Aftermath: KISS, Hotter Than Hell and Strutting Like Dinosaurs In Houston Rock City
Photos by Jay Lee
KISS is a depleting natural and cultural resource. One day there will be no KISS left, and all the world will have is four garish black and silver suits sitting in some futuristic Smithsonian display. We have had KISS on this Earth for almost 40 years, and many people have never even seen them live. Wracked in the proverbial nuts of our immune system, Aftermath downed whatever meds he needed to make it to Toyota Center, because there is always the slim chance that this will be the "last tour" in the same way that everyone always has that twinge of guilt when they miss the Stones or Dylan date in their hometown. Those artists are also sadly depleting natural elements that can't be just reconstituted at a later date for consumption. True it is that KISS is now down to only two original members, but you people gobble up The Who without Moon and the Ox like they were a bag of Walker's Crisps, so what difference does it make? All KISS fans need to survive is Gene Simmons' pornographic tongue and Paul Stanley's hammy, shrill stage banter to get us through. Plus fire. And blood.
Saturday's openers Buckcherry were almost swallowed by Toyota Center, playing on a small quadrant of the stage with just enough room to allow lead singer Josh Todd's nuts to swing through songs like "Lit Up" and "Sorry." Buckcherry has more in common with the punny and unmasked mid-80s KISS than anything else, but they have a charm all their own which is in part owed wholly to the coke-tastic glint in Todd's eye. They throw out their cover of Deep Purple's "Highway Star," eliciting cheers from the oldsters in the crowd who had been sitting on their hands waiting for KISS. Even after three years of its existence, we aren't sure if closer "Crazy Bitch" is the most truthful or most ignorant song ever written. It's the "Wango Tango" of our generation, and rightfully so. Old-school KISS fans, the ones who in their teens and younger when the band used to swing through the old Sam Houston Coliseum and the Summit, are a special and rare breed. Not only have they seen pretty much the same show for the past 35 years, they still enjoy it just like the very first time. Once you see those four letters light up behind Paul and Gene, it's hard to not feel that you are now a part of a rock and roll lineage whatever age you are or whichever number KISS show you are on.
Those are the same lights that enamored everyone from Slash and Flea to Marilyn Manson and Turbonegro. Hell, maybe even Stefani Germanotta if you wanna get technical The magic of their iconography makes the thought of those lights going dim one day all that more sad.
KISS starts the night with that old familiar "You wanted the best, you got the best..." line that temporarily gives the band ownership of whatever venue they are playing in. No one else has the balls these days to have a disembodied voice introduce their band with such a lofty introduction, and it's a shame. Aftermath sort of wants a band to take hold of their awesomeness, even if it's just Metallica using "The Ecstasy Of Gold" at each show. "Deuce" and "Strutter" open the show in a flash of fire and heavy smoke, as they have for going on almost five decades. Seeing KISS live is like watching dinosaurs stomp the earth under prehistoric skies, swatting down pterodactyls with their claws. The times and people may change, and bodies slow down and get oddly shaped, but the outfits and make-up pick up whatever the Good Lord takes away every year. If you squint your eyes just right and let go of your irony-laden ageism, it's 1975 all over again.
There would be no lulls during the show, with the band picking out every single punishing glam-metal hallmark in their repertoire with Hotter Than Hell-era tracks like the title track, "Parasite" and "Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll" getting equal footing. These were the songs that a decade ago changed Aftermath's mind about the band, after growing up only hearing the same two KISS songs in commercials and the like his whole life. It was then he realized that the band wasn't so far sonically removed from his beloved New York Dolls and Stooges. Even the new KISS music from this year's Sonic Boom, which got a healthy Wal-Mart plugging from Paul, isn't terribly awful. One such track, "Modern Day Delilah," starts off not too far removed from The Sword's "Freya" and continues the same boozy broad trouble tradition of "Black Diamond." We swear that we felt our very-real psychical fever getting exorcised during "Calling Dr. Love," but that may have just been the bottle of Dayquil bubbling up in our gullet.
Every KISS hallmark was present, from the pyrotechnics to Gene playing spewing fire and blood. At one point during one of the flame breaks, we spied Paul teasing out his hair in a dark corner of the stage while Gene held court. Even though they aren't from the original line-up, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer are now old salts when it comes to this garish circus. During an extended Thayer solo session, a lighting rig fell from the exploding scaffolding and onto the stage, which helped emit a husky happy coughing jag from Aftermath. Gene flew into the rafters to spit blood at us and howl out "I Love It Loud" from one hundred feet in the air. It made us temporarily forget about the existence of his reality show Family Jewels, if only for three minutes.
Everything after "Loud" was pure KISStory, from "Rock And Roll All Nite" to "Love Gun," where Paul swung out over the audience and to the back off the house to play on top of his own platform. Yes, they played "Lick It Up" from their unfettered and unpainted days, but it's still a solid jam in our book, even if the times surrounding it are a period in the band's life that some would rather forget than champion. These are their legacy songs, the ones that you will see on obits and nostalgia trips from here until eternity. If you can't grin like an idiot during these pure pop-metal nuggets then you are an emotional and rock and roll eunuch, and Aftermath doesn't want to drink with you. Ever. Paul introduces the closer "Detroit Rock City", the opening cut off the epic Destroyer, and Aftermath couldn't help but change the lyrics to "Houston Rock City" as he screamed along to the anthem. The band probably spent the ticket receipts from the nosebleed section of Toyota Center for all the fire and noise that it brought out for the last two songs. Our faces were warmed by all the heat from the stage, and gave us a healthy glow as we walked into the coldness and frost of the evening.
Deuce Strutter Let Me Go Rock 'N' Roll Hotter Than Hell Shock Me Calling Dr. Love Modern Day Delilah Cold Gin Parasite Say Yeah 100,000 Years I Love It Loud Black Diamond Rock And Roll All Nite Shout It Out Loud Lick It Up Love Gun Detroit Rock City For more photos from the show, see our slideshow here.
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