There are very few bands that capture the essence of what music can mean to the human spirit. Depending on your age – and musical preference – one can say Elvis did it, or The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, even Earth, Wind & Fire, and Prince.
Who is at the tip of that pyramid of great performers and crooners? A band in that discussion is still around after 50 years, and they are on the end of their Farewell Tour – the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers known as KISS!
As I approached the Acrisure Arena in Thousand Palms, I looked up at the marquee and I was immediately filled with so many memories of this band’s music and the songs that have played such a big part of my life.
Images of days long gone with family and friends filled my mind. While I waited in line to enter, I overheard concertgoers – clearly members of the KISS Army, most dressed from head to toe in KISS gear and a few in full makeup – discussing what this band meant to them.
I checked out the merch booth and I was amazed at how long the line was, but I gathered fans did not want to miss a minute of the show. I decided to stand in line as well and chatted with three ladies from Riverside. One of them, named Janelle, told me KISS was such a huge part of her life and she was there to honor her husband, who had passed away a few years ago.
Their first date was in 1978 at a KISS concert, and the band has been a large part of her life since then. This show was a way she could feel close to her husband, but she was also there to take in this epic band with her friends.
I said goodbye to the ladies and walked into the arena with my merch in hand. Immediately I could feel the electricity in the air. Sitting next to me were two young ladies (Aiko and Emi) who flew in from Cleveland by way of Japan. When asked why they were there, they said their grandparents and parents were big fans of the band.
Growing up they loved three bands religiously: Shonen Knife, Cheap Trick, and at the top of their list is KISS. They were set for this show and said they would go see them again at the Hollywood Bowl before they flew back home.
As we all settled in, the lights dimmed, and Amber Wild took the stage.
Amber Wild is led by Paul Stanley’s son, Evan. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never seen them live, so I was very curious. The first thing I noticed was the band definitely looked the part to open for a band like KISS. Immediately their set began with a big bang sound that was worthy of an arena show.
Despite it being an opener’s set, Evan Stanley handled the lead singer duties like a true veteran of the mic. They opened with “Breakout,” then “Constant Constellations” before they said hello to the crowd. With a wink to the audience, Stanley showed off his guitar skills, and he seemed to impress everyone in the joint. Hitting high praise from the ladies in the front row, they ripped through a quick set with “Struggle,” “Three Shakes,” “Silver,” and before you knew it their time with the crowd came to an end with “Lover.” Everyone was impressed with the delivery of this band’s sonic vision. Stanley proved through his performances he was a chip of the old block.
As the crowd took their collective breath after the opener, everyone was amped for the main event. The crew got the stage ready, and enormous blow-ups of the band took their place along both sides of the upper portion of the stage.
It didn’t take long for the stage to become the larger-than-life moment everyone was ready for. The lights dimmed, and Led Zeppelin‘s “Rock and Roll” filled the arena through its fantastic PA system. Then the pyrotechnics kicked in, the voice from above was Paul Stanley saying, “You wanted the best. You got the best!” From the top of the stage, the rock and roll “Gods of Thunder” were lowered to the bassline of “Detroit Rock City.”
At first, they were just silhouettes, but as they got down to stage level, out came Paul Stanley on guitar, Gene Simmons on bass, Tommy Thayer on guitar, and Eric Singer on drums.
Right about this time, I was taken by surprise as the two polite and demure Japanese girls were not only on their feet, but they both had their arms in the air with devil horns high over their heads, yelling over and over, “Fuck yeah! Fuck yeah!” It shocked me at first, but then I noticed the entire crowd was doing the same thing… with maybe a little more colorful language.
It was the power of the music that turned the entire crowd into crazy-rabid fans. KISS immediately got into the groove with a fantastic light and pyro show, sliding into “Shout It Out Loud.” Maybe it was the acoustics, maybe it was the fear of being elbowed by Emi, but the band was electricity personified; they sounded unbelievably good.
As soon as they hit the last note, Stanley welcomed the crowd to the show, thanked everyone for coming, and said that they were all making history. He went on to say this was their first and last appearance in Thousand Palms. He said he was sure they did more for them than they did for the crowd over the decades and thanked them again for all the support over their careers.
Then they segued into the next set of super hits, “Deuce,” “War Machine,” and “Heaven’s on Fire.” For “I Love It Loud,” Simmons brought out a flaming sword that he used to spit out fire. The crowd lost it when the flames resembled a fire-breathing dragon.
What the crowd loved was watching the guys at the front of stage, doing their well-choreographed routine, while at the back of the stage the enormous video screen had them doing the exact same routine back in the ‘70s.
As the spectacle that is Gene Simmons subsided, Paul Stanley took back to center stage. Being a former NYC cab driver, Stanley is not shy and welcomed the crowd as only he can.
Well, he had the command that Freddie Mercury had as he led the crowd through echoes of “Ay-Oh” to “Say Yeah,” pointing from left to right, to center and back again. It was like a high school pep rally, and as funny as that sounds, try that with a near-capacity arena and the result is nothing shy of an incredible moment.
Then it was back to the hit parade with “Gold Gin,” followed by an incredible guitar solo. After that, the crowd went absolutely nuts to “Lick It Up” followed by “Calling Dr. Love,” “Making Love,” and “Psycho Circus.”
Not lost in their musical fray was Simmons doing his bass solo and spitting out the blood that gave the band their notorious rep. Then, they dove into “God of Thunder” as Stanley emerged on the B Stage and belted out “Love Gun,” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”
The crowd was enthralled with the performance, and KISS ended their regularly scheduled program to a thunderous ovation with “Black Diamond.”
Almost as if they were part of the show, the crowd would not let the band leave without a curtain call.
After a few minutes they were back by popular demand. Seconds into their encore, cell phone lights took over Acrisure and tears surrounded all concertgoers as the guys belted out “Beth.”
As the song ended, giant blow-up balls fell from the ceiling as “Do You Love Me,” and then the highlight was being present to see them perform “Rock and Roll All Night.”
The crowd lost its mind, while Emi and Aiko were beyond excited as confetti, streamers, and more pyrotechnics bid the crowd goodnight!
Photo by Band Photographer
I’ve been to a lot of shows over my life, but this one will be a memorable one. It had it all – joy, tears, pyrotechnics, a kick-ass light show, and performers that gave it their all. Any band that aspires for greatness, they need to take note of KISS as they were the epitome of living legends and they delivered.
KISS will head to Canada for November, hit the Midwest and then close it all out with two nights at Madison Square Garden in New York.