REVIEW: Kiss brings out their army and their fire for warmly ridiculous concert at the AMP

All photos: Clayton Taylor Photography

About halfway through Kiss’ concert Thursday night at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers, a video played on a giant screen behind the band. We watched as the current lineup played “Flaming Youth” on stage and a more youthful, makeup-free version of the band played something else behind them.

Perhaps the no makeup, “legitimate” band phase was necessary for them. Their commercial interests had waned by the mid-1980s. If there’s a motivating factor behind Kiss, it’s to be the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll entrepreneurial concept. You can buy Kiss-branded anything. Bassist and celebrity huckster Gene Simmons announced recently that for $50,000, he’ll come to your house and hand-deliver a copy of the 10-CD box set called “The Vault.”

Photo: Clayton Taylor Photography

Simmons and creative partner Paul Stanley did not require a fresh gimmick last night. Nor did they need original bandmates Peter Criss (drums) or Ace Frehley (guitar). Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer filled those roles, respectively, as they have done for many years. And they all filled the AMP to the brim, both with fans (all of them wearing Kiss gear) and ridiculousness.

I’ve been to dozens of concerts at the AMP, but this is the first where a Rogers Fire Department ladder truck waited at the ready just outside the venue. I expected it might be the last show I watched in the venue, because I thought the columns of flames and pyrotechnics might actually burn the place down. A few bands have used an occasional pyrotechnic blast at the new facility, but nothing like this. Kiss stands alone in turns of fire volume.

The camp, the schlock, the blasts of fire and the platform 25 feet in the air onto which Simmons was hoisted to perform “God of Thunder” are the reason this band persists. Here’s a take as hot as the band’s fire – most of their music is just okay. And aside from a few of the biggest hits, such as “Detroit Rock City,” “Lick It Up” and “Rock and Roll All Nite,” not even the hardcore fans around me sang along with many of the album cuts.

Photo: Clayton Taylor Photography

Kiss is out on their KissWorld tour, and if it’s been parsed for smaller outdoor stages like the AMP, I’m not sure how (or how garish the full version must be). Northwest Arkansas got a full dose of fire and rising drum platforms and video elements, as far as I could tell. And they dumped enough white confetti to make it look like it snowed. Those elements – and perhaps to watch fake blood dribble out of Simmons’ mouth – are why you go to a Kiss concert.
Otherwise, the pace of the show was a bit plodding. Stanley did a lot of talking. Simmons did a lot of sticking out his tongue. The band played 18 songs in right at two hours of stage time. That included a 10-minute break during the encore, during which a military veteran received a key to a new, mortgage-free home and the band received a key to the city of Rogers.

“Make sure you don’t change the lock, because we are coming back,” Stanley yelled to the crowd.

I don’t doubt they will come back. Kiss isn’t getting any younger, but Stanley didn’t let that stop him from showing off his midriff. When a 65-year-old showing off his midriff doesn’t even rank in the top 10 of the most ridiculous things you saw in a night, it’s been a strange evening indeed. There’s some life left in the concept yet, and Thayer, a spring chicken at 56, added some spark during his features. Kiss is growing into the mature, nostalgic phase of their career, but there’s no sign of it stopping, maybe just slowing a bit.

Photo: Clayton Taylor Photography

The comedian Brian Regan once told me in an interview that he was always amazed that fans in the audience would ask him to do older bits. ‘But they’ve heard the punchline!’ he’d say in his head. He’d oblige those requests sometimes, and even the most well-traveled material drew new laughs.

Kiss works in much the same way. This is a punchline we already know, but it delivers a familiar warmth. Or maybe that’s just the fire.

Photo: Clayton Taylor Photography