Music Article

Kiss '96: Porno and Pyros

The rock band is back in their makeup with exploding music and stage presence

Gene Simmons wasn't kidding. At a spring press conference announcing the summer reunion tour by the four original members of Kiss, Simmons bragged, ''We're gonna show every new band how the big boys do it.'' At the tour's kickoff on June 28 at Detroit's Tiger Stadium, the ''classic Kiss'' (Simmons' words again) lived up to that boast and then some. In a nostalgia-heavy summer tour circuit, where a re-formed Styx and the Sex Pistols will be crossing paths, no one will re-create 1977 the way Kiss do on their Kiss Alive/Worldwide tour.

The Kabuki makeup is back; so are Peter Criss' drum solos, cherry pickers that lift the band members over the audience, Simmons drooling ''blood,'' and almost as many fiery explosions as in your typical summer action movie. Don't come expecting to hear '80s Kiss hits like ''Heaven's on Fire,'' either. The entire show was devoted to songs from the original quartet's pre-1978 glory days. In this setting, it was utterly perfect for guitarist Paul Stanley to introduce ''Love Gun'' by saying ''This song is about my pistol. I ain't talkin' about no .38!'' If Lollapalooza, with its body-piercing and alterna-shock ambiance, is the Cirque du Soleil of rock, then a Kiss tour is Ringling Bros. — enduring and fun for the whole family, preferably a family with a lewd sense of humor.

The 38,000 fans jammed into Tiger Stadium ate it up, even teenagers (some in Stanley-inspired star-over-eye makeup) who weren't born when Alive! put the band on the cultural map. And why not get excited? Despite occasionally muddy stadium sonics, it was a kick to see Simmons, Stanley, and Ace Frehley doing their choreographed guitar moves during ''Deuce,'' ''Strutter,'' and other bedsheet-music standards. (Given the semi-tragic Frehley's personal excesses of the last decade, his resurrection as eternally cool, aloof guitar hero was especially heartening.) For those in the cheap seats, video screens allowed close-ups of such sights as Frehley's black fingernail polish and, by the evening's end, some fading makeup. Small wonder that the tour has been selling out at an astonishing rate, even with tickets priced as high as $85. The entire spectacle was the ultimate in prolonged adolescence, for band and audience alike.

The two-hour-plus show wasn't without opening-night glitches: Frehley's smoke-spewing guitar didn't ignite when it should have, resulting in an unintentional Spi¬nal Tap moment, and some flash pots didn't explode on cue. ''I'd give it a 6 out of 10,'' assessed Stanley, 44, afterward. ''In two weeks, it'll be even better.'' Note to Stanley: Whatever you do, keep the elevating drum kit.

Originally posted Jul 12, 1996 Published in issue #335 Jul 12, 1996 Order article reprints
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