SHNU ARENA in Manchester, New Hampshire February 1, 2020
I was excited to see KISS for the first time as I drove up RT 95 North from Boston to Manchester, New Hampshire. Tonight, would kick off KISS’s first North American concert for the 5th leg of their END of THE ROAD TOUR, which began at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada on January 31, 2019 and is scheduled to culminate in New York City in January of 2021. The tour will include 178 shows in North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and gross an estimated $75 million dollars. There are few bands as iconic, controversial and storied as KISS and whether you love them or hate them, they are a rich source of material for examining everything from the cross section of art and commerce, the entertainment industry, the music business, American culture and the state of Rock and Roll. In their 46-year career, KISS has accumulated 23 gold and platinum albums — more than any other U.S. band.
With plenty of time to get to the SNHU Arena I began the 60+ minute drive listening to KISS’s fourth album, Destroyer, in an attempt to refresh my memory and knowledge of the band’s music. Back in 1977 I bought the record on a whim but only had the chance to listen to a few songs before my father confiscated it and made me remove it from the house. Although I could and did listen to pretty much whatever I wanted to growing up, KISS Destroyer was the only record my parents ever took offense to. Leaving the album out one day before I had even had a chance to finish listening to it my father noticed the *Nazi SS in the KISS logo emblazoned on the front cover and immediately took offense. I tried to explain that both founding members of the band were Jewish and one was an Israeli whose parents survived the Holocaust. But my father already knew everything he needed to about Kiss. He wanted their album and their Nazi insignia out of the house.
Uncharacteristically, I didn’t put up much of a fight. At the time battling with my parents was a favorite pastime and I rarely missed an opportunity to attack them for the slightest injustice, real or perceived . However, at the time there were other battles to be had with my parents and KISS, with their ridiculous costumes, makeup, and simplistic rock anthems hardly seemed worth the effort. My father’s offense to the band logo was as ridiculous to me as the band itself. In an unusual act of compliance I got rid of the contraband and made damn sure my parents never saw my Black Sabbath’s “We Sold Our Soul for Rock and Roll” record, one of my favorite metal albums to this day.
As I forced myself to listen to Destroyer for the first time in half a century my old ambivalence returned, stronger with each track. There are some very good rock songs on Destroyer, but nothing that really holds my attention or warrants repeated listening. Although there are some great songs on Destroyer, songs like “Flaming Youth” and “Great Expectations” seem childish and embarrassingly self-conscious.
Destroyer was released in April 1976 and was a tremendous commercial success, going Platinum seven months after its release and eventually going double Platinum. Beth is arguably the record’s biggest hit, one of Kiss’s only two gold selling singles and their first of only two Top Ten singles. Ultimate Classic Rock called “Beth” exceedingly schmaltzy. Rolling Stone Rolling Stone called it a bloated ballad. Although Destroyer was seen as a departure from their earlier more raw sound, it contains many of the bands most popular songs and was ranked No. 489 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Half the songs on the album would be played at this night’s show in Manchester. Finally listening to Destroyer in full all these years later made me wonder why I cared about KISS at all, especially given recent allegations that the band has been **lip-syncing to backing tracks and had stolen many elements of their stage productions from Motley Crue.
By the time I got to the SNHU Arena the venue was surrounded by the 17 semi-tractor trailers that haul KISS’s thousands of pounds of sound gear, lighting and pyrotechnics and fans were starting to enter the 10,000 seat SNHU Arena. Outside the arena I looked for some good photos but the enthusiasm and excitement of the crowd was measured as a very pedestrian cross section of white middle aged men, families and young adults filed through the metal detectors. Waiting in line the guy behind me wearing a backwards baseball cap with 666 embroidered on it introduced himself as Evil, who insisted I look at his drivers license to prove it was his legal name.
Once inside, I did see some people in face paint and KISS costume. People were clearly in good spirits but it was surprisingly calm. During the entire show both inside or outside the venue I never saw anyone drinking excessively or drinking much at all. There was no trace of illicit substances of any kind. This was definitely a good spirited, family friendly crowd. They may have come to rock but they would do it politely. These were not your father’s metal fans. It was a far cry from the days when KISS was first coming up and eavy metal arena concerts felt a little dangerous and a bit lawless.
David Lee Roth got the things started with a solid 38 minute performance that was mostly filled with Van Halen hits. The inclusion of a song by the young and upcoming Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was a nice touch and signaled Roth’s awareness of what is happening currently in the music world and his appreciation for new artists. Dave looked fit and in good health. He was clearly having fun even if he repeated many of the same jokes he’s been using on stage for years.
DAVID LEE ROTH SETLIST:
1. You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover)
2. Just Like Paradise
3. Unchained (Van Halen song)
4. Fresh Out (Christone “Kingfish” Ingram cover) (>)
5. Jamie’s Cryin’ (Van Halen song)
6. Panama (Van Halen song)
7. Dance the Night Away (Van Halen song)
8. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (Van Halen song)
9. Jump (Van Halen song)
After a short intermission, the curtain literally came down and KISS descended from the heavens in a cloud of smoke hitting the stage promptly at 8:45. The band ripped into one of their signature tunes, the classic rock staple “Detroit Rock City”. Two things hit immediately, how good the band sounded and how hot it was up close to the stage. The pyrotechnics created so much heat I was concerned that in all the excitement I might wander off to the wrong place in the photo pit and get incinerated. The stage was surrounded by so many confetti cannons and nightrouse tanks it looked like the band was mounting a battle rather than holding a concert.
