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Music

REVIEW: KISS says goodbye to San Diego

KISS Farewell Tour

Kiss band members, from left, Gene Simmons, Eric Singer, Paul Stanley, and Tommy Thayer, stand together after the last song and before the encore during the “End of the Road World Tour” farewell concert at the Viejas Arena in San Diego on Thursday.

(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

KISS, the indomitable rock quartet known best for their Kabuki make-up and over-the-top performances, played what will likely go down as their final San Diego show on Thursday night.

Band founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, alongside longtime band members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, brought their End of the Road World Tour to a packed Viejas Arena, where even the gigantic promotional banners called it out as “The Final Tour Ever.”

And while many have pointed to the fact that the band already had a “final” tour nearly two decades ago (one that included original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss), everything on Thursday night gave the impression of a heartfelt farewell.   

During their 20-song, 2-plus hour set, the band repeatedly thanked San Diego for its part in their 45-year career, from helping the band get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to serving as the location for the iconic photo inside of their 1977 smash concert album, KISS Alive II.

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Stanley was also quick to point out that KISS first played San Diego in 1974, and that he considered it “an honor” to return to the city for one last show.

For me, it wasn’t the supposed finality of it all that made it special. I have seen the band multiple times. First, in 1988 when they weren’t donning their trademark stage makeup and costuming. Again in 2010 when they were, and strangely, once in 2014 when they played before the first-ever NHL hockey game at Dodger Stadium.

What made Thursday night so special was that I brought my 8- and 10-year-old sons with me. At this point, they’re old concert heads — having joined me at shows all over Southern California, from the Forum in Inglewood and The Observatory in Orange County, to every possible all-ages venue in San Diego. But I knew this show was going to be different.

My sons first developed their love for the band through the Scooby Doo and KISS — Rock and Roll Mystery movie. After repeated viewings, the classic songs included in the film were indelibly a part of their internal jukeboxes. I came by my love of the band a bit more dubiously, having to sneak into the loose-parenting confines of my next-door neighbor Todd’s house to listen to Destroyer (the band’s fourth studio album), after my grandmother was sure that KISS was an acronym for “Kings In Satan’s Service.”

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But as soon as the lights went out on Thursday at Viejas Arena, and perennial show opening of “YOU WANTED THE BEST, YOU’VE GOT THE BEST! THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE WORLD……KISS!!” was shouted over the speakers, that four-decade gap was instantly erased.

KISS Farewell Tour

Kiss lead singer and guitarist Paul Stanley holds up his broken guitar with Gene Simmons, left, and Tommy Thayer during the "End of the Road World Tour" farewell concert at the Viejas Arena in San Diego on Thursday. 

(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

As the iconic foursome dropped from the rafters on lit platforms, and an incredibly varied assortment of pyrotechnics repeatedly exploded, we were all temporarily enlisted in the KISS Army.

Fans of every age showed up in full face-paint and it was rare when the entire arena wasn’t in full sing-a-long mode with the predominantly classic song list.

Of course, KISS is a band that was founded on shtick, and Thursday night was no exception. Gene Simmons spewing fire and spitting “blood?” Check. Hydraulic stage lifts, gigantic video screens, spark-shooting guitars, lasers, and multiple explosions that shoot a blast of heat to the furthest reaches on the area? Check.

And for longtime fans of the band, all of the trademark KISS-isms were there as well — Stanley, Simmons and Thayer all bouncing and swinging their guitars in unison, extended solos for each band member, the constant appeal for everyone to “believe in the power of rock and roll.” All of it.   

Generations of Kiss Fans

Music writer Scott McDonald with his two kids ages 10 and 8.

(Courtesy photo)

The smartly designed stage set-up had the band in close proximity to every seat in the house, and it was a nice “farewell” touch any time the live feed was intercut with old footage of the band.

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KISS’ announcement of this final tour has also brought out its fair share of naysayers. But fretting over whether the original members still get along, or that this is the second farewell tour, or how much merchandise the band licenses, is missing the point.

To me, KISS is much like Disneyland. They’re both decades old, there are no real surprises if you’ve experienced them before, and their primary functions have long been outshined by the inevitable merchandising that comes as a result of massive, worldwide popularity.

KISS Fans

A pair of Kiss fans watch the Kiss "End of the Road World Tour" farewell concert at the Viejas Arena in San Diego on Thursday. 

(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

But they’re both also about just giving in and enjoying the experience. You can either visit Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and say, “Oh great. Cheesy, outdated mechanical birds.” Or you can remember whatever inspired you to fork over the price of admission in the first place.

The same goes for KISS. If you clap when prompted, sing along, and enjoy the unrivaled amount of showmanship put in, you cannot help but be entertained.

Watching my kids be entranced by Paul Stanley “swinging” to a scaffold in the back of the arena for a pair of songs, or the ear-to-ear grins on their faces as confetti rained down on the crowd during show closer Rock and Roll All Nite, brought me right back to the power KISS wielded over me when I was their age. 

Kiss bass player Gene Simmons

Kiss bass player Gene Simmons performs during the "End of the Road World Tour" farewell concert at the Viejas Arena in San Diego on Thursday. 

(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

So, maybe my kids don’t want to “rock and roll all night and party every day,” especially when, on normal nights, they’re in their jammies by 8:30 p.m. But the explosive entertainment that KISS has mounted night after night for nearly 50 years is still magical for many. “That. Was. Awesome!” was what my boys kept saying as we walked to the car after the show.

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This may indeed be the last run for KISS, but there is an entire new generation of fans out there who won’t soon forget that first/last time they saw them.  

Set list

Detroit Rock City

Shout It Out Loud

Deuce

Say Yeah

Heaven’s On Fire

War Machine

Lick It Up

100,000 Years

God of Thunder

Cold Gin

Psycho Circus

I Love It Loud

Hide Your Heart

Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll

Love Gun

I Was Made For Lovin’ You

Black Diamond

Encore

Beth

Do You Love Me

Rock and Roll All Nite


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