by Ray Anton | photos by Jay Skolnick

Back in 1973, a group of guys set out on a mission to completely shock the rock music world. After almost 50 years and five farewell tours, KISS has done so and then some. Having been a fan since the late 70s, I’ve seen this band go through many changes from weathering the musical styles of the time to member changes. They started off as a blues-based hard rock group. Then they flirted with disco in the late 70s, hair metal in the mid-80s, and grunge in the early 90s. Due to addictions, they have gone through lineup changes with two of the original members, guitarist Ace Frehley (Space Ace) and drummer Peter Chris (the Cat) coming and going. The first time they left, they were replaced by different characters, drummer Eric Carr as the Fox, and guitarist Vinny Vincent as the Ankh Warrior. Vinnie Vincent was then, after just a few years, replaced by guitarist Bruce Kulick during their no-makeup phase.
A few popular bands of the early 90s released acoustic versions of their rock songs. KISS used this opportunity to do an unplugged show of their own in ‘95 and invited original members Frehley and Criss to sit in on a few of the songs. While the critics largely panned the show, the fans loved it. So much so that it sparked a reunion tour with the original members and makeup. The ensuing tour in ‘96 and ‘97 was the largest grossing tour of those years, outselling both Madonna and U2. While KISS masterminds, bassist Gene Simmons and guitarist/singer Paul Stanley, wanted to keep the momentum going, old habits kicked in. Frehley and Criss left after the successful reunion tour. This time their replacements, drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer, would assume the cat man and spaceman rolls of the former members. Through all the different musical stylings and talent, one thing that has never changed is the outrageousness of their live shows. I knew that this may be even more outrageous than ever before.

The first South Florida stop of the End of the Road tour was back in 2019. The second South Florida show of the tour was scheduled for 2021. Unfortunately, due to lightning in the area, that performance was delayed as well. After 2 hours and steadfast fans hoping the weather system would pass, the fully dressed members walked onstage without instruments, and announced that for everyone’s safety, the show needed to be postponed. The large crowd appreciated the fact that KISS didn’t leave this unpleasant task up to faceless announcers. The rescheduled date was just a few weeks later, only to have that show canceled due to Covid issues. The iThink Financial Amphitheatre show in West Palm Beach on September 21st, was their last headlining concert scheduled in the US. They have four dates remaining, three of them headlining festivals, and a concert in Tokyo. The sold-out show that would send them off in style. The excitement could be felt by all.

As show time rolled around, there was a flash of lightning. ‘Oh no! here we go again.’ Sure enough, an announcement was made that a weather issue had come up and there would be a delay. I thought being under the roof of the amphitheater would keep us dry. Boy, was I wrong. The wind carried the rain 50 feet under the roof and many of us got soaked. After about an hour rain delay, which seemed like an eternity, the most welcome announcement that the weather system had cleared, and the show would be getting started came over the loudspeakers. Music to our ears. This time the show would go on.

Artist David Garibaldi got started by slapping paint brushes on a black canvas. Rumblings emerged throughout the impatient crowd, many of whom would have rather just have KISS start performing as soon as possible. The thought of another weather event shutting down the concert was simply unbearable. The artist kept painting and within a few minutes flipped his artwork upside down revealing an impressive portrait of Lady Liberty. The next piece began to emerge as the four musicians. Again, when the artwork was flipped, and the finished product was a painting of KISS to be signed and raffled off later.

A rumble came over the sound system as the huge video screens on either side of the stage showed the members of KISS walking through the hallways making their way to the stage. The screens then went dark, and as the roar of the crowd got louder, we heard one of the most famous introductions in rock ‘n’ roll history. “You wanted the best, you’ve got the best, the hottest band in the world, KISS!”

With that, the opening lines of “Detroit Rock City” started, the curtain came down, and explosions started. Gene, Paul, and Tommy began descending from the rafters on individual platforms through smoke. Once they stepped off the platforms, those very same pieces rose and became video screens. The rock stars went into “Shout It Out Loud.” Paul greeted the crowd and shared our collective pain of this being their third attempt to perform this very concert. The guys tore into “War Machine,” “Heaven’s on Fire” and “I Love It Loud,” through puffs of fire, smoke and lasers. Paul kept his banter between songs to a minimum, saying that another weather system may be coming through. It was during “I Love It Loud” that Gene, a.k.a. the Demon, breathed out a giant fireball. After “Cold Gin,” Tommy began a guitar solo that depicted his instrument as a weapon against an alien attack happening on the big screen behind him. Rockets firing from his guitar and the final notes of his solo defeated the aliens. Halfway through “Lick It Up,” the foursome deviated and started The Who’s “Won’t get Fooled Again,” “Dr. Love” and “Psycho Circus,” followed by an Eric Singer drum solo that culminated with the band playing the last part of “100,000 Years.” Gene’s bass solo and blood spitting led to him up to the rafters to sing his ominous “God of Thunder” from above. Next was Paul’s turn to be featured. He hopped on a jig and was zip lined to a small stage at the back of the venue as the band was cranking “Love Gun.” He then launched into “I Was Made for Loving You” before zip lining back for the set finale, “Black Diamond.”

The stage was dark for a few moments as the still packed arena’s chants for the rock and rollers to come back got louder and louder. We were rewarded with drummer Eric, by himself on stage, behind a highly bedazzled piano singing “Beth.” The rest of the guys returned and asked us to singalong to “Do You Love Me.” To finish the night off, and possibly an era, the extravaganza ended with the rock anthem “Rock ‘n’ Roll all Night.” Confetti cannons throughout the venue showered all in attendance. Smoke filled the arena as KISS cemented their place in history as one the greatest, if not the greatest, live acts to have ever performed.

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