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KISS excess fans flames like few can Review: If you wanted the best, keep looking. But for sheer bang, boom and blood for the buck, the guys in the makeup are still the hottest band in the world.

If you ever needed a demonstration of the term "rhetorical question," try this: Just before the final encore of the KISS show at the USAir Arena Sunday night, Paul Stanley took to the microphone to ask the fans, "You didn't think we'd let you down, did you?"

As the deafening cheers made plain, the thought never even crossed their minds.

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It helped, of course, that most of the 14,000 or so attending arrived fully expecting to have a great time. After all, this wasn't just any KISS show; it was the KISS reunion tour, with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss back in the fold, and all four back in makeup. Even better, the performance promised to re-create the classic excess of KISS in the '70s, when the band's flashpot-fueled stage show was the most spectacular in rock and roll.

What we got was hardly an historic re-enactment, but it certainly conjured the spirit -- and the songbook -- of the old days. Not only were there "new" effects, like the wall of TV monitors that loomed behind Criss' drum kit, but the staging was heavier on pyrotechnics than it was 20 years ago. The band itself was also heavier, but not so much as to make the costumes seem silly; if anything, seeing how pudgy Criss has grown over the years actually made his wish-I-could-be-home rendition of "Beth" all the more touching.

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As expected, the show started off with a bang -- literally. Arriving onstage in a burst of flashpots, KISS charged headlong into "Deuce," setting a pace that would keep the crowd on its feet for the next two hours. It was Klassik KISS: Gene Simmons, looking nothing less than 9 feet tall in his monster boots and kabuki makeup, growled the song with authority, while the swivel-hipped Stanley moved remarkably well for a man in 4-inch platforms. Frehley, meanwhile, stalked the stage with unflappable, guitar-hero cool, as Criss kept time behind them.

If rock and roll had been invented at Marvel Comics, this is what it would look like.

Song-wise, the show favored old over new to such an extent that the band actually ignored some of its biggest hits, including "Forever," "I Was Made for Lovin' You" and "Hard Luck Woman." Apart from Frehley's solo hit, "New York Groove," nothing in the set dated from after 1977.

But that reliance on nostalgia generally worked to the band's advantage. For one thing, it's impressive to note how well the oldies have held up -- particularly since no one considered them gems when they were new. These days, it's hard to hear "Black Diamond" without recognizing it as a sort of blueprint for grunge, or to witness the testosteronal intensity of "Strutter" without understanding what the likes of Guns N' Roses took from the tune.

Where the oldies-only approach really paid off, though, was in the staging. "God of Thunder" may not be a great rock and roll song -- heck, it's not really much of a song at all -- but it was the perfect vehicle for Simmons' demon shtick. It gave the show a context for his bat-winged, blood-gargling ascent into the rafters, and offered yet another excuse for the stage to belch flames. What more did you want -- hooks?

Simmons' celebrated gorefest was hardly the only bit of eye-popping showmanship. Frehley's solo bit (in "Shock Me") not only found him quoting Beethoven's Fifth, but had him playing licks so "hot" that one of the pickups on his guitar burst into flames (take that, Jimi Hendrix!).

Then there was "Firehouse," which had Criss' drum stand leaking smoke as sirens wailed, and Simmons did his firebreathing act, and "King of the Night Time World," during which a massive wall of (probably fake) amplifiers was erected behind the band. By the time Stanley, Simmons and Frehley were hoisted over the crowd for the finale to "Black Diamond," the fireworks display almost seemed old hat.

No wonder, then, that Stanley kicked off the encore rendition of "Detroit Rock City" with a little speech. "If you ever come back here and don't get everything you deserve from some band," he told the fans, "call us up, and we'll come back. Because you deserve the best!"

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Hyperbole? Maybe. But it would be hard to imagine a better value-for-money than the show KISS put on Sunday. And isn't that what rock concerts were all about?

Pub Date: 10/08/96



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