and present members of Whitesnake, Dio, Thin Lizzy, Motley Crue, Ozzy, and The Scream, among others. The Daisies’ line-up has been ever-evolving since the band’s inception in 2012, but today boasts John Corabi on lead vocals, drummer Brian Tichy, bassist Marco Mendoza, and guitarists Doug Aldrich and David Lowry.
With a band of this caliber of experienced musicians, you’d expect these guys to kick ass live. Well, guess what? They absolutely do… This version of The Dead Daisies is as solid and tight live as they sound on their records. The tracks on their latest release, Make Some Noise, are fat as hell production-wise, and suck you in on first listen. It’s by far their best effort to date. Live, the band pounds, the playing is top-notch, yet the songs still ooze with the melodic punch that I like, no, need to hear, to keep me interested. It’s surprising these guys aren’t bigger yet, but perhaps that’s partially due to the previous line-up changes, or maybe they’re now on the verge… Regardless, if you dig anthemic and authentic hard rock, you’ll dig The Dead Daisies. Get out and check them out with KISS at an arena near you.
This piece was originally published in AntiHero Magazine, August 2016