Lest there be any doubt that the nation-state ruled by the Kiss Army is a democracy and not a dictatorship -- no matter what the price tag on your tour T-shirt might suggest -- the Starchild is here to ease your mind.
"We got a whole lot to celebrate tonight!” Paul Stanley squealed near the start of Kiss’ farewell tour concert Thursday at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. "Everybody here counts tonight! There are! No! Bad! Seats!"
For the more than 15,000 in attendance, there was never any doubt. This was the end of an era, the end of nearly 50 years of bedroom posters and lunch boxes, Halloween grease paint and Saturday morning cartoons and rock with a capital C. It was Tampa’s last chance to rock and roll all night, and if anyone was going to give it to them hard, fast and with rhinestone-studded flamboyance, it was gonna be the Knights In Satan’s Service.
“How many people have never seen Kiss before?” yelped Stanley, as kids at heart shrieked from floor to ceiling. “That’s cool! And I’ll tell you why! Thursday, April 11, is a night you! Will! Never! Forget! Nobody forgets their first kiss! Nobody!”
Well, look, an image like glittering gargoyle Gene Simmons growling and flapping that serpentine tongue isn’t something you can just swipe and erase. That’s why Kiss has persisted, why Stanley and Simmons (and, sure, why not, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer in place of long-gone Ace Frehley and Peter Criss) have refused to grow up with the rest of us.
Descending from the rafters in a cyclone of sparks and pyro, the self-proclaimed “the best” thrust their bechromed, bedazzled, Beelzebubian bodies into each lusty number, from Shout It Out Loud to Say Yeah to Lick It Up. Come to think of it, were all their songs secretly satyric commands set to power chords? Yeah, might as well have been, the way the Kiss Army responded in the affirmative, clenched fists and devil’s horns flailing.
Simmons, that libidinous lizard of love, sneered and growled and unfurled his mouth mamba too many times to mention, slurping up the rabid cheers between Calling Dr. Love and a tummy-rumbling bass solo on 100,000 Years. Before the guttural God of Thunder, he gobbled up his nightly blood capsule, spitting and slobbering and ascending above the stage in a bog of fog and light. And on the elephantine War Machine, he grunted and mugged before spigots of fire before horking a dragonlike flame-belch of his own.
Stanley, mincing like a silver-studded pixie behind the mic, relished every whoop and wiggle between each salacious slab of sinewy '70s butt-metal. He soared across the crowd on a swing on the discobilly glam-ball I Was Made For Lovin' You, a stunt a lot of lesser starchildren might pass up. Even when he was merely setting the stage for Simmons to growl out explosive Alive! chestnuts like Deuce and Back Diamond, Stanley exhorted the virtues of “old-school Kiss!” and assuring Tampa fans that “this place feels like a zoo!”
“There’s a lot of bad news in the world, but tonight we’re going to forget about it and have ourselves a rock and roll party!” he said deep into the show, in case anyone had forgotten. “All week long, we get to be people! How about tonight, we be a little more like animals?”
True to his word, Kiss delivered a night mostly devoid of human depth, an id-driven set overstuffed with animalistic gristle and grease. Every other song -- no, literally, EVERY OTHER SONG -– was a hedonistic buffet of riffs and solos, from the unhinged, four-on-the-floor Psycho Circus to the lecherous Love Gun.
Sure, Thayer and Singer got their moments, too -- the former shooting sparks from his fretboard as he milked out every last note of Cold Gin; the latter on era-appropriate drum solos on 100,000 Years and Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and then at the piano for a solo rendition of the power ballad Beth.
That thing Stanley said about Kiss World being a democracy, though … that actually kind of felt right on this night. One could rib Kiss till the kitties come home about calling this a farewell tour and charging fans out the wazoo for the privilege, when everyone knows the next reunion paycheck Simmons rejects would be his very first.
But something about this farewell felt like more than a typical Kiss cash grab. For more than two hours, Simmons, 69, still looked as devilish as the Demon of your nightmares; Stanley, 67, still moved like the sprightly Starchild come to sparkle up your middle-school foot locker. Together, they whipped out their thunder and gave us one last ride on their lightning, and it was -- somehow, against all odds, here in the actual year 2019 -- still the best.
As they creeped toward inevitable, explosive closer Rock and Roll All Nite -- which featured Simmons and Thayer sweeping high on risers across the arena, tossing picks into the crowd, and Stanley smashing his own axe in half -- they took their bows, snapped some photos, played some old home movies and gave the fans the tiniest glimpse at their souls.
"We have known for over 45 years that there would be no Kiss without you," Stanley said. "Thank you. You’re awesome. We love you."
Love? At a Kiss concert? Aww. Even this close to the end of the road, it could melt a Kiss Army kid's heart.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.