3-D Aids Band's Middle-Aged Pyrotechnics

From: NY Times Online via Dana Spatz

By Ann Powers

Perched on a chair at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday night, a small boy in a black fright wig and silver makeup watched the fireworks. His companion, probably his father, excitedly snapped photographs of the four living wonders onstage: the bassist dressed as a dragon, the singer with the star painted over his eye, the spaceman guitarist and the feline drummer. The boy just stood quietly, taking it all in. This must have been his first Kiss concert, his initiation into the fellowship of rock 'n' roll.

As the rock 'n' roll equivalent of Disney, Kiss consciously links the genre's excesses to children's entertainment, safely subsuming rock 'n' roll decadence into spectacle. The camaraderie of music making turns the band into a League of Superheroes whose unleashed primal desires render them cartoonishly powerful. They become "exiles from the human race," as Paul Stanley sang in the title song from the new album, "Psycho Circus" (Mercury), which is also the title of this tour. (The show goes to Nassau Coliseum on Friday.)

The bassist, Gene Simmons, means his monster persona to reflect his enthusiastic promiscuousness, but as he flew around the arena in a wire harness he seemed no more sexually threatening than a plastic Godzilla. Ace Frehley's otherworldly image originally invoked drug use, but when the computer-generated rendering of a guitar spacecraft loomed behind him during his longest solo, this now sober guitarist seemed more like an alien on the space opera "Babylon Five" than a stoned Jimi Hendrix acolyte.

Stanley may be as vain as his preening implies, but he turned egotism into a carnival act as he swung on a silver trapeze and soared to a small center stage to sing "Love Gun."

This tour's new trick for sensationalizing rock's transgressiveness involves 3-D movies, which cause images to appear to be zooming toward a viewer wearing special glasses, given out at the door. A 3-D camera followed band members around onstage and prefabricated videos created the effect of Simmons drooling fake blood on fans or of the drummer, Peter Criss, poking them with his sticks. 3-D is ideal for Kiss, since it is both technically impressive and totally corny, evoking cheap 1950s shocker films. It literalizes the cliche that rock 'n' roll is music that gets "in your face."

Pyrotechnics also made up for a lack of musical complexity. "Any band can play a song perfectly," said Stanley. "We live dangerously!" In fact, the contrast between elaborate theatrics and extremely raw music is the key to Kiss' appeal. Songs like "I Want to Rock-and-Roll All Nite (And Party Every Day)" are basically punk anthems, as stripped-down and direct as anything by the Ramones. By dressing up this simple music in glitter, Kiss forged a link between rock's glamorous aspirations and its democratic urges.

This formula, temporarily abandoned when Frehley and Criss left during the 1980s, is proving foolproof again now that rock 'n' roll has reached its difficult middle age. As players and fans try to figure out what made this music so strong in the first place, the comic book epic of Kiss provides one easy answer. People sometimes like to play at being larger than life; it frees them from the complications of mere humanity. Kiss still takes that innocent wish in outrageous directions.