Last night, July 7, KISS kicked off their Freedom to Rock Tour in Boise, Idaho at Taco Bell Arena, after a July 4th pre-tour tune-up in Tucson, Arizona. It is the band’s first appearance in Idaho in some 15 years or so, if memory serves. It will likely be the last time they play Idaho at this point in their legendary career so seeing a packed house leaves hope for one more return.
For those who have never had the experience of seeing KISS perform live, in person, Thursday night’s show provided a grand view into the spectacle and awe the band has cultivated in over four decades of performing. Thousands of bands owe much to KISS in terms of what it means to be live performers. Even at this point in their iconic careers; Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer remain an explosive force, and Boise got the full bombast performance to prove it.
As the curtain dropped, KISS opened with no small amount of pyrotechnics, smoke, and explosions to “Detroit Rock City”. The crowd were quickly out of their seats and thousands of cellphones attempted to record the first song. They quickly moved into another classic from their 1974 self-titled debut, performing longtime show opener, “Deuce”. Fortunately the cellphone recordings died down substantially during the second song.
Guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley took a moment as the band’s primary frontman to get the crowd engaged by splitting the arena down the center to see who could yell the loudest. This led into “Shout it Out Loud”. The stage set this tour used a large amount of video panels including strips above the stage in the lighting rig. It gave the set a larger than life feel. The words shout it out loud scrolled across the air above them.
Next KISS moved to their 1982 album, Creatures of the Night to perform the cover track and “War Machine”. The latter concluded with bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons traditional fire-breathing display. Paul then announced a treat for Boise: The band would play a song KISS had rarely performed live, from the 1976 Destroyer album. True to his word, they broke into “Flaming Youth”. For a diehard, life-long fan, this became the highlight of the show—a true rarity. Outside of Europe and Australia in the 80s, KISS has seldom performed the song live since the initial tour for that record. Selfishly, Boise fans hope it is the only night it gets played on this tour. Okay, at least this fan.
The rest of the 20 song set rolled out in typical KISS form. After tearing up the sinister anthem, “Psycho Circus”, the band rolled out hits like “Strutter”, “Cold Gin”, “Calling Dr. Love”, and “Shock Me”. The latter featured lead guitarist Tommy Thayer on vocals and concluded with a guitar solo replete with rockets shooting from the headstock of his Les Paul. Sadly the KISS tradition of the smoking guitar did not occur. I can only assume that original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley has that little gimmick personally trademarked.
Simmons presaged “I Love it Loud” with his ominous bass solo and blood-spitting routine, followed by his flying up into the lighting rig to sing the song in a cloud of swirling smoke. KISS went back to their debut album to play “100,000 Years”. It did not include (nor did the show) the usual drum solo that generally accompanies the song.
From the post make-up era, KISS kicked out “Lick it Up” with a mid-song instrumental refrain from The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”. Lasers lit the arena during this track while a center stage section rose about 10 feet or so into the air with Tommy and Paul on it, and the drum-kit also rose 20-some feet into the air. Stanley, as he has done for years now, then rode a cable and stir-up across the crowd out to a circular mini-stage behind the soundboard to perform “Lovegun”. Paul strutted and pranced as the stage rotated in circles allowing him to see the fans in the upper seats and the back of the arena. He then began the intro to “Black Diamond” and rode back to the stage while the band cranked up the full song. Drummer Eric Singer took vocals on this one after Paul’s intro. In a melee of pyro, lasers, flashing lights and explosions, and Singer’s drums once again in the air, the band brought the set to a close.
Of course the show did not end there. It never does with KISS. The band returned to the stage after a brief interlude for their encores. They came forward to take their bow, before playing a guitar-driven performance of the ballad “Beth” with Eric on vocals. Paul then talked to the crowd about the Freedom to Rock tour and honoring the men and women of the military as well as their families. He brought local military color guards on stage and asked the crowd to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with them. The band then did an instrumental version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
Everything came to a raucous close as KISS performed their monster classic, “Rock and Roll All Nite”. This became the kitchen sink performance of the night visually: Confetti cannons and smoke funnels, lasers and rolling lights, firework pinwheels and explosions, fire balls and paper streamers. Tommy and Gene were lifted from the stage on risers that crossed out over the crowd. Eric and his kit once again rose into the rafters. Paul, still on stage, went through his trademark guitar smashing scene. One could barely see the stage through all the confetti and streamers. Bombast and excess: No one has ever done it better than KISS, try as they might. If you were there, you know. If you’ve ever seen KISS live, you know. They remain the masters of the arena, and Boise got the first KISS of the new tour Thursday night.
Quick rant: Other than the typical nuisances of far too many fans watching far too much of the show through the lenses of their cellphones, Thursday night’s show had only one glaring drawback, and that came in the form of Caleb Johnson. The American Idol Season 13 winner somehow got tapped as the opening act for the first month of the tour (The Dead Daisies thankfully take over in August). Johnson is a fine young performer, and last night he and his band did a respectable job, but one could argue that a slot on such a large tour for an artist that hasn’t even released an album would have been better suited to a band more compatible with the headliner and more promising than another Idol forget-me-not. The fact that he received almost an hour to perform and had to fill with cover songs is further proof the slot should have gone to a different act. I believe those bands like KISS, Judas Priest, and others who can still command arena audiences owe it to fans and other talented bands to be more discerning when choosing opening acts. Rant over.
The Hottest Band in the World remains en fuego!