Detroit’s legendary Cobo Center (formerly Cobo Hall) may be closing its doors for a much lamented expansion in just a few days, but KISS couldn’t resist stopping by for a two night set to remind the Motor City that they truly don’t make concert venues like this anymore.
“The hottest band in the land” recorded their breakthrough album Alive! behind the Cobo Center’s walls 35 years ago, and not much has changed since then. It still has the feel of an oversized high school gym from the ’70s and that’s part of its charm; its manila stucco, cinder block walls, and fold out chairs keep things scrappy, locking the smaller than average arena in a perpetual junky time capsule (complete with water damage, too), the perfect setting for the band, who played Alive! in its (almost) entirety last night.
Although time has not left the band unaltered — Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the group’s only two original members are a tad heavier and a bit long in the wrinkles — they still perform with a ferocity and penchant for spectacle unseen from many of their peers. Stanley is no Springsteen, but it was pretty exhilarating to see him flying over the audience to perform “Love Gun” for the band’s encore. His whimsical rock ‘n’ roll preacher stage banter was still a hoot, whether it was promoting their upcoming album or reminding Detroit that we were all “one big family.”
Simmons, on the other hand, still knows how to keep things charismatically creepy (e.g. strings of sweat and fake blood that oozed from him throughout the show), despite flubbing some of his bass lines and harmonies. And who could forget about the good old fashioned pyrotechnics and marquee lighting? All part of a true nostalgia trip that reminded everyone how some florescent fire and thunderclaps could elevate a rock show from a performance to an event. Expected, of course, but then again, KISS knows exactly what they are, and they perform their hard rock pop, which oozes of good times, goofy evil, and even goofier sex puns, with unabashed strut and glam rock melodrama.
Leave the musicianship to Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer though. While no one can ever really take the place of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, they’re just as explosive in their playing, adding their own thundering flair to Space Ace and The Catman’s already established drum and guitar solos. The most thrilling moment of the night came with Thayer’s solo at the end of “She” as his guitar launched rockets above the audience with each biting lick. Other staple moments of showmanship were the blinding snowstorm of confetti during “Rock And Roll All Nite” and Simmons’ obligatory fire-spitting during “Hotter Than Hell”.
One complaint is that the setlist could have used some minor tweaks. Two tracks from Alive! (“Firehouse” and “Rock Bottom”) were inexplicably left off the roster, and it would have been nice to see them or something from Rock And Roll Over in place of ’80s clunkers “Lick It Up” and “I Love It Loud”, two tunes that halted the momentum after a rousing rendition of “Shout It Out Loud”.
The encore lost even more steam when Simmons brought out the blood. Every member of the KISS Army knows when Simmons spews artificial plasma, he’s going for a ride up to the rafters — it’s been a mainstay of the band’s shows since their early days. However, due to an equipment malfunction, he only lifted about four feet off the ground. When a confused Simmons tried to fly again for a second time, the same thing happened, making him look less like a blood demon and more like an old dude in make-up. This wasn’t his fault of course, and things were picked up immediately with the one two punch of “Love Gun” and finally, “Detroit Rock City”, sadly for the last time on that fabled stage. As the lights rose, throngs of grease-painted fans left the hall with black smiles on their faces, knowing that while Cobo Hall may be done, KISS is far from finished.
Got To Choose
Modern Day Delilah
Hotter Than Hell
Nothin’ To Lose
C’mon And Love Me
Rock And Roll All Nite
Shout It Out Loud
Lick It Up
I Love It Loud
Detroit Rock City