Through The Fog: KISS in Portland

My memories, blurry at best, are of lots of pyrotechnics, someone flying over the crowd and someone else spitting fire. I swear, other than Rock And Roll All Night (And Party Every Day), I could not tell you the title of another song they played. That night, all that mattered was the show, the spectacle. That was plenty for me then.

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That was then, this is now. Times are tough. KISS comes through again. This time with seats (pretty damn good seats, mind you) for only $9.23. I had to snap that deal up almost without thinking. I probably paid seven bucks when I saw them in college. Thirty years later, I couldn’t say no to the bargain. I even decided to treat my buddy, P.J. His first concert was at the old Paramount Theater here in Portland when KISS opened for Rush. P.J. had to see this show too.

The overall composition and look of the crowd at a KISS concert hasn’t changed in 35 years. Young and old alike paint their faces to mimic the patterns on their favorites. There are lots of platform boots, samurai pony tails and silver lame pants.

We saw several really young children, like five or six years old, painted in full grease paint and full costume too. Now, this kid isn’t the KISS fan, his parents are. Does their dragging him out on a school night, painted and dressed up like that constitute child abuse? that’s a discussion for another day. But, it’s only two weeks after Halloween; this has got to be confusing for the preschoolers. I’m just sayin’.

Gene breathes fire

So P.J. and I get there on time, cruise the crowd for a while, check out the merch booth and get to our seats with minutes to spare. We took our place between two families; a dad with two boys and a mom with twin girls. The mom and the twins had their faces painted (One Paul, one Ace, one Gene). The dad and his sons had purchased the KISS Hard Drive Bracelets, onto which would be loaded the entirety of tonight’s show once they got home and logged in. High tech and cheaper than a tee shirt, who could ask for more?

The stage, to our left, was set up for the opening act, metal veterans, Buckcherry. Original members Josh Todd on vocals and Keith Nelson on guitar ran through their hits like Lit up, Sorry and, of course, Crazy Bitch. The highlight of their set for me was a song they dedicated to the NASCAR fans in the audience.

Their remake of Deep Purple’s classic, Highway Star appears in an official NASCAR video. Their performance on this night was right on. With Nelson doing his best Angus Young impersonation, eyes slammed closed, right arm practically beating the strings on his red Gibson SG (another nod to Young, I would assume), they tore through Highway Star like it was 1972 again. Except that AC/DC never sounded much like Deep Purple. Buckcherry managed to mash them both together well.

They finished with Sorry and Crazy Bitch and left the stage to a pretty rousing hand, considering that the place was still half empty. P.J. and I went up to the promenade to stretch our legs and people watch.

There were, like I said, no shortages of costumes, painted faces and other KISS garb walking the hallway. There were two lines, each with about thirty people in them, waiting to get their faces airbrushed like their favorite band member, past or present. There was a twenty-something in line with nine inch platform boots on. He said they were his dads.

gene licks ONE

There were the KISS Cougars: four enterprising, beautiful middle-aged women, in full KISS make up and hair. They were wearing authentic leather costumes finished off with leather mini-skirts. A photo-op/fantasy for half of the attendees gleefully sipping their drinks and giggling between posing with whoever asked (me included) complete with the devil’s horn fist pump and a tongue thrust from the Gene Simmons cougar.

Once P.J. got the shot, it was back to our seats just in time for the lights to flicker before the arena want dark and the two video screens on either side of stage lit up. They showed the scene back stage. The four members of the band were greeted by thunderous applause as the screens showed them being led through the labyrinth of halls that would take them to the stage.

Again, the arena went dark. With the flash of pyrotechnics hot enough to warm my face halfway back in the hall, they opened with Deuce and the party was on. In the original regalia they’ve been sporting for years, KISS ran through their heavy metal hit studded set with all the energy and bombast they had in the early seventies.

Strutter was next. Then Hotter Than Hell, then Let Me Go, Rock and Roll. Stanley and Simmons swapped vocal chores to that point. Stanley used every arena rock cliché in the book. He extolled the rivalry between Seattle and Portland a few times, led the left side versus right side scream and clap ‘competition’ and, much to P.J.’s delight, opined fondly of playing the Paramount so many years ago. Perry elbows me in the ribs, “I was THERE, man. First show and I was THERE!”

cover

Stanley introduced now full-time guitarist Tommy Thayer (a Portland native) to sing Shock Me. He must have studied Ace’s moves on video, he had them down pat.

It wouldn’t be a KISS show without Calling Dr. Love, which came next. They introduced the first song from their new album, Sonic Boom. There was no mistaking that Modern Day Delilah was a KISS tune. Scorching rhythm, sing along chorus, blistering guitar solos and over the top vocals were blatantly ripping off all the best elements of a KISS song from 1982. It worked wonderfully.

It also wouldn’t be a KISS show without each member grabbing some solo time with the audience. It also allows the other members to take a breather from the hectic pace of the rock and roll extravaganza. Each grabbed the opportunity and ran with their own, unique, attention getting maneuvers and that stuff is what makes KISS shows legend.