Like soldiers armed for battle band members have 30-40 pounds of gear they are wearing and it’s amazing that the older members of the band can survive the two hours they will be engulfed in the heat and fire emanating from the stage. Gene Simmons, who is wearing the most pronounced costume is 70 years old and it’s no surprise he is sweating profusely 5 minutes into show. Paul Stanley the other founding member is 68 and looks more fit than men half his age. Tommy Thayer with KISS since 2002 and drummer Eric Singer who has been on and off since 1991 have now been with the band longer than the former founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.
As a unit, the band clearly has the show choreography down pat and they move effortlessly through a pretty fixed set list. The songs they have picked for the End of the Road tour favors material that allows maximum audience participation while including many of their biggest hits. On this night two new songs are added to the playlist, “Tears are Falling” from 1985’s Asylum record which has not been played live since 2014 and the punkish “Parasite” from 1974’s Hotter than Hell album also not played live since 2015. It’s almost impossible to pick a highlight from the night’s performance since the show is so over the top from start to finish. Unexpectedly, Eric Singer’s drum solo was captivating and creative. I’ve seen my share of impressive drum solos but Singer’s way of engaging the audience while impressing with his skill is masterful.
The “Won’t Get Fooled Again” tease along with Paul Stanley’s best Roger Daltrey microphone twirling nod to the Who on “100,000 Years from Home” was a welcome and unexpected acknowledgment to a band that rivals KISS in popularity and showmanship. From start to finish every song is full throttle rock and roll except for the ballad “Beth” which was performed as part of the final three song encore. Throughout the show the audience is relentlessly bombarded by lasers, flames, explosions and incredible video imagery. Explosions like deafening gunshots are constant. At one point during the night I was moving from one seat to another part of the arena and an unexpected explosion went off just as I was asking an usher where section 107 was. We both jumped and she said, “I’ll tell you where that section is right after I shit my pants”. The flash and bombast clearly add to the extraordinary spectacle of the concert, but every one of the 21 songs selected hold up on their own.
It has been said that KISS songs are made for arena rock and it is absolutely true. Everything from the big rock riffs to the memorable and anthemic hits sound bigger and better in a large cavernous colosseum. Every song sounds big, brash, wonderful and direct. I looked hard for any sign of lip syncing, but couldn’t see anything that indicated they weren’t singing live. All indications are that the band members are getting help and some “enhancements” are being used. The performance is too flawless and the evidence is too overwhelming. Paul Stanley himself pretty much confessed to getting audio support in a 2019 interview with the Star Tribune:
“There’s no denying, whether you’re an athlete or singer, that life goes on, and you aren’t who you once were,” … “That’s life. I always say if you want to hear me sound like I did on ‘Alive!’, go listen to ‘Alive!’ That said, I have no problem doing what I’m doing and standing by it. The songs sound awesome.”
I don’t blame people for criticizing the band for lip syncing and using backing tracks. That’s a big no, no for music purists, myself included. Anyone shelling out big money to see a live performance deserves to see a band that is actually playing live. But I can also honestly say in New Hampshire seeing KISS for the first time I didn’t care one bit and it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the show in any way knowing they were most likely using something to make the band and the vocals sound better.
KISS is a show, a spectacle. Their songs aren’t perfect, and their musicianship isn’t terribly technical or impressive. That’s not why you go to see KISS. You go to see KISS for the ridiculous amount of confetti, for the lighting and the thunder, for the sheer audacity of the performance. Music is certainly integral but it is not the primary focus. The show is the experience and you have to be impressed that 45 years after the band started in Queens, New York playing filthy clubs like CBGBs they are still performing hundreds of live shows and trying to give their fans the best stadium rock experience they can get. Although ticket prices are high, they aren’t as excessive as you may think. Tickets for the nearly sold out show at SNHU Arena could be had in the 100 section for $170.00. Expensive but not unheard of. And there is no question you get plenty of BANG for your buck.
KISS feels big and monumental. Their imagery is compelling and mythical, and their songs have the genius to rock a stadium and engage millions of fans. Their live show is an enormous accomplishment of human effort and ingenuity which in no way should be trivialized. It is truly a wonder to behold. When extraordinarily music is played exceptionally well, it can be something close to a religious experience. This is not that. No amount of pyro-techniques and confetti can substitute for a truly inspiring live music experience. After all the confetti is swept off the floor and the 17 tractor trailers are packed and headed to the next city, it’s comforting to know that there is some local band playing a small bar or tiny venue that will bring you to tears and transport you beyond entertainment to pure ecstasy. I will always cherish and appreciate the small acts and local music that have the ability to conjure up that kind of magic without the need for over the top theatrics. KISS may be missing the boat when it comes to the kind of magic that comes from a truly inspired live musical performance. I’m not sure it’s even possible in an arena that seats more than 10,000 people. But, they sure as hell are a lot of fun and deserve credit for sticking to their guns, their confetti cannons, their flamethrowers and their lasers beams after all these years. At what they do, they truly are the best.
01. Detroit Rock City
02. Shout It Out Loud
04. Say Yeah
05. I Love It Loud
06. Heaven’s On Fire
07. Tears Are Falling (First time played since 2014)
08. War Machine
09. Lick It Up
10. Calling Dr. Love
11. 100,000 Years (with extended drum solo)
12. Cold Gin (with extended guitar solo)
13. God of Thunder
14. Psycho Circus
15. Parasite (First time played since 2015)
16. Love Gun
17. I Was Made For Lovin’ You
18. Black Diamond
20. Crazy Crazy Nights
21. Rock And Roll All Nite
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