Though we wouldn’t put anything past KISS singer-bassist Gene Simmons, a rock ’n’ roll marketing mastermind if there ever was one, we’re pretty sure the guys in KISS didn’t start using make-up because they figured it would effectively hide their ages some 40 years later. But that’s certainly a nice byproduct. Looking at the band on stage last night at Blossom, where the group played a 75-minute set before a crowd of about 14,000, you couldn’t tell how old Simmons and singer-guitarist Paul Stanley really are (Simmons is 65 and Stanley is 62). Of course, agility is another matter. While Simmons certainly moves pretty slowly these days, Stanley still has boundless energy (at one point, he even took a ride on a zipline-like contraption to to play in the middle of the pavilion). Still, there’s something timeless about KISS — if only every band could put on make-up and look the same 40 years down the road. And despite a mid-set lull, the concert showed that the band still revels is putting on an over-the-top concert — last night’s show came complete with fire-breathing, blood-spitting and pyro.
While KISS used to be the most dangerous band in the land, those days are clearly over. At one point in the show, Stanley asked all the parents who had brought their kids to the show to hold their children up in the air — he picked out one kid with make-up on and brought the child onto the stage. “We were there for your parents and we’ll be there for you,” he said during an aw-shucks moment. Despite the veiled references to sex, the show is certainly family friendly these days — squeaky-voiced Stanley at one point admitted the concert is designed to make you forget about the “bad news” you get from the TV, newspaper and internet. The show started strong with tracks like “Deuce,” a song that featured a nasty guitar solo, and the anthem “Shout It Out Loud.” Playing underneath a steel structure that looked like a giant claw, the band relied on blinding strobes and pyro to accentuate songs such as “War Machine” and “Hotter Than Hell,” a tune that Stanley described as “classic, old style” KISS. Despite the theatrics, the plodding “God of Thunder” didn’t resonate and the band sounded out of sync on the poppy “Calling Dr. Love.” The group recovered nicely for “Black Diamond,” a tune that started with an eerie guitar solo and evolved into a real rocker, and “Detroit Rock City,” which Stanley introduced by saying, “This song is about you. Rock ’n’ roll is determined by what’s in your heart.” It was as if he was apologizing that the band didn’t called the tune “Cleveland Rock City.” Predictably, the group closed the show with the party anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
Despite a lack of production (the Blossom stage can only accommodate so much stuff), co-headliners Def Leppard managed to hold their own during their 75-minute set. While singer Joe Elliott had trouble hitting the high notes in “Animal,” he eventually warmed up and sounded sharp on classic cuts such as “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” a tune that started out as an acoustic number, and “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” a song that didn’t require too much vocal power. While the band’s pop metal might not have been heavy enough for hardcore KISS fans, that didn’t stop many patrons from singing along to songs such as “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph,” which the band capably delivered in a short encore.