When debates rage forth about the all-time greatest rock bands, Kiss rarely gets a nod. This isn't because the face-painted fiends aren't worthy. Nor have they been forgotten. It's just that Kiss has always been, well, Kiss, a blood-splattered, Franken-booted genre of one, all parts Broadway and Mary Kay, glam and ham.
Oh, and pyro. Lots and lots of pyro.
Thirty-five years after Gene Simmons first unfurled his Loch Nessian tongue for the ecstatic masses, the quartet is still utterly unique, if a bit wheezier. (Simmons turned 60 this year.) And when the band fireballed into the St. Pete Times Forum Wednesday for two-plus hours, the Kiss Army — which has always seen the artistry through the gimmick — was there to greet it, a solid crowd of 10,238 dotted with myriad nutters in homemade getups.
Kiss is all about delirious style over substance. No one was waiting to hear the guys give a delicate reading of Deuce; instead, they wanted that opener and everything that followed to singe their eyebrows with volume and panache.
That's good, too, because the vocals were often muddy, and the musicianship was sloppy — although lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, playing the role of former member Ace Frehley's Spaceman, shredded almighty, especially during a solo punctuated by rockets launching from his guitar.
The Kiss Army craves 'splosions and innuendo and bright, blinking lights. That's why Kiss has the best smoke machines in the business. It's also why singer Paul Stanley (he and Simmons are the only originals left) is still better at crowd management than at singing. At one point, the hairy-chested Starchild pitted Pensacola Kiss fans against Tampa Kiss fans — a cheeseball tactic for sure. But darn if I wasn't booing those no-good Pensacolans, too.
The 17-song set list was built mainly from '70s goodies (Strutter, She, Parasite — all from '75's Alive! album). They did only one new song, Modern Day Delilah from latest disc Sonic Boom. And the quartet eventually dusted off a couple of silly-fun '80s cuts, including Lick It Up, which I really shouldn't know all the words to.
The night's biggest applause was saved for the rituals, the traditions. At the end of generic rocker Hotter Than Hell, Simmons brought forth a torch and exhaled his patented fire-breathing belch. Drummer Eric Singer uncorked an epic solo straight out of ye olden rock days. And as the night's most mesmerizing moment, Simmons, a.k.a. the God of Thunder, spit blood, did a weirdo pantomime and was hoisted to the rafters to sing I Love It Loud.
The night ended with a flurry of big hits, bigger bangs and Stanley flying over the crowd. Confetti rained down for Rock and Roll All Nite. After smashing a guitar and blowing more stuff up, the boys returned for a dizzy encore including Shout It Out Loud and Detroit Rock City. It all ended with a nerve-rattling fireworks show befitting some theme park in Hades. Say what you will about the Demon & Co., but there's no one else like 'em.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.