BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | For decades, perhaps as far back as the 1970s, as each Kiss tour was announced, the Kiss Army speculated on whether or not it would be the band’s final tour. After all, the group’s popularity had peaked in the mid-1970s and numerous marketing strategies, including solo albums, a film and unmasking, were created to generate a revival of interest. Kiss’s first official retirement tour was in 2000. The band then quickly unretired. Finally, the band promised to unpack its suitcases for the last time with the End of the Road tour, which started in January 2019 and ended at Madison Square Garden this Dec. 2. That is Kisstory’s touring legacy in a nutshell.
Kiss’s road finale ended with a week of high-profile activities in New York City, where the band was born. Mayor Eric Adams declared an official Kiss Day, the Empire State Building was emblazoned with a Kiss light show at night, Inked NYC offered complimentary KISS tattoos, the New York Rangers hosted a Kiss night, a Kiss pop-up store sold merchandise for four days, and a Web site offered fans the chance to see their names in the lettering of the Kiss logo. All of this fanfare was in advance of Kiss’s final two concerts at Madison Square Garden, about 10 blocks north of where the band first rehearsed 50 years ago.
Marketing was more blatant than at your typical concert. Madison Square Garden sold Kiss merchandise all day long to accommodate band fans without concert tickets. Upon entering the arena’s lobby for the concert, fans lined up to take a photograph with a life-size poster of a Kiss member. There was a QR code at the top of the poster, where a phone camera could open yet another opportunity to buy Kiss merch. After a set by the support band, Amber Wild, featuring Paul Stanley’s son, Evan, video screens during the lengthy intermission repeatedly showed the QR code. The marketing continued even after the concerts. Want to see the show again from home? A pay-per-view costs $39.99.
The live performance was the main event, for sure. As the Kiss curtain disappeared, the band members descended onto the stage from midair risers and roared into “Detroit Rock City.” The band continued with familiar catalog, “Shout It Out Loud” and “Deuce.” Kiss repeated the 23-song set list that the band had been playing throughout the tour. For the most part, the songs were comprised of melodic hard rock anthems, with the exception of “Beth,” on which Eric Singer sang and played a grand piano. The band was not breaking new ground this night; instead, it was mining its 1970s peak period.
There were several musical high points. During “Lick it Up,” Kiss ventured into a snippet of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Stanley and Tommy Thayer ended “Makin’ Love” with a guitar duel. Throughout the concert, Thayer fueled the songs with impressive guitar leads, while Gene Simmons, Stanley and Singer kept the rhythms rocking.
While the music remained strong throughout, the concert also aimed to be the greatest rock spectacle of all time. Music-synced LED light bracelets were available to fans at every seat. Bassist Simmons spit blood and blew flames. Lead guitarist Thayer’s instrument shot fireworks. Stanley told the audience that he wanted to be out there with them. Then, as “Love Gun” began, he left his band mates on the main stage and zip-lined across the arena to a smaller stage, where he remained through “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” then zip-lined back to the main stage after starting “Black Diamond.”
All four musicians, including drummer Singer, positioned themselves on hydraulic platforms that rose and lowered. Simmons and Thayer rode on cherry-picker cranes that traversed over the area’s center. Stanley smashed his guitar into the stage and totaled its fretboard at the end of the concert. There were towers of flames, confetti and streamer cannons, giant Kiss balloons tossed into the audience — hardly a moment passed when “spectacle” was not the operative word. More than 100 kabuki-makeup-wearing and costumed fans in the audience added to the extravaganza.
Stanley attempted to channel the fans’ sadness over the end of Kiss’s live concerts into a celebration of the band’s half-century history, with references to Kiss’s journey. He reminisced about driving a taxi in New York City in 1972 and taking passengers to see Elvis Presley at Madison Square Garden, telling them that someday people would be coming there to see him and his band. At Kiss’s first show at the famed Midtown arena in 1977, he recalled being thrilled at seeing his parents on one side of the venue and Simmons’s mom on the other.
Despite the historic importance of the final performances, original members guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss did not make appearances. And so came the end of the road for Kiss. The musicians that professed in 1975 while in their 20s that they wanted to rock and roll all night and party every day are now, a half century later in their 70s, retiring their platform boots. If indeed this was the band’s last live show ever, the rock legends went out with more than a bang.
Yet, although the MSG weekend was supposed to be the end of the road for Kiss, it is not the end of Kiss. Kiss announced that the band’s legacy will live on as avatars. What was not mentioned was that the band will live on as merchandisers, as well.
Detroit Rock City
Shout It Out Loud
Heaven’s on Fire
I Love It Loud
Lick It Up (with The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” bridge)
Calling Dr. Love
Psycho Circus (partial)
100,000 Years (partial)
God of Thunder
I Was Made for Lovin’ You
Do You Love Me
Rock and Roll All Nite
For more of Everynight Charley Crespo’s coverage of the New York City music scene, check out his blog, The Manhattan Beat.