Thayer got his chance first and noodled on the guitar in a cloud of dry ice fog in all the standard guitar god poses: guitar slinger, behind the back, over the head. He shot roman candles from his guitar neck during a classical interlude, one of which struck a light cover, sending it crashing to the stage in a flaming spectacle of sparks.

Singer’s drum kit popped up on hydraulic risers, steam spewing from the undercarriage. In mid-solo it began to spin like a turn table, leaving the drummer facing the giant led screens, finishing his solo with more smoke, steam and flames as the kit lowered itself back to earth.
Gene Simmons ran through a bass solo with his usual flair. Introducing it with a flaming sword, from which he spewed forth a giant fireball, he worked the frets of his axe (literally a battle axe shaped bass guitar) flashed the famous tongue, covered in blood mind you. In yet another onset of dry ice fog, Simmons was hoisted to the top of the overhead lights, where he sang I Love It Loud. How appropriate.

Gene scowl

After I Love It Loud, they closed the set with Black Diamond and Rock And Roll All Night (and Party Every Day). The latter culminated with Simmons and Thayer hoisted high above the stage, forty feet at least, not counting the eight inches or more of platform shoes, on either side of the stage. Singer’s drum kit was once again lifted higher while the giant KISS lighted sign that was center stage jutted forward; allowing a perch for Stanley and one unlucky guitar. While confetti cannons exploded around the arena and the band built the tension awaiting the final power chord, Stanley smashed the guitar several times on the stage, eventually coming away with two pieces, connected with the remaining strings.

They eschewed the normal encore format, lamenting onstage that they would never do that to their fans. Instead, we were to get one of the longest encores ever, without having to wait/beg for it.
What followed was a powerful last set of Shout It Out Loud, Lick It Up, Love Gun and, finally, Detroit Rock City.

It was during this bevy of testosterone that Paul Stanley took the spotlight. He hopped a zip-line to a small, circular, rotating stage just behind the sound booth. While he soloed and sang Love Gun from his turntable in the crowd, Simmons and Thayer tore into each other, shoulders hunched, heads craned up to watch each other blister through their role as rhythm section.

spectacle

Stanley zipped back to the main stage once the song ended and the band straight ahead killed Detroit Rock City before leaving for good. As the house lights came up, the video screens displayed KISS LOVES YOU, PORTLAND. P.J. and I exchanged wide eyed grins. Rightbackatcha, KISS.

On the way out P.J. and I saw more than a few children in make up being carried out, sleeping in their parent’s arms. Ok, maybe not child abuse. I mean, it shouldn’t matter if the band’s industrial warfare, armor plated, spaceman cat costumes give the children nightmares. They got to witness, first hand, the blatant rock and roll spectacle that is a KISS show. The flash pots, the integrated video, the giant, rotating pinwheel sparklers, any one of which by itself would have been memorable, will be etched into their memories. Like it or not, future concerts they attend may be judged against this show. Or the nightmares may have the other effect of scaring them away from any rock music and straight into the classical category at every record store they enter for the rest of their lives.

Was it over the top, without question. Cheesy and cartoon like; sure. Cliché in parts, relying on gimmicks as well as musical talent; you friggin betcha. But it was exactly what it was supposed to be; a Rock SHOW. Not a deep, heartfelt rendering of any particular love ballad or true story lyric about being anything other than playing the characters of the pompous rock stars behind the grease paint and cod pieces.

This is as much a show as it is a concert, running around the country side playing night after night in cities and towns across America.
And, night after night, in cities and towns across America, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer apply the grease paint, don the armor, do the hair, and climb into their platform boots, more than likely being helped back to the standing position.

They fly, soar, shoot, spin, bleed; all the while singing and playing some of the quintessential hard rock songs of the past three and a half decades. They do the meet and greets, the photo ops and the press conferences in character and costume. They are “ON”. And theirs is a spectacle not too soon seen again in the world of rock and roll.

But for two hours, P.J. and I were transported through this spectacle and we came out the other side grinning like school kids. I mean, they spit fire, they spit blood, they rocked and they rolled, all night. Except for the sleeping children, the crowd was also all smiles on the way out. The sleeping children, well, a lot depends on whether they have a dream or a nightmare. A dream or a nightmare? A little of both, maybe? A little of both.

Rock on through the fog,
A.J. Crandall

SET LIST

1. Deuce
2. Strutter
3. Hotter Than Hell
4. Let Me Go Rock And Roll
5. Shock Me
6. Calling Doctor Love
7. Modern day Delilah
8. Cold Gin
9. Parasite
10. Say Yeah
11. 100,000 Years
12. I Love It Loud
13. Black Diamond
14. Rock And Roll all Night (And Party Every Day)
15. Shout It Out Loud
16. Lick It Up
17. Love Gun
18. Detroit Rock City

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