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KISS - The Suspects - Gestapo Pussy Ranch

KISS
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Saturday, April 1

Like an extended version of a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl commercial with hip animation and a snappy jingle, the KISShow was really not much more than a two-and-a-half-hour-long advertisement for KISS and KISS-related products. Since the big screen behind the stage, continuously flashing image after image of KISStuff, was the band's primary pitching tool, concentrating on the living, breathing musicians in front was rather underwhelming.

The sales pitch, however subtle, began before you entered the pavilion (where the $325 front-row seats were being eaten up). After navigating the pavilion's grounds -- precariously, because of construction of the $24 million, 1.25-mile Woodlands Waterway -- concertgoers were greeted by the KISS semitrailer, parked near the main entrance; "www.kissonline.com" covered one entire side of the hauler. A billboard on wheels? Must be KISS.

Once the concert got under way, around 9 p.m., the salesmanship picked up a little in intensity, special thanks to the big screen. The opening number, "Detroit Rock City," was accompanied by 3-D digital footage of a racing black Plymouth Prowler, which was referred to in KISS press material as "the official KISS car." In 1998 Plymouth and the band were involved in a promotional sweepstakes in which one of the $75,000 vehicles was given away as first prize.

The rest of the evening belonged chiefly to pushing KISShit. About a half hour after the opener, when the band performed "Psycho Circus," actual footage from the band's PC video game, Psycho Circus, appeared on the big screen. While traversing otherworldly terrain, digitized doppelgängers of each band member -- bassist Gene Simmons (the Demon), guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley (Starchild), guitarist Ace Frehley (the Spaceman) and drummer Peter Criss (Catman) -- zapped fearsome arachnids and other villainous creatures.

And toward the middle of the show, a 3-D digitized KISS cartoon, in the vein of Beast Machines and Toy Story, occupied the large screen. Shown in ten-minute increments weekly on the band's Web site, KISS: Immortals is the brainchild of, among others, VH-1.com, which as the presenter of the farewell tour made sure its KISS cartoon and, indirectly, its cable music channel got props.

Only once was the big screen used appropriately. During the first few minutes of the performance, when KISS played "Do You Love Me," old clips of the band zipped by. That touch actually added some soul to a charged yet perfunctory outing.

Technically outstanding, Frehley played with all the vigor and emotion of a store clerk shelving cereal boxes. Stanley's main contribution? Turning his back to the crowd about every five minutes or so and sticking out his ass as if posing for a centerfold. And Criss, like the booze glamorized in the song "Cold Gin," kept everything and everyone together. His tone was perfect, and he snapped steadily and crisply all night.

But of all the members, Simmons at least appeared interested on stage, which itself was an elaborate construct that resembled the band's KISS Alive II-era design (circa 1977) with an elevating drum kit, illuminated staircases and walls of Randall amps. True to form, the Demon spit fire and blood, wiggled his long tongue at random fans, tried to lick Frehley's face a couple of times and growled the lyrics to his signature songs, "God of Thunder," "Love It Loud" and the best tune of the night, "Deuce."

KISS will be remembered as one of the best rock and roll acts of all time. The band's fun-loving attitude, style and substance will be missed. Its gimmickry, image and collectibles will not. -- Anthony Mariani

The Suspects
Instant Karma
Friday, March 31

As a live band, the Suspects are determined to break legs. "We played a show in Pittsburgh, and they let us play until 4 a.m.," said sax man Chuy Terrazas last week. "If you want us to play till 4 a.m., we'll do it." On this particular night, it was a question of who would close up shop for the night first, the band or the club?

This nine-piece ska-core ensemble can certainly make you feel like you're in the midst of a frat mixer. Decked out in casual wear, the boys had the audience, mostly teenage girls from Episcopal High School, jumping in place all night. The horn section -- Terrazas, trumpeter Steve Ruth and trombonist Ryan Gabbart -- was a happy-go-lucky threesome, playing with a joyful unruliness. Thomas Escalante also kept things jumping with his exuberant vocals, which were usually accompanied by the on-the-spot rantings and ravings of rhythm guitarist Bill Grady. Alan Hernandez, the band's other nutty guitarist, wailed away, Townshend-style, and even dropped down into the audience a couple of times, prompting Escalante to nominate him for president. Why? "If you have a Colombian in the White House," he said, "drugs will be legal."

The band rarely performed a tune that wasn't flowing with its patented, ska/ funk/blues momentum. The outfit mainly played music from its first two albums, but dropped some unreleased stuff, too. A couple of songs went out to special people in the audience: The band dedicated its lone instrumental number, "3-Eyed Fish," to patron David Beebe, who most remember fondly as lead singer of the now defunct Banana Blender Surprise. And for this night the band changed the title of its song "Goodbye, Brown-Eyes" to "Goodbye Dave Cummings," for the Middlefinger guitarist who was also in the crowd.

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