Written by Eric Sperrazza
Throughout this journey of seeing live music in a COVID-stricken world, I’ve found myself at boutique pavilions and football stadiums across the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But, like our freedom-fighting forefathers, it was time to cross the mighty Delaware River to the New Jersey side! My journey would bring me to the famed Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City for what was being billed as the final tour ever of the hottest band in the land, KISS.
Although Pennsylvania felt “normal” at previous shows this summer, New Jersey had recently shifted its Coronavirus Protection Rules and there was a feeling of not knowing what to expect as I drove down the Atlantic City Expressway.
KISS has always had a special place in my heart. As a kid, my Uncle Marc turned me on to the band and their on-stage personas, the Demon, the Space Ace, the Catman, and the Starchild. It was, in my adolescent eyes, the perfect blend of a cartoon, Ringling Brothers, and rock & roll for me. I was hooked. I had my KISS ARMY Fan Club patch sewn on every backpack and, much to my mother’s dismay, I turned the volume up and played them at unbearable levels, whenever I could.
Through years of members leaving, returning, debuting, and even dying, I remained a fan throughout, cheering them on at multiple concerts, the spirit of my younger self ever-elated to see what was, undoubtedly, the greatest American rock show ever performed. Every souvenir in my bedroom or college apartment was seemingly adorned with Simmons‘ devilish face paint logo.
KISS, with its current roster of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, and Eric Singer, announced in 2018, that they would embark on The End of the Road Tour the following year. This would be their final tour. It eventually launched in 2019 but, by 2020, all live music was halted because of the pandemic. The world waited with bated breath to find out if they would ever, officially, get to say goodbye and see that famed stage show one last time.
Entering the venue, security was tight, but no mask mandate was in place in order to enter the casino or the subsequent arena. There were no steely-eyed guards checking vaccination papers at the door. Just the usual spectacle of fans of all ages wearing KISS shirts flooding the halls, giddy with excitement and ready to take their seats. The vibe was that of normalcy. I sighed with relief, ready for KISS to offer up its swan song to me.
As the curtain fell, the band ripped into “Detroit Rock City,” and the mood was set for the rest of the night. Simmons was wearing his Psycho Circus Tour armor, while Thayer had on one of the most stunning Spaceman costumes I had ever seen in concert adorned with reflective mirrors that made him glitter like a disco ball from any angle. Stanley, working for the crowd like only he can, with his high-pitched guttural address to the masses, “PEOPLE!” It all felt so familiar and yet exciting!
The stage had various rising platforms that levitated Singer and his epic drum solo, and yet brought him down gently to a grand piano for the iconic ballad, “Beth.” Paul famously swung from a cable to a small platform to sing the track, “Love Gun,” but this time he stuck around on the small stage in the cheap seats to sing “I Was Made For Loving You.”
Simmons even did his fire-breathing trick, h bit on those notorious blood capsules, and let the red corn-syrupy goodness drip from his mouth before rising to the rafters for his quintessential performance of “God of Thunder.”
With all of the nostalgia in the air, it was hard to catch the tiny nuances that truly were put in play for the fans. Following in the footsteps of the original Catman, Peter Criss, the current Catman Eric Singer, expertly bellowed out “Black Diamond” without missing a single beat of the vintage classic, while Thayer performed a guitar solo that would rival anything the original Spaceman, Ace Frehley, did at a live show.
The setlist didn’t stay firmly in the ‘70s either. The crowd favorite, “War Machine,” was thrashed onstage along with other 80’s & 90’s hits like “Tears Are Falling,” “Lick It Up,” and “Psycho Circus.” There was even great audience interaction with the 2009 hit, “Say Yeah!” from the Sonic Boom LP.
The final tips of the hat to the KISS Army of Fans were the encores. The first track was a cut from the 1976 album, dynasty, Do You Love Me. The last song of the encore was the traditional end of any grand KISS concert; the song that put KISS on the map from their 1975 live album, Alive, the song that is a rock anthem to billions around the world, “Rock & Roll All Nite.”
The band elevated on platforms and shot confetti from cannons into the crowd as the audience was spun into a frenzy of screaming, singing, dancing, and jumping. Yours truly? I got a bass pick flung at me from The Demon, Gene Simmons, himself.
After the smoke had cleared and the lights came back on, everyone filtered out onto the casino floor in droves, looking thoroughly rocked and satisfied. Everyone was worn out with faces flushed and adorned with smiles. Every song you ever longed to hear live from the KISS discography was truly given with force, pyrotechnics, and a wag of the tongue.
At the end of every concert, Paul usually lets the audience know how excited he is to return to whatever town or venue he is at, in the future, sometimes with tour dates! Sadly, that message was absent, this time; a true sign that this really was the end of the road for them as performers, and for me as a fan in the crowds.
That moment stayed with me on the long drive back up the Atlantic City Expressway.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley may not be the American poets of a generation, but damn it if they are not a part of the foundation of rock & roll music. Their brand? Iconic. Their performance? Legendary. The impact of KISS in pop culture? Timeless.
The sands of time fall. We as music lovers get older. Rock & roll may live forever, but the chance to share a memory with like-minded, loyal fans, watching your favorite bands sweat under hot lights and sing you the songs that move your soul, that is finite. Those opportunities do come to an end. It’s important that you make those memories now before it’s too late.
Thanks, fellas. Hopefully, we drove you wild. You drove us crazy.
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