2019 marks Kiss' 46th year of operation—an impressive feat for any band, let alone one that was written off the day their self-titled debut hit stores in February 1974. According to head honchos Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, Kiss will be around for at least three more years, but the band's “End of the Road” world tour has already begun. It's the final chapter of a career that's earned Kiss both a cultish following and their fair share of detractors.
Moda Center was nearly at capacity Friday night for the second stop of the "End of the Road" tour, with fans spanning multiple generations. People-watching at a Kiss show is a spectacle unto itself—wide-eyed kids in makeup sat in the front row alongside their parents, who undoubtedly remember the first time Kiss embarked on a farewell tour almost two decades ago.
But the odds are good that this is indeed Kiss' last go-around. And with the tour's announcement last September came the promise of a massive show that would surpass anything they had done before. Of course, any hardened fan knows this sort of bluster comes with every Kiss tour (and album, for that matter). It’s easy to be skeptical. But the band delivered a solid two-hour set of rock ’n’ roll in the midst of what looked like a war zone (I’ve seen a lot of Kiss shows, and the pyro on this tour is impressive).
At some point over the past decade, Kiss seem to have stopped trying to make longtime fans happy, instead aiming to satisfy the masses (and impress newer followers). The setlists became stale. The stage shows—while still big and bombastic—lacked any sort of imagination. The same stunts were employed. For the “End of the Road,” Kiss have stepped it up—a little.
The setlist was still predictable, but included “Deuce,” “Cold Gin,” and “Black Diamond,” which were played with the energy of bands a third their age. Still, if this is indeed the end, even one deep cut would make a huge statement (perhaps they’ll add one or two down the road). The current stage might actually live up to the band’s claims: It’s massive, but not necessarily distinct from modern stage designs used Kiss' contemporaries. Giant spiked octagons lunged up and down (three of which lowered the band to the stage), occasionally flashing graphics on their undersides, while a large video screen displayed the Kiss logo along with montages of old footage. Flames, bombs, and lasers engulfed the stage almost non-stop.
But Kiss threw in a few goodies for their nerdiest fans. On Simmons’ side of the stage stood a six-foot serpent coiled around a pole, a prop used during the 1977-1978 "Love Gun" tour (affectionately named Sam T. Serpent). And during the band’s biggest hit, “Beth,” drummer Eric Singer “played” a sparkly piano, and as the song’s final strains played out, the other members walked out and surrounded him, a move that recalled the band's lip-synced performance on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special in 1976.
Speaking of lip-syncing, it’s been widely speculated that Kiss have been employing backing tracks to help Paul Stanley’s rock ’n’ roll-ravaged voice. If he was lip-syncing, he was doing a hell of a good job. I will say this: I went back and looked at videos of “Detroit Rock City” from the band’s performances in Vancouver, BC, Portland, and Tacoma, and Stanley’s vocals were eerily similar.
But it didn’t take away from the performance. The band was energized. For a couple of guys closing in on 70, Stanley and Simmons are holding up quite well. Stanley is still one of the greatest frontmen of all time. Simmons is still the demon, breathing fire and puking blood. And Singer and Beaverton-bred guitarist Tommy Thayer are still ably playing the roles of beloved original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley.
Stanley has hinted that past members could join the band during this tour, but it hasn’t happened yet. And the continued mudslinging between certain members doesn’t bode well for appearances down the road. But if you’ve been a Kiss fan this long, this sort of thing just comes with the territory. For some, the end of the road can’t come soon enough. For others, living in a post-Kiss world will be as traumatic as sending your kid off to college or having to put your cat down. But rest easy—Kiss will probably outlive us all.