Forty-five years after the band’s first West Michigan show, KISS brought its “End of the Road” tour to Van Andel Arena on Saturday, bidding a bombastic farewell to fans — many of whom dressed accordingly.
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Forty-five years ago, KISS played its first-ever Grand Rapids show, at the (cough) vaunted Thunder Chicken venue.
On Saturday night, for a packed Van Andel Arena, the band played its last local gig.
Somewhere in between, KISS became more brand than band, and I now humbly posit the idea to call it quits is less about age and the leisure of retirement, and more the result of focus-group data and a stack of spreadsheets stating that ROI in KISS commodities will peak with a product dubbed “The End of the Road World Tour.”
For many Grand Rapids fans, Saturday was their last chance to purchase a KISS T-shirt. Their last chance to see the logo on a towering digital backdrop. Their last chance to watch the four iconographic kabuki-masked faces (which have been transformed into emoji!) take the stage. Their last chance to help add a zero to Gene Simmons’ and Paul Stanley’s investment accounts.
I can barely type such difficult truths without crying.
Is KISS truly kaput? I rode a similar emotional roller coaster in 2000, after the band’s first farewell tour came through town. “What could I possibly spend my money on now?” I recall lamenting. Thankfully, another dozen tours followed it. But here in 2019, the thought of not being able to participate in KISS Kapitalism feels all too real. It could really, truly be over now.
Then again, this End of the Road Tour, which launched in January, will stretch for two or three years, so there’s a reasonable likelihood that the band will come to Grand Rapids again before it’s over. And if that happens, oh what a relief it’ll be to participate in more transactions!
I jest. Truth is, the logo and the faces will live on forever, which doesn’t happen to just any band. KISS is legendary in its influence — for upping the arena-rock entertainment ante, for inspiring legions of subsequent hard rock and metal bands, for writing a handful of earworm party anthems heard in commercials and at ball games, and sometimes coming out of stereos.
But as the Gene-and-Paul-led KISS came down the stretch of their last Grand Rapids concert, they exuded no bittersweet or melancholy tones.
TROTTING OUT THE SHTICK THAT MADE THEM FAMOUS — AND SOLD LOTS OF TICKETS
Paul said he’d never forget Grand Rapids, but I’ll bet he says that to all the towns. Gene doesn’t seem like the sentimental type. So they played their songs and spat their blood and popped their pyro and called it a night. Slayer was more emotional on their final GR tour stop last year. Slayer!
I speak with the detached logic of someone who never fully invested in KISS futures, but understands why so many others did. (Note: I am somewhat of a subsequent generation, although I remember watching “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park” on television.)
This is no attempt to discredit anyone’s nostalgia trip. KISS, even with guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer respectively dressed and made-up like classic-lineup members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, offers a reasonably fun two hours of live music, which functions the same as a roller-coaster ride you enjoy over and over again. The thrills are the same every time, comfortingly so.
That’s a convoluted way of saying that KISS trotted out the shtick that made them famous in the 1970s, and made them gross heaps of cash during their 1990s reunion: Simmons, ever the clowndemonprince of rock, spitting flames and blood; the designated lead guitarist launching rockets from his headstock; flames spitting and confetti bursting behind Stanley as he played ringmaster in his silly “Rock Guy” falsetto (which rasps and cracks more than it used to).
Drum solo? Bass solo? Guitar solo? Yes, yes, yes. All the boxes on the checklist were ticked.
The set list featured many favorites — “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout it Out Loud,” “I Love it Loud,” “Cold Gin,” “God of Thunder,” “Do You Love Me,” “Rock and Roll All Nite,” etc.
The Simmons-fronted “Deuce” sounded damn good; the Stanley-fronted “Black Diamond” was a little sloppy. Dumbo-eared ’80s hair-rock hit “Lick it Up” overstayed its welcome by merely showing up. “Beth,” the yearning road-blues ballad sung and performed on piano by Singer, was reasonably convincing.
And it took real balls to lower two disco balls from the ceiling for “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” a once-loathed cut that Stanley introduced as the band’s biggest international hit. (Did they write and record it for the money? Stupid question.)
During his stage raps, Stanley referenced the 1974 concert, as well as the band’s storied performance at Cadillac High School in 1975, when the entire Michigan town painted their faces in tribute. KISS makes memories a little more vivid, and likely created a few more with Saturday’s reiteration of the things the logos and icons do best.
It was one last chance for fans to say goodbye forever to KISS — until the next last time, of course.
PHOTO GALLERY: KISS and performance painter David Garibaldi at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
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