By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy, Photos by Matt “Rabit” Martinez Red Hare Images
Back in the grand days of rock ‘n’ roll, the fans wanted the best. Well, in 1973, they got the best. If there was one band who can not only deliver themselves as a top-notch live act, but also market themselves like crazy, then there is only one group that has pulled that off: KISS. Known for their extravagant live shows, comic book inspired makeup and costumes, eccentric merchandise, and monstrous musicianship, KISS has kept fans on the edge of their seats in concert halls and arenas for about 45 years. Led by frontman/guitarist Paul Stanley and frontman/bassist Gene Simmons, I saw the group 10 years ago this year when they were promoting their 2009 record Sonic Boom, and I was in such awe. After so many years together, KISS is hitting the road one last time before hanging up their platform shoes. Dubbed the “End of the Road,” Matt and I did not want to miss this concert, so we headed to the Honda Center in Anaheim. It was our first show coverage there, so this was the perfect show to shoot there. There was no opening act this time around, just over 2 hours of KISS mayhem.
“You wanted the best! You got the best!” The famous opening monologue echoed throughout the Honda Center. Then, as the curtain dropped, explosions went off as KISS was lowered down from the roof, riffing to the famous opener, “Detroit Rock City.” Fireworks and fireballs shot out of their custom made stage. Then, they performed one of the greatest rock songs ever written, “Shout It Out Loud.” During “Deuce,” where lead guitarist Spaceman Tommy Thayer laid out the iconic solo made famous by original Spaceman Ace Frehley, Simmons brought out his flaming sword, where he spit out a fireball. Only Gene Simmons can make it demonically cool, all the while playing righteous bass riffs with his long-ass tongue sticking out. Stanley still packs a powerful punch when belts out his high falsetto voice. I could tell it has lost a little luster, but only by a little. He’s still an amazing frontman, getting the fans involved with their show. He is and always will be the Star Child performer. Both he and Simmons went back to back with lead vocal duties, from “Heaven’s on Fire” to “War Machine.” When they performed “Lick it Up,” they added a snippet of the Who’s classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which was layered in the main song smoothly. After “100,000 Years,” drummer Eric Singer leaped like a cat with his bombastic drum solo. I feel they do not give him enough credit because his drumming throughout the evening was off the charts.
As the show rolled on, Simmons stood on a platform, giving us horrorific glares and thunderous bass lines. All of sudden, in Demon fashion, he spewed blood from his mouth before being lifted in the air to give us a little “God of Thunder.” After ripping it up with “Cold Gin,” Thayer gave the fans of Anaheim a stellar solo performance, all the while sparkling flares shot out the top of his guitar and exploding onto flying saucers, showing us why he is the Spaceman. While some see him as a Space Ace copycat (Andy Thunders, hahaha), I see him paying homage to Frehley’s guitar work, while adding his own personal touch. I have always enjoyed Tommy Thayer in this band. KISS has gotten older and do not move around so well, but that did not matter because their performance showed fans why they are still the hottest band in the world. With “Psycho Circus,” “Love It Loud,” “Hide Your Heart,” and “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll,” the crowd was on their feet the whole time. Stanley then stepped onto a zip line, went across the room over his adoring audience, and sang “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” from a small secondary stage setup in the middle of the audience. After he zip-lined back, KISS gave us “Black Diamond.”
After a brief timeout, where the crowd chanted for more, Singer emerged from underneath the stage, sitting at the piano and played their classic ballad, “Beth.” The other members surrounded him, giving him pats on the back while he serenaded the crowd. It would have been cool if Criss himself emerged because this was his song, but Singer knocked it out of the park. After they played “Do You Love Me,” KISS gave us one last ride with the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll national anthem, “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Fireworks and explosions rocked the stage, with Simmons and Thayer riding on cranes overlooking the audience. Towards the end, Stanley took his guitar and broke it in half, like he always likes to do after that song.
Full KISS gallery below:
After that, it was all over, while “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II” played over the PA system. I am so happy I got to cover this performance. I have been a loyal soldier of the KISS Army since high school, and I did not go AWOL once during their career. I was disappointed they did not play “Unholy,” “Strutter,” “Christine Sixteen,” “Crazy Crazy Nights,” “Shock Me,” or “Hell or Hallelujah,” but they still played a lot of my other favorites. I want to personally thank an old friend of mine, Mary Ann Messick, who introduced me to these guys. We were driving one day, she pops in their famous live album, Alive!, and it changed my life forever. I will never forget this show. To Spaceman, the Catman, Star Child, and the Demon, I salute you. Horns up!!!