KISS still puts on crowd-pleasing show

By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 11/13/98
What did you do this summer when you went to see things blow up and go boom in ''Armageddon?'' You suspended your disbelief - a little more than usual considering the illogical plot but, hey, it was a popcorn movie, right?

What do you do when you go see KISS?

I think you - and KISS - know the answer to that one. And you may shout it out loud if you want. You want to forget your lot in life and enjoy this KISS life. You want to scream along to Godzilla bass lines, air-raid guitar licks, and July Fourth indoor fireworks. You want to be part of the endless party. You want to see - feel - fire in a crowded theater.

KISS has always been a spectacular escape valve for mainstream rock fans who like it hard and melodic. It worked like this for KISS in the mid-to-late 1970s, the heyday. It works today because today looks and sounds a whole lot like the heyday. They lost two founding band members (drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley) and the makeup in the 1980s. The music took a dive as well, and KISS fell from the grace of the rock gods. Singer-guitarist Paul Stanley and bassist-singer Gene Simmons got the once-substance-abusing-but-now-clean original guys back in 1996 and put the kabuki/horror make-up back on for a ''last'' tour ... that, lo and behold, began anew at the FleetCenter last night and continues tonight. Last night was sold out; a handful of tickets remains for tonight. Top seats are only $55, just 10 percent more than two years ago. Red Sox tickets went up over 30 percent over a comparable time, and KISS's players are both in shape and intact.

This tour is called ''Psycho Circus'' and the only hitch is that the explosively inclined circus troupe that was to open the show couldn't fit all its gear into the Fleet and was scrapped. (They may rejoin the tour if the logistics can be figured out.) As for KISS, well, there were plenty of loud noises, fireworks, and blinding lights, Criss's elevating drum riser (for a drum solo on a higher plane?), a fly-to-the-rafters Peter Pan-like by the blood-vomiting bat-lizard Simmons during ''God of Thunder,'' and a standup trapeze glide to the small soundboard stage during ''Love Gun'' for Stanley. Frehley's guitar ''smoked,'' ''shot'' sparks, and flew out of his hands into the sky - his playing was that hot! - and dangled in front of our eyes. This is because we had our special 3-D glasses, which lent the effect of the guitar floating just over us. Other things did this too: a skull, a KISS cube, Simmons's face and ever-flicking froglike tongue.

KISS is the McDonald's of rock - that is, the country's once-and-future top touring band - but serves it up like Burger King: your way. You wanted the old KISS klassics and you got 'em: ''Shout It Out Loud,'' ''Deuce,'' ''Firehouse,'' ''Cold Gin,'' ''100,000Years,'' a set-closing, pyro-mad ''Detroit Rock City.'' (We left to meet deadline, missing, it appeared, ''Beth,'' ''Black Diamond'' and ''Rock and Roll All Nite.'') KISS tossed into a couple of new ones, the gloriously over-obvious ''Psycho Circus'' and the dark-shaded ''Within.''

The aforementioned fast-food reference isn't meant to be an elitist poke. I eat there and I bet you do, too. It's cuisine that translates on a mass level. KISS treats those precious few chords like special sauce. There was a delicious irony when Stanley advised fans not to drink and drive prior the old alkie anthem ''Cold Gin'' - ''It's cold gin time again/You know it always is ... The cheapest stuff is all I need.''

A KISS show is a tight show - they start on time, play two hours, and, like stage actors, hit their marks for the cameras and the crowd. They don't always hit the melody lines, but, hey, they come close enough for rock 'n' roll. Last night, the bass mix was too loud, and the overall sound just fair. But the vibe was totally rockin,' totally fun. The headache will disappear.

This story ran on page D10 of the Boston Globe on 11/13/98.

Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.