When you've spent the better part of a decade writing about hard rock and heavy metal, people start to make certain assumptions. One of the most prevalent, misguided notions strangers seem to have about me is that I must love KISS, the rock band that has cultivated an army of followers since its inception in 1973. Refuting this expectation usually results in wide eyes and an incredulous "Really???"
On the surface, I can understand that reaction. As much as I love and respect the genre's timeless power, I've always been able to see the humor in heavy metal. If someone doesn't recognize the inherent hilarity of grown men reveling in a mythological miasma and burning guitar frets like metaphorical medieval arsonists, then I seriously doubt they're a bona fide metal fan.
Aside from Spinal Tap, KISS is quite possibly the most hilarious metal band of all time. The spewing of faux blood; ridiculously ornate platform shoes; bass guitars shaped like actual battle axes; willfully cultivated, archetypal "personalities" based on spirit animals and makeup choices? That shit's just funny — and, theoretically, entertaining as hell.
I also have sympathy for old-school KISS fans on one level. For many, exposure to KISS in their early teens was contemporary with their inaugural rebellious acts involving sex, drugs or lighting things on fire. (Oh, the irony of bassist Gene Simmons's drug- and alcohol-shunning stance — no "Cold Gin" for him!) And as my dear friend and KISS fan Chuck Klosterman once pointed out, their fan-club concept of a card-carrying "KISS Army" was brilliant in its ability to market assimilation as revolution.
The problem is, marketing brilliance is only admirable from a capitalist perspective, and the overblown theatrics of metal are only tolerable if there's actually some musical talent behind it. KISS's material is just plain boring and unimaginative. At its core, it's practically bubblegum pop, a fact that completely threw me the first time I heard a KISS record.
The cover of their 1975 live album, Alive!, looked pretty damn intimidating, and the opening track "Deuce" rocked reasonably well, but by the time Paul Stanley started preening through "Strutter," I was bewildered. Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, bands I had just discovered, were visually unsettling and sonically heavy; KISS seemed phony and lightweight.
As Seattle bassist Drew Church (ex-Cops, currently of Little Cuts) recently said, "So many bands of that era were so much better. KISS was the 'N Sync of metal."
We know times are tough right now, but they're twice as tough for agencies that extend helping hands to musicians and their families. Please consider the following music-related organizations in your holiday charitable donations this year:
Musicians Benevolent Society: Provides Houston-area professional musicians with up to $1,000 in assistance for medical emergencies. P.O. Box 66253, Houston, TX 77266-6253; www.mbshouston.com.
Houston Blues Society: Promotes preservation and study of the blues and other music native to Houston and the Gulf Coast region. P.O. Box 7809, Houston, TX 77270, 713-827-6789; www.houstonbluessociety.org.
MusiCares South: Regional wing of the Recording Academy's nonprofit agency that provides crisis intervention, health-care referrals and financial assistance to its musician members. 1-877-626-2748; www.grammy.com/Musicares.
2110 Portsmouth, 713-526-9272
1. Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures
2. Powell St. John, On My Way to Houston
3. John Mayer, Battle Studies
4. Norah Jones, The Fall
5. John Arthur Martinez, Purgatory Road
6. Robert Earl Keen, The Rose Hotel
7. Tody Castillo, Windhorse
8. Runaway Sun, The Bridge
9. Paul McCartney, Good Evening New York City
10. Roseanne Cash, The List
KKRW, 93.7 FM
Top Songs, November 27
Data from www.yes.com
1. Blue Öyster Cult, "Burnin' for You"
2. The Police, "Roxanne"
3. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, "Turn the Page"
4. Steve Miller Band, "Rock 'N Me"
5. Led Zeppelin, "Rock and Roll"
6. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"
7. Journey, "Any Way You Want It"
8. Boston, "Peace of Mind"
9. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "I Love Rock and Roll"
10. Wings, "Live and Let Die"
(lists compiled by Chris Gray)
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.