Bayou City

KISS Sticks With What Works at Smart Financial Centre Stop

Even approaching their seventies, KISS still loves it loud.
Even approaching their seventies, KISS still loves it loud. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Smart Financial Centre
September 26, 2017

KISS' Houston-adjacent entry on the band’s “KISSWORLD 2017” tour (they’re not really trying with the names anymore) represented what most 21st century KISS shows have become: a workmanlike nostalgia act occasionally veering briefly into jingoism. It’s a shtick that allows aging Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers (*cough*) to temporarily avoid going gently into that good night (at least until their sciatica starts acting up), and could probably continue until Paul Stanley abruptly wonders why he keeps putting on greasepaint and cramming himself into spandex instead of a nice pair of Bermuda shorts.

Because if we fans of so-called “classic rock” are guilty of anything (aside from allowing the Steve Miller Band to overstay its welcome by 40 years, that is), it’s our mule-headed resistance to new material. The best these older acts can hope for when on tour is polite applause during newer cuts (see: Tom Petty), the worst is outright disgruntlement (see also: Jackson Browne). KISS neatly sidesteps this conundrum by gleefully mining the gold of its heyday while eschewing the copper (or pewter) of its recent efforts.

A mere two songs off last night’s set list were released post-Cold War: “Say Yeah,” from 2009’s Sonic Boom, and “Psycho Circus,” the second most recent cut yet still nearly 20 years old. If you didn’t mind missing “War Machine” (sandwiched in between the two), those songs offered a handy bathroom/beer break. Destroyer and the band’s 1974 debut album garnered the most attention, with four tracks each.

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The set list of KISSWORLD 2017 features two songs released since the end of the Cold War.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Stanley and co-founder Gene Simmons went through the expected gyrations and crowd call-outs, exhorting each half of the arena to out cheer each other. Blood was spit, fire was breathed, and Stanley rode a zip line thing after taking a turn atop a platform over the sound booth to play “Psycho Circus.” Guitarist Tommy Thayer got to sing “Shock Me” again, and drummer Eric Singer was largely incognito behind his kit, Catman makeup notwithstanding. Motions were gone through, and if the whole show ran more than 90 minutes (there was no opening act), that just meant the everybody got home early enough for Tucker Carlson.

The problem is, for as many reasons as there are to make fun of this band, there are almost as many that demand some (occasionally grudging) respect. Yes, Stanley’s incessant cooing to the audience (he alternated between referring to us as “Shoogah-land” and the old reliable “Ha-Yew-Ston”) wears thin after a few songs, and watching Grandpa Gene waggle his 68-year-old tongue at us inspires full-body douche chills. Their set list has barely changed in decades, and this latter era swing into military worship (I honestly don’t remember Stanley telling us how cool it is to be a patriot at other shows) seems like pandering.

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Gene Simmons waggling his tongue at you is still disconcerting.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Then again, the mere fact KISS managed to emerge from self-parody a few decades ago to become a viable arena act again is pretty remarkable. They’re also some charitable dudes, playing a pre-show fundraiser for Kingwood High School’s arts department, which — among other things — lost hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment thanks to Harvey. They even brought the kids out for “Rock and Roll All Nite” (and if Stanley kept referring to it as “Kingswood High School,” nobody seemed to care). Is it weird seeing Stanley bring up an adorable little girl in Kiss PJs onstage to play along to “Love It Loud?” Yes. Is it in keeping with the strange juxtaposition between the sleaze kings of yore and the grumpy-ish old men the band has become? Also yes.

The only minor derailment of the nostalgia train was Stanley leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. On one hand, it was perfectly fitting in with the music I spent third grade listening to, on the other…this is some Ted Nugent/Kid Rock territory. One of KISS’ biggest strengths was always how it could play to both sides. Left and right alike could either come together in unity over rocking and rolling all nite (and partying every day) or in mocking a bunch of aging try-hards playing their venerable hits to leaner crowds year after year. Stanley and Simmons are all on the downhill side of 60 (Thayer and Singer are in their late fifties), and they stopped giving a shit about public opinion pretty much when the first reviews of KISS came out in 1974. Still, it’s funny how nobody last night was telling them to “stick to music.”

Personal Bias: We’ve been over this.

The Crowd: KISS has been family fun for a while now. There was also a large contingent of KHS kids in attendance.

Overheard In The Crowd: “USA! USA!”

Random Notebook Dump: “Paul Stanley shaves his six-pack into his stomach hair.”

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Tuesday's show even came with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Shout It Out Loud
Lick It Up
I Love It Loud
Love Gun
Shock Me
Flaming Youth
God of Thunder
Say Yeah
War Machine
Psycho Circus
Black Diamond
Rock and Roll All Nite

Cold Gin
Detroit Rock City
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar