The Time Mookie Saw The Hottest Band In The World: KISS
I have been to many concerts over the years, and have seen lots of great shows. To this day though, there is one concert I attended that still stands above and beyond all of the others I have seen. That concert was by the group KISS on their 2000-2001 "Farewell Tour." This show lived up to the hype like no other concert could, and frankly - it blew the doors off anything I had ever seen before.
The show was dubbed the "Farewell Tour" because it was supposedly the last time KISS was ever going to tour and perform again. In the end, this "farewell" turned out to be only partially true as it was in fact the last tour for the band's original lineup of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. (The version of KISS that continues to record and perform to this day features Simmons, Stanley, plus new members - drummer Eric Singer, and guitarist Tommy Thayer.
The venue was the old Five Seasons Center in Cedar Rapids, IA which had a max capacity of around 8,500-9,000 people in the "general admission" format. When I arrived at the venue early to get in line, I could not believe what I was seeing: The line to get into the building went from the back door where they let people in, circled all the way around the building, and then went another two blocks past the venue. I had only seen one other sold-out show at this venue prior to this (Van Halen), but that situation was nothing like this. This was incredible.
Once inside the venue, the crowd was at a fever pitch waiting for the show to start. Unfortunately it was going to be awhile before KISS performed as there were two opening acts. The opening acts you see at most concerts are groups/artists just starting out, or are ones who are just starting to get popular. In this case though, both performers were well-known rock-veterans: Skid Row and Ted Nugent. Each group came out and tore the place up. I remember thinking that Skid Row and Nugent each put on a show that was so good it was as though they were headlining the concert. It only increased the anticipation of how good the KISS show should be, because nobody on their "farewell tour" should be upstaged by their opening acts.
As they were setting the stage for KISS, I became aware of how full of people the arena was, and for some reason it seemed like way more people than I saw at the other sold-out concert I had attended. Perhaps it was just the general excitement in the air over this being the "last time" we would see KISS perform, or the festive attitude of all the people in their own KISS make-up and costumes.
In the usual concert procedure, as the minutes went by the house music got louder and louder. Eventually the stage crew put up a black floor-to-ceiling curtain clear around the stage so that you couldn't see the stage. All you could see was this curtain that said "KISS" on it. Finally, the music stopped and the place went totally dark. All I could excitedly think was "Oh boy here we go."
Moving spotlights began waving back and forth across the curtain, and a loud voice came over the P.A. that yelled: "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! YOU WANTED THE BEST! YOU GOT THE BEST! THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE WORLD! KISS!!!"
The curtain dropped to the floor, and the stage was bathed in very bright lighting. Suspended from the rafters was a descending platform in which Gene, Paul, and Ace were standing in their full make-up and costumes while playing the opening riffs to their song "Detroit Rock City." Behind them on a suspended drum riser was Peter beating his drums and setting the beat of the song. At the end of each riff, deafening and brilliant pyrotechnics would explode all around the stage. It was clear to everyone in attendance that KISS had come to put on a show, and they were pulling out all the stops. KISS was definitely not going to be upstaged.
The show continued on with the band playing hit after hit song, and it seemed as though the capacity crowd sang every single word along with them. Each song also carried with it an array of visual overload. Behind the stage was a huge video monitor that showed up-close video of the performance, as well as special concert-made video production. There was also continued pyro, fire, lasers, flashing lights, and then in the crowd…there were the ladies who apparently "lost" their shirts. Many of them were up on the shoulders of willing concert-goers, showing the band (and everyone else) their "appreciation" of the great music. While I had seen women occasionally "flash" the band at numerous concerts in the past, I had not seen numerous girls go totally topless. It was wild.
KISS played all the hits from all eras of the band: the make-up years, the different members in make-up years, the "no make-up" years, and then their eventual reunion. The best part was that they played it well. They sounded musically tight, and the acoustics were spot on - which is hard to do sometimes when they are playing at the volume they were.
They also pulled out all their old tricks:
- During Ace's guitar solo, he shot things from the guitar that exploded in the rafters, and then his guitar started smoking and drifted out of his hands up to the rafters.
- During a short solo, Peter's drum riser elevated a good distance above the stage with smoke and fire emitting below it.
- Paul flew on a cable across the arena to a small stage at the back and performed a song. Then he flew back.
- Gene did his fire blowing trick, and also did the blood coming out of his mouth thing.
It was all Classic KISS.
They ended the show with "Black Diamond," but the crowd knew there was more and let the band know it. Much to the delight of the crowd, Peter came back out by himself and performed the ballad "Beth" to a recorded piano track. When he was done, the rest of the band returned to the stage and told everyone they wanted to "Rock and Roll All Night and Party Everyday!" They kicked into the classic KISS staple and the place erupted in confetti. Each side of the stage had huge cannons that continually blew massive amounts of confetti over the crowd for the entire song. The entire crowd was on their feet and singing along to the rock anthem.
Finally, they ended the song with enough pyro to stage a small-town fireworks show. There were fireworks shot off all over the stage, flames, flashing lights, and smoke blowing everywhere. It was truly unlike anything I had ever seen before. With a final musical flourish, the band ended the song. They then took their well-deserved bows in front of the KISS Army for the "last time," and left the stage.
As I left the venue with my ears ringing like never before, I remember thinking that was the best show I had ever seen and would probably ever see. Today, I still feel the same way. KISS put on one hell of a show, and truly went beyond any expectation of what a concert could be. It was amazing.
(*) - Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent.
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