Considering I have been a longtime music journalist and concert addict for over 40 years, it’s almost unfathomable that I had never seen Kiss in concert until last Feb. 5 in Buffalo. If there was a bingo card with rock bands that people had seen in concert, Kiss would occupy the center square. Seeing Kiss was a live music rite of passage for mullet sporting suburban high school kids like me in the early 1980s.
Even as far back as when I was in elementary school, there were kids that were Kiss fans. You could not go to a record store or major retailer without seeing Kiss records or find a magazine rack that didn’t have a member of Kiss on multiple magazine covers. Kiss’ music was tailor made for kids like me. So why did it take over 40 years for me to catch my fist Kiss show?
There is not a simple answer, and while I was never a huge Kiss fan, I was never a Kiss hater, even though when I was 14 years old I was warned by a devout Christian lady that Kiss music was filled with satanic references. To be fair, she said the same about a lot of arena rock bands.
It also wasn’t for a lack of effort, because I did buy a pair of Kiss concert tickets in the last 1980s and planned to take a co-worker that I had a crush on. The show was sold out and she asked me if she could hold the tickets. On the day of the show she called in sick to work and her friend told me she was too sick to go to the show. It was the days before cell phones so I couldn’t get ahold of her to get my tickets back, and as it turned out, she was feigning illness and was spotted at the show “Kissing” another guy.
There were other things that came up over the years, some serious, some not, but I always thought to myself “there will be another chance.” In many ways that is a testament to the group’s longevity. There are few bands that have toured as relentlessly as Kiss, and they have always reacted to the marketplace. When they changed members they changed, even going out on the road without makeup during an “unmasked” era, that now seems like an aberration and distant memory.
I never fully understood Kiss fandom until a few years ago when I was on a trip back into the United States from Canada after covering a Ringo Starr press conference with my friend Gus. Instead of the standard greeting at the border, the agent asked, “Are you part of the army?” The pair began talking in a language I didn’t fully understand before we were sent through the border.
“Army? I had no clue you were a military veteran Gus.” In fact, Gus was not a military vet, the border crossing guard noticed the vanity plate which said, “Love Gun.” They were members of The Kiss Army.
My first Kiss concert came during what is billed as “The End of the Road,” but it still features all the elements that put Kiss on the map. The arena is still filled with smoke but it is from the pyro and fog, and lighters have been replaced by cell phone flashlights.
The production is massive, and while it would be easy to say “it’s everything you would expect at a Kiss show,” it would be unfair to write the show off, in the same way it would be to knock the circus for being “everything you would expect.” So while I expected fire spitting, a drum solo and exploding guitars, I was still glued to my seat for the entire performance.
If there was one thing that surprised me, it was the crowd. While I expected multiple generations in attendance, seeing small children in tow and an equal spread of generations represented was surprising. They weren’t the typical beer-guzzling loud mouths associated with some concert events, they were there to have a good time, and in a respectful way.
Even if they are at the end of their touring days, their fans will still be around, and Kiss still has over a year of shows left, so there is no real sense of urgency even if they may never perform in Buffalo city limits again.
Most importantly, when someone asks me if I have ever seen Kiss, I can say “yes” and if they follow up with, “How were they? I can truthfully answer, “They were just what you would expect at a Kiss show … they were great.”
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.