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Review: KISS is worth more than a deuce as iconic band rocks the Gorge for final time

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 20, 2021

If this is really the end of the road for KISS, it’s one of the more impressive swan songs in rock history. KISS no longer writes or records material, but the legendary band pours everything into its show.

The final KISS concert ever, according to vocalist-bassist Gene Simmons, at the Gorge on Saturday night will be memorable for the 20,000 fans who spanned from toddlers to folks who approached octogenarian status. Speaking of those within shouting distance of 80, Simmons, who is a spry 72, and his co-conspirator, vocalist-guitarist Paul Stanley, 69, are getting up there.

It’s remarkable how animated the members of KISS are at such an advanced age. Their physicality isn’t that different from what it was when I caught the band for the first time 44 years ago at the late, lamented Spectrum in Philadelphia. That show, my first, is a distant but indelible memory for an elementary school kid blown away by the sheer spectacle.

I’m still impressed by the endless pyrotechnics and over-the-top eye candy. KISS capped its two-hour performance with an extended “Rock and Roll All Nite,” which included endless confetti showers that were so intense, I couldn’t help but become giddy, and those around me a few rows from the stage in front of Simmons felt the same way. Smiles and laughter (how often does that occur during a hard rock concert?) were ubiquitous.

The show commenced at 8:45 p.m., after an hour of video and hype, with the first of many explosions and the greatest song the band has ever composed, “Detroit Rock City.” Each of the band’s four members, including guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, were lowered to the stage on massive risers.

The anthemic “Shout It Out Loud” followed, and KISS was off and running. During “Deuce,” footage from the band’s salad days hit the video screen. It was a reminder, with the help of makeup, that KISS has aged well. And they knew exactly where they were Saturday night, shouting “Washington!” multiple times.

But the greasepaint doesn’t help a senior citizen gyrate around the stage. Stanley, who sings and speaks between songs, is in remarkable shape sporting his trademark vest. The starry-eyed lover character still shimmies around exactly like he did during the 1970s. Stanley, who still performs with a bit of a bare midriff, ziplines out to a small stage to belt out “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”

Both songs, which are among the catchiest in the KISS cannon, still hold up, particularly the former. It’s surprising that the latter aged so well since some members of the KISS Army were less than crazy about a disco-influenced song written and recorded by their favorite band in 1979. However, there was KISS more than 40 years later still cranking out the infectious hit with the image of a disco ball behind them.

Simmons, looking sinister as always in his demon makeup, still breathes fire, as he did during the 1982 deep cut “War Machine,” and spits out blood, which the audience experienced during “God of Thunder.” The electrifying evening also included requisite and outstanding drum, guitar and bass solos.

There were some curious choices for the setlist, such as why dust off the forgettable “Heaven’s on Fire” and, from 1985’s “Asylum,” “Tears Are Falling”? Why not play “Parasite,” which is one of the greatest songs in KISS history, and “I Stole Your Love”?

If this is the end of KISS, let it be known that KISS isn’t just a visual experience. Over the course of its lengthy career, KISS has crafted some solid songs that are timeless, such as “Black Diamond,” which was fortunately part of the band’s set.

Sure, KISS has had its share of misses, but that’s typically how it goes for those who write and record material for 40 years. And when it comes to live spectacle, the band is second to no act.

If the current tour really is it for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers (inducted in 2014), they are a rock and roll rarity, a band who went out on top and on its own terms. Rock on, KISS!

Features editor Don Chareunsy contributed to this review. Ed Condran can be reached at (509) 459-5440 or at edc@spokesman.com.

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