“Curtis Hixon Hall? 1974? Damn! That was the first time we came here!” Kiss frontman Paul Stanley screeched on Saturday night (stylized “KISS”).
Haifa-born Gene Simmons, and Starchild Paul Stanley, alongside guitarist Tommy Thayer, and post-Eric Carr drummer Eric Singer are still going strong, but can feel themselves getting older—hence why their “End Of The Road Farewell Tour” is taking stages around the world by storm. Original drummer Peter Criss retired from touring himself in 2017—after a few years of being ousted from Kiss, and Ace Frehley is currently on the road as a solo artist, supporting Alice Cooper (a tour that stops at the ol’ Gary on tonight.)
In the packed MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Saturday night, the only masks in sight were the imitation Kiss makeup that some devoted, sweaty fans got to sport one last time. But with LiveNation’s new policy about vaccine cards or a negative COVID-19 test from up to 72 hours before the show, most everyone had a feeling of more trust in each other, and decided that wearing a mask in the Florida humidity was unnecessary.
A fight recently broke out between Simmons and David Lee Roth—who opened for the band for two months in early 2020, so rock-themed performance painter David Garibaldi ended up opening the show (like he did on Kiss’ last Tampa “farewell” show). Throwing his paintbrushes in the air and showing off his paint-drenched hands regularly, Garibaldi speed-painted abstract tributes to John Lennon (whose 81st birthday was the same day), Bon Scott, and of course, the guys in Kiss—a painting that would be autographed by the band, and then given away in a paid drawing for charity at the end of the night.
Like U2 and Cheap Trick, Kiss stays true to its original quantity of members, and remains a four-piece band. So, when the black curtain with “Kiss” printed on it fell, only Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, and Eric Singer were in sight. No live backup band for aid or anything.
On the other hand, the band’s opener of “Detroit Rock City” was almost catastrophic, all thanks to a technical malfunction.
As per usual, the guys were lowered onstage from individual, lit-up platform pods. But in Tampa, said pods took extra long to fully come down to stage level—especially Gene’s. As if the God of Thunder had a hard enough time being stuck up so high on his pod; at one point, with Gene still on top—in those iconic KISS platform boots, the pod began tilting backwards! Needless to say, he staggered his way down as soon as he could, and he survived.
As a result, some of the backing tracks on “Detroit Rock City” were running far behind, and Paul’s whole vocal performance was way off-key. I’m not saying that I believe the allegations that he lip-syncs, but he did come in late because of the platform fiasco, and there’d be less issues if his backing tracks…anyway, moving on.
Kiss has maintained more or less the same, mostly hits, setlist throughout this tour, and just about every song was transposed down at least a few keys. But if one said that those are the only signs of Gene and Paul getting old, it’s pretty hard to disagree with that. All three guitarists still rock platform boots, Paul still flies (yes, flies) over to a B-stage in the crowd to lead the band in “Love Gun” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” and Gene still breathes fire and flips out his legendary tongue.
Despite the rock gods’ lack of Springsteening their setlists, Saturday night’s list was a collection that was pretty agreeable between casual fans and original 1975 Kiss Army members. Tommy cracked out some Pete Townshend-style windmills during “Lick It Up,” the jumbo screen backdrop signaled 14,000 sweaty fans to “hey, hey, hey, hey, yeah” along on “I Love It Loud,” and to open “God Of Thunder,” Gene returned to his platform pod to spit blood, and then rise as high as his pod could go to perform the vast majority of the head-banger. And on “Say Yeah,” Gene spotted a fan buried in their phone, which signaled him to make hand-gestures at them that said that texting was a no-no.
Paul did almost all of the banter in between songs, mentioning at one point how Kiss had finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hates KISS!” Paul declared, with booing to follow. “But they HAD to listen to you!” Other than that, much of his other banter revolved around how energetic Tampa was, and how it was fine for the crowd to act like animals after a week of “having to act like people” at work or school. Appropriately, that remark led into a portion of the title track of Kiss’ 1998 reunion album with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, Psycho Circus.
Tommy and Eric both got individual chances to show off what they could do on the strings or behind the kit. But as much as Tommy summoned Ace Frehley’s frenetic playing style, Eric’s drum work was easily the highlight of the two. Re-rising on his own platform, making winky faces on the jumbo screen was a nice start, but he won the honor of having the best solo when he started wiping his hands and face with a rag—while pedaling his ass off on the bass drum. In the eyes of a drummer, it’s a pretty straightforward task. But to a non-musician, not so much.
Needless to say, Kiss loves its special effects—not only the visuals on their screens. Practically every song had an explosion of some sort—whether it was Gene breathing fire, or Tommy shooting fireworks out of his purple guitar’s headstock, it scared the shit out of you every time, even though you knew it was coming. If you didn’t have earplugs with you, there’s a pretty good chance that there was a bit of tinnitus for a few hours after the show ended.
Before dusting off Destroyer’s “Do You Love Me” and the confetti-submerged finale of “Rock And Roll All Nite,” Eric Singer had the stage to himself once again. He sat down at a sparkly white piano and performed the Peter Criss-penned-and-sung “Beth,” which was unarguably the slowest, yet one of the best-received songs of the night. “Me and the boys will be playing all night,” he sang one last time, as Gene, Paul, and Tommy emerged from different wings of the stage.
Kiss has now said farewell to Tampa Bay twice (thrice if you count the 2000 farewell tour with Ted Nugent and Skid Row), but they’re not done in the states yet. Due to Gene and Paul recently both being cursed with COVID-19 cases (don’t worry—everyone is vaxxed), a few shows had to be rescheduled. In the coming weeks, the band will set sail on their regular KISS Kruise, and next year, they will showcase *shudders* a Las Vegas residency.
After decades of spitting fire, spending millions of dollars in makeup, and selling caskets with their faces on it, like it or not, Kiss really will never die. Again, this is all assuming that there won’t be another farewell tour in 2031.
Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team works tirelessly to share music news, events and concert announcements as the Tampa Bay music scene recovers from coronavirus shutdowns. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.