Wednesday, March 16, 2011

KISS at the Houston Rodeo

The first time I saw these dudes was in 1976, my senior high school year, at McDonald Gymnasium on the campus of Lamar University. I was 17 years old.

So last evening I took the wife to her first Rodeo to see them again.

KISS, by now, is as warm and familiar to fans as a (sparkly) bathrobe. There's nary a sense of danger, though Gene Simmons can still strike an imposing stance. Paul Stanley's voice has taken on a banshee screech, even when he's talking, and it's often funnier than it should be.

But the band's sense of humor is what keeps things from dwindling into complete parody. Stanley and Simmons are in on the joke. They're like vaudeville stars (in spandex). And the KISS army was out in force. Old-school fans and grade-schoolers in full makeup populated the crowd of more than 72,000, a big number for a weekday show, even during spring break.

If you haven't seen Simmons' reality TV show Family Jewels -- season 6 is on the way -- then you're not getting all of the joke. Gene's relatively normal suburban dad occasionally mashes into six-inch-tongue-in-cheek self-parodies of his stage character, and his relationships with Playmate "wife" Shannon Tweed, now a pinup victim of too much plastic surgery, and their children Nick and Sophie (seemingly unaffected psychologically by being burdened with parents like these) are never boring either. But I digress from last night.

Stage limitations cut out much of the band's extravagant stage show, which is a large part of the KISS experience. But they did what they could with pyro and fireworks, which punctuated every song.

Modern Day Delilah, from 2009 album Sonic Boom, was a strange choice for opening such an abbreviated set. But things soon sounded familiar: Shout it Out Loud, Deuce, Firehouse (complete with Simmons' fire-breathing finale) and Calling Dr. Love.

I Was Made for Lovin' You didn't pack as big a punch as it should have. It felt tentative instead of arrogant. But drummer Eric Singer managed a standout version of Beth, the night's only ballad.

I am ashamed to say I wouldn't have known the drummer's name if it hadn't been included in this article. Former kitmaster Peter Criss -- he wore a CAT Diesel Power cap in Beaumont 35 years ago -- long ago dropped out and was later diagnosed with breast cancer, rare for men. He's a survivor. Still couldn't tell you who or how many have replaced Ace Frehley over the years.

But my voluntary and semi-dishonorable discharge from the KISS Army after college and the corporate world summoned was all forgotten last night. My favorites were Detroit Rock City and of course the closer, Rock and Roll All Night. I would have loved hearing some of the old stuff, like Cold Gin or Black Diamond, but I'm sure they never play them live any more. Here's what we missed, fresh from that era ...

Stanley led the crowd through a military salute and the Pledge of Allegiance before kicking into a Rock and Roll All Nite sing-along and guitar-smashing finale. It was random, a little ridiculous and, overall, more fun than it should have been.

It was just as weird as you think it would be to see all of the cowboy hats and too-tight Wrangler jeans all around me, with flames shooting in the air and KISS onstage jamming. As a commenter at the link noted, I never thought I would have seen the day when this band led its fans in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Despite that brief return to current reality, for about an hour last night I was back in high school.


Ted McLaughlin said...

As an old Texas boy, I like both rodeos and KISS. But I have to say that I would never have thought about putting the two of them together.

JB said...

They played Strutter and Cold Gin and Love Gun at the CWMP last year. Lots of old songs along with the new.

Greg said...

"Still couldn't tell you who or how many have replaced Ace Frehley over the years."

- Vinnie Vincent
- Mark St. John
- Bruce Kulick
- Tommy Thayer (currnet)

Bruce's older brother, Bob Kulick, did a lot of studio work on guitar (mostly uncredited) while Ace was too doped up to play during the late 70s. Both Kulick brothers have the ignoble stamp on their resume for having worked with Michael Bolton either directly before (Bruce) or after (Bob) their KISS years.

Bob auditioned for the original guitar gig with KISS, but lost out to Ace. There's some great work of his viewable online if you do a YouTube search for "Blackjack" and "Michael Bolton."