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It didn’t take long Sunday night for Kiss frontman/guitarist Paul Stanley to sum up what the audience could expect at the Saddledome.
After only two songs, he promised to play “old stuff, older stuff and oldest stuff.” If anyone forgot that this is supposedly the band’s last waltz, Stanley made a point to mention more than once that this stop on the 50th anniversary End of the Road tour would be the act’s final time playing Calgary.
But even if this wasn’t the case, it’s doubtful Stanley and his long-time cohort Gene Simmons would have been digging into the deep-cut vaults or playing a batch of nuisance new songs for the audience.This was all about nostalgia, something the Calgary branch of the Kiss Army was happy to embrace Sunday night as the four-piece act offered a flashy, predictable but undeniably entertaining trip down memory lane.
To suggest the band — which also includes Tommy Thayer on guitar and drummer Eric Singer — favours flash over substance is stating the obvious. For the past half a century, Simmons and Stanley have turned that approach into a lucrative religion, or at least a lucrative long-term marketing plan. Sunday’s concert was a sturdy reminder of what the band does best: offering endearingly campy theatrics with catchy, if occasionally thin, musical backing. Sure, some of the band’s hits have aged better than others. Psycho Circus, from 1998, sounds a bit sluggish these days and God of Thunder sounds downright fossilized. But, for the most part, the setlist offered a well-paced review of some of the band’s finest moments. After all, there is no denying the appeal of the rudimentary but sticky hooks found on classics such as opener Detroit Rock City, Shout it Out Loud, Heaven’s on Fire, Love Gun, I Love it Loud, the wonderfully sleazy Black Diamond and the show-closing Rock and Roll All Nite. All were highlights on Sunday.
The band was only half-a-dozen songs into the evening when Simmons offered his hallmark fire-spitting, much to the delight of the crowd. The entire show, in fact, had the sense of an ever-accelerating spectacle. While many stadium acts use pyrotechnics and flames to punctuate a climax, they were a steady presence throughout the 23-song set. Yes, it was an old-school rock spectacle on steroids, right down to the climactic finale of balloons, streamers and confetti falling from the rafters. Granted, it could be suggested by the overly critical that much of the concert was also undeniably dated. But even when trotting out some tired stadium cliches — the extended drum and guitar solos, the lengthy guitar duel between Stanely and Thayer — it was with enough enthusiasm, energy and visual flash to keep up the lively pace.
Simmons’ obligatory effects-laden “bass solo” may be the musically excrutiating part of the evening, but it also allows him to spit up blood while bathed in a lizard-green light. The audience would have likely rioted if he didn’t pull this out of his bag of tricks one last time. Stanley’s screechy between-song chatter also seemed like a relic from another time. (Save that voice for the high notes, Paul!). He often sounded like a cheery Sam Kinison or maybe a hip youth pastor screaming himself hoarse while trying to win over teens at the church picnic.
Opening the night was Oshawa’s Juno winners Crown Land, a relatively new duo who played an agreeable set of old-school prog-rock. The band sounds, and dresses, like acts from the past. With his high-pitched howl of a singing voice, it is tempting to suggest drummer-vocalist Cody Bowles wears his love for Rush’s Geddy Lee on his sleeve but he wasn’t wearing any sleeves. All in all, the two may have been decidedly more low-key than Kiss, but they did offer their own trip down memory lane.
Which is not to say that audience was made up solely of original Kiss fans. Part of the fun Sunday night was seeing face-painted elders there with their children and grandchildren (maybe great-grandchildren?) in tow. So while there may have been plenty of old-school fans who have watched this exact schtick numerous times over the years, it’s likely there were also many who were watching Simmons fire-breath and spit-up blood, Stanley zip-line through the audience or Eric Singer croon the old piano ballad Beth for the first time. Will it also be the last time these newbies will be able to see Kiss? We’re assured it will be. But, as Motley Crue recently proved, the promise of a farewell tour is easily broken when these creaky outfits realize there is still money to be made. Still, even if this is the last time we see Simmons, Stanley, Thayer and Singer on stage, there was no real sense of melancholy to the evening. It wasn’t bitter-sweet.
It was just sweet: a sugary blast from the past for the devotees.