Ok, so we’ve been here before. The End of the Road Tour is not the first years-long fond farewell we’ve seen from KISS, but if this really is the end, then they’ve just redefined the term “going out on top”. Their Feb. 19th stop at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, TX was easily the biggest rock show the venue has ever seen, complete with an over-the-top arsenal of pyrotechnics, lasers, towering LED screens, smoke, and copious amounts of confetti (I’m still finding confetti). As Paul Stanley remarked during the show, for those of us who had never been to a KISS show, it was a night we would never, ever forget.
As the black curtain was raised, the KISS signature logo became visible, and the crowd went nuts. The logo, found on everything from water bottles to air-guitar strings (literally, empty bags that say KISS), is enough to elicit a huge response just about anywhere in the world. After all, they were pretty much the epitome of rock-and-roll excess during their heyday, and their marketing overkill has made them as recognizable as Coca-Cola. Fans wander about the place, dressed in KISS costumes, faces painted and tongues sticking out. Entire families were dressed up and in full makeup, proving that rock-and-roll is still very much alive today. Most of the young people in the audience grew up listening to the music of KISS, myself included, so for those of us who would probably never get this opportunity again (the band hasn’t been to Corpus Christi since 1985), this was a particularly significant event.
When the house lights go low, the monitors come on, and the band is seen walking to the stage from the dressing room, a camera on them at all times. The crowd collectively loses its shit, and the show is on! Huge colored strobes begin to flash brilliantly, the music begins to play, and when the curtain drops, the screams reach a fever pitch! BOOM! Flash bangs and fire… so much freakin’ fire. “Detroit Rock City” kicks off the last KISS performance in South Texas, and from the first chord, the band is in an absolute groove. The voice of Paul Stanley, a constant source of speculation to many in the rock community, sounds strong and inspired. There was, at no point during this show, any sign at all of “lip synching”… the man gave a spirited performance that began and ended with world-class showmanship. While Gene Simmons went full Demon on the crowd, wagging his tongue and playing to the camera, lead guitarist Tommy Thayer proceeded to shred his guitar to pencil shavings, producing searing lead licks that kept our fists pumping and our voices loud. Eric Singer, the Catman behind the drum kit, beat the skins furiously, keeping the performance tight and full of intensity.
“Shout it Out Loud”, another hit from their 1976 multi-platinum album Destroyer, followed, and Stanley encouraged us to sing along. He talked to the crowd often, his high-pitched New York accent echoing through the entire arena as he addressed us. “Hey, Coa-rpuus! How ya’ doin’ tonight? Been a lo-ang time!” His constant friendly banter put us all at ease, and we felt right at home with the band, as if the 34 years of downtime since their last visit never happened. He later mused “Man, I’m starting to wonder why we waited so long to come back here!” It’s ok, Paul. A lot of rock acts forget about us down here.
Many of the tunes the band played were from early albums, including “Deuce” “Cold Gin”, “100,000 Years”, and “Black Diamond” from their self-titled debut, KISS. Destroyer got the lions share of play, though, and in addition to the first two tunes of the evening, they also played “God of Thunder”, “Do You Love Me”, and “Beth”, featuring Eric Singer on piano and vocals, a tremendous performance in the style of Peter Criss. It wasn’t the only time Singer would impress us. Earlier in the set, he performed a jaw-dropping drum solo on a mid-rise platform that blew us away. Gene and Tommy had their own solos, and Tommy even had what looked like bottle rockets shoot out of the headstock of his jet black Les Paul, triggering a giant explosion overhead. He’s a hell of a guitar player, and it was a cool effect, no doubt, but the prowess of Singers sizzling drum solo blew a lot of minds.
During each song, the large floating LED panels above the band would flash a new pattern, often relating to the song. They incorporated their respective makeup logos, closeups of whoever was singing the song (Like an uber-creepy CGI Gene Simmons, complete with the gore-smeared smiling grin and flickering tongue), or sometimes just extended the jumbotron behind them to the panels. It was an eye-catching accent to the already tantalizing performance spectrum.
When Paul asks us to extend our famous Texas hospitality and invite him to come hang out with us “in the crowd”, we all scream his name (an overwhelming 3 times… thanks, Paul) until he jumps on some rigging and flies across the arena to a small stage in the back. Here he performs “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, their smash hit from 1979’s Dynasty. Stanley plays to the crowd, telling us how much he loves hanging out with us, especially because he “can watch KISS from here!” We laugh, genuinely enjoying how much fun he and the rest of the guys are having. He flies back, and they continue their absolute destruction of the American Bank Center.
Instead of faking a goodbye and getting called out for an encore, KISS shucked tradition and just shut the lights off long enough to bring out the diamond-crusted piano for Singers performance of “Beth”. When the rest of the band came out and congratulated him on a job well done, they rolled right into “Do You Love Me” from their debut album. Nostalgia filled the air, and it seemed about the point where most of us were finally struck with the fact that this would be the last time we’d ever see this monumental act in our hometown. But then they started their final number, which we all expected by then- “Rock and Roll All Nite”. Giant blowers blasted us with fog and at least 96 tons of confetti. I’m positive they still have people there cleaning up. Confetti blasted THE ENTIRE SONG. They also let the pyro guy have an absolute meltdown, resulting in an insane amount of sparks, fire, and percussion caps being spent within a five-minute period. The band smiled, laughed, and fed off our energy. Gene and Tommy climbed onto two crane lifts and jammed right above us, reaching the upper level and greeting fans who would never have gotten to see them up close otherwise. Seeing the rock-n-roll bliss on the faces of the kids who got a wave and a pick from a member of KISS was the cherry on top. This band really does care about fans having a good time and getting what they paid for. When they came back down and the band hit the final chord, they posed for a couple of minutes on stage, holding said chord, and continuing to unleash confetti and fire. Paul breaks his guitar, casually tossing it to the side stage, and holds his hand up high as Gene, Tommy, and Eric all wave and take a bow. If this truly is The End of the Road, then thank you, KISS, for taking us all on this long, winding, magnificent trip. You delivered us from the evils of a normal, boring life, and took us home to the Rock-N-Roll Promised Land.
In the words of Paul Stanley, “KISS Army ain’t followers, we’re leaders!” Damn right! Hopefully, some young, driven young musician heard those words echoing in the halls of the American Bank Center on February 19th, 2019, and perhaps the seed that was planted at that moment will grow. The next Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley could have been standing in that crowd in Corpus Christi. So maybe this isn’t the end of the road, rock fans… maybe it’s the beginning of a new journey.