Goodbye Kiss tour pulls out all the stops

Saturday night at Polaris Amphitheater, more than 18,000 people wanted the best, and they got the best. The hottest band in the land -- Kiss.

Kiss says it will tour never again with the original band members in costume and makeup. After the show, many audience members sat stone-faced in seats watching roadies tear down the set.

But for two hours these people -- most of them in their mid-30s to 50s -- also "got'' many Thank-You!s and We Love You!s from these comic- book heroes come to life for "fulfilling their dreams,'' as drummer Peter Criss put it, opportunities to see live, bare pneumatic breasts shown on three video screens. And fire. Lots of fire. Pinwheels of sparks spun on Criss' drum riser and at the end of Ace Frehley's Gibson Les Paul.

Columns of fire shot 20 feet high during Heaven's On Fire. Bassist Gene Simmons spewed an alcohol ball at a torch. Frehley topped that by shooting a stream of fire from his guitar at two balloons in the rafters.

All in all, the people Kiss hooked in the '70s by creating cartoonish superhero alter-egos with Kabuki make-up, platform boots, glitter, anthem-rock (Rock and Roll All Nite) and one high-in-fat cheese ballad (Beth) "got'' a rock 'n' roll show that filled up an amphitheater the way big rock 'n' roll should.

After the announcer's famous introduction -- ". . . wanted the best . . . got the best,'' etc. -- Kiss was lowered on a platform to the stage and opened with its ode to wrecking one's car in Detroit while listening to killer music, Detroit Rock City. In case no one understood the song's story, a computer-generated roadster on the main video screen behind the band drove head-on into a truck and exploded in a glorious fireball.

Kiss went on to play songs from its first album in 1974 through 1998's Psycho Circus. The band played all the war horses: Deuce, Shock Me, Black Diamond, Lick It Up, Fire House, 100,000 Years, Cold Gin, Calling Dr. Love, I Love It Loud and Shout It Out Loud. The year being what it is provided good reason for Frehley to sing 2000 Man. A shirtless-because-he's-in-shape-and-he's- 48-damn-it Paul Stanley rode a pulley to the middle of the upper pavilion to sing Love Gun.

Kiss' members always promoted themselves as outlaws. Before the band removed its makeup in 1983, it claimed that no photographs of its members' naked faces had been published. But the "outlaw'' idea died as soon as the band released 1976 album Destroyer, the only Kiss album that is listenable start to finish. It is the album that inspired kids to paint their faces in their favorite Kiss character. Soon, Simmons was appearing on the Mike Douglas show (a clip was shown during a career retrospective that played behind the band during Do You Love Me). Marvel Comics published a Kiss comic book. Hanna-Barbara made a hilarious TV movie.

But anyone who first heard the thudding Kiss dirge God of Thunder when they were 5 or 6 years old, or when they first stared at the photo of Simmons, post fake-blood regurgitation on Kiss Alive II and used just a little imagination could and should have been shaken.

Twenty-four years later -- as a person who used to stare at that Simmons photo for way too long, I see now why critics howled at Kiss' claim that it shocked people. I couldn't decide what was funnier Saturday night, the fake-blood regurgitation by Simmons before God of Thunder or Criss passing out long- stemmed red roses to front-row fans and then singing Kiss' only Top 10 song, Beth, over a prerecorded string section and piano.