Band may be kiss of death for eardrums

If you've tried to hold a conversation with someone around town during the last week, you may have noticed that they haven't paid much attention to you. If that's the case, I think maybe I can tell you why. It could be because:

A. You're just really boring.

B. The person you're talking to went to the KISS concert a week ago, and he or she hasn't been able to hear much of anything since then.

KISS, as you may or may not know, is a famous rock band, and like most famous rock bands, its live performances are all about being bigger, flashier - and louder - than those of the next rock band. It's been this way ever since the Rolling Stones became much bigger than Herman's Hermits by simply cranking up their amps and having Mick Jagger jump around madly and wave his lips during shows.

It's not every day that a band of KISS's caliber appears in Toledo, and the fact that the band is in the middle of its final farewell tour made its concert here particularly momentous. So when I had an opportunity to go to the show with the newspaper's music reviewer, I thought, why not?

Normally, I'm not much of a concert buff. In recent years, the only concerts I can recall going to are those of Jimmy Buffet, Pat Dailey, and the Beach Boys, which gives a pretty clear indication that my tastes in live music are firmly mired in a time warp just this side of Bill Haley and the Comets.

The reviewer warned me that a KISS concert would be loud possibly louder than sticking my head into a 747's jet engine during takeoff. He suggested that I get myself some earplugs.

Since this newspaper, like most, is printed on very loud presses, the people who work in the pressroom here have plenty of earplugs on hand. So I showed up for my first KISS concert equipped with a snazzy new pair of Day-Glo orange foam earplugs.

I thought I might feel self-conscious with my colorful plugs sticking out of my ears, but when we got to UT's Savage Hall, I stopped worrying. There were people all around me who looked like members of the royal court from the planet Mongo. They were made up to resemble the band members, with lots of leather and fake armor, and their faces painted white with menacing black designs drawn on them.

Well, people at Buffett concerts wear parrots on their heads, don't they?

When I walked into the auditorium, one of the opening bands was already playing, and the pulsating sound waves rolling out from a massive wall of amps literally made the legs of my pants flap like they were in a stiff breeze.

Between songs, I shouted into the ear of our music reviewer, who was also wearing earplugs: "Is KISS louder than these guys?" He nodded.

When KISS finally took the stage, it turned out he was right. Even with my plugs firmly jammed into place, a continuous, skull-splitting din battered me. Every bone in my body vibrated, and I'm sure various internal organs were on their way to being liquefied.

At one point, I looked around at the standing, swaying, fist-waving crowd. I wondered how many of them had earplugs - not many, I'd bet - and I marveled at how these people could keep their heads from vaporizing.

I should point out that I am certainly not downgrading the band or its music. I'm sure the songs had words in them and some darned good ones, too. I just couldn't decipher any of them. I mention this lest any KISS fans feel morally obliged to storm the newspaper, hold me down, and paint black and white designs on my face.

During a brief visit to the lobby, I ran into a guy with a KISS mask painted on his face. I asked him whether the noise inside the auditorium bothered him.

"Huh?" he said.

No, not really, but it would have been kind of ironic if he had said that, don't you think? What he actually did say was this: "Noise? That's not noise, man. They're kickin'!"

It's a week later now, KISS is gone, and all I have are my memories . . . plus a slight residual ringing in my ears. Oh, yes, I also have my kickin' orange earplugs, which I think I'll hang on to. You never know; maybe the Rolling Stones will make a stop around here on their farewell tour, too.