Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Could have been the fact that I was recently promoted to Theater Critic at Phawker and have a background in Kabuki. Or the fact that both my wife (who, concerned for my personal safety in Trump territory, forbade me from donning my Lizzie Warren kit) and my editor (who blew out of there like some sort of psyclone ranger during the Reagan era) are from Allentown and this, therefore, would practically be a family affair. Or maybe it was just my desire for an alternate State of the Union. No matter. On Tuesday night I laid down the lineaments of adulthood and hightailed it up to the PP&L Center in Allentown to see The Hottest Band in the Land, KISS!
My brief KISStory: I’m the perfect age. In 1975, I recall puzzling over my buddy Chuck Castle’s older brother’s copy of KISS Alive. I found it, at once, menacing and funny. By the bi-centennial, I had, at age 8, accumulated Destroyer, a KISS lunchbox, and a membership to the KISS Army. I may not have been a Kid In Service to Satan but Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace were my John, Paul, etc ….
Then everything changed. My father laid a copy of Before the Flood on me and, in ’78, took me to see Bob Dylan at the Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland. I was 10 and I guess my old man considered me ready for the real item. He was right. Something transformative (no, not trans-figurative, Bob) happened and I never looked back. It was time to put away childish things.
Fast forward 40 years, I’m watching Scorsese documentary on the Rolling Thunder Revue and there’s Bob himself saying that he got the idea of wearing make-up on his legendary 1975 tour from having seen KISS. He claims that Scarlet Rivera, the violinist in the Revue, was dating “the leader of KISS” and took him out to see the hottest band in the land in Queens. Yes, I know: Marty and Zimmy booby-trapped the doc and the dates don’t align here: KISS had long escaped Queens and by ’75 they were arena-rock stalwarts. But, still, Bob seems to have lifted one out of their playbook; I “filed it [the idea of make-up] away”, he says.
It is also worth noting that in 2004, Simmons on his aptly-titled second solo album, Asshole, included a co-write with Bob entitled “Waiting for the Morning Light.” Moreover, on their not woefully underrated Music from the Elder LP, Gene co-wrote several tunes with none other than one Lewis Reed. Co-writes with Dylan and Reed? Not bad for the old resume, Chaim, and that’s no shit, Shylock.
In Rolling Thunder, Dylan also says that they should have worn “more masks” on the tour and that “when somebody’s wearing a mask, he’s gonna tell the truth. When he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely.” Hmmmm. On their criminally underrated power-pop masterpiece, Unmasked, KISS did not actually reveal their mugs; rather, per a comic that graced the cover, when they removed their make-up, what remained were the very same made-up faces (the Demon, the Star Child, the Cat, and the Spaceman) as before. What was this then? A reference to Arthur Rimbaud and his proclamation that “I is another”? Or a nod to the Derridean concept of “trace.” These New York City Katz are heavy thinkers, man, and that’s Wicked cool, Lester!
In any case, I was determined to uncover the Truth behind the mask and rounded up my drummer in the Donuts to accompany me to the Lehigh Valley. I selected him because he is not especially intelligent (no offence, Head!; none taken, Claw!) and if I was going to penetrate this scene I was gonna have to dumb it down considerably. We wanted the best and, goddammit, we would have the best if the Gods of Thunder aligned.
KISS IN ALLENTOWN BY THE NUMBERS
- Mentions of opener “Diamond” David Lee Roth in this review: 1
- Times the word “Allentown” was uttered by KISS: 69 (e.g. “I’m gonna kick your ass, Allentown” by Gene Simmons in introduction to “Parasite”)
- Between song raps by Paul Stanley: 16 (NOTE: a “rap” must contain at least one subject, predicate, and object. One word “speech acts” such as “people” — even elongated to multiple syllables e.g. “peeee-eee-eep-hole” — do not qualify)
- Raps by Paul Stanley advocating for witnesses to be called in the Senate: 01
- Times Simmons grabbed his medieval codpiece (is there another type?): 36
- Times Simmons fellated the microphone with his outsized tongue: 11
- Songs played from Psycho Circus: 1
- Songs played from Psycho Circus that I wanted to hear: 0
- Times I regretted eating a marinara-laden cheesesteak + a chili dog chased w/ 5 High Lifes at the Brass Rail (est. 1931) in Allentown prior to the show: 0
- Times I regretted bringing my drummer to the show: 666
- Songs played from Music from the Elder: 0
- Times I wondered what the hell I was doing here: 9
So there’s the stats. But what about this Truth that Bob claims will emerge from a mask? I will say that this wasn’t any Gwyney Goop on these boys’ faces. This was industrial strength paint that disguised the advanced years (the Demon is 70, peep-hole!) of this, the ultimate cock-rock band. Was the truth to be found in the pyrotechnics and explosives that sizzled my beard and will probably ring in my ears until 2021 when KISS finally reaches the End of the Road (as they are calling this tour)? Was it Star Child Paul Stanley’s Pan-like flight across the arena during “Love Gun”? Was it Cat Man Eric Singer’s 12 minute double-bass-rocking drum solo on a riser that lifted him to the very peaks of the PPL?
Was it when Space Ace (I mean, Tommy Thayer dressed as Space Ace. How’s that for a Shakespearean Twelfth Night-like substitution?) – in a phallic display that would even make Camille Paglia blush – shot bolts of fire from the headstock of his Flying V? Was it the fact that, whether he is lip-syncing or not, Paul Stanley plays kick-ass rhythm guitar that really undergirds the spectacle on stage? Or was it the genuine affection that I witnessed between this band and its multi-generational (if not diverse) audience?
No. The Truth on the eve of our Constitution’s actual demise was far simpler. Nothing profound here, friends. But rather this … wait for it … The TRUTH is I WANNA ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE AND PARTY EVERY DAY! Putting away childish things will have to wait this time cuz we could sure use some fun right about now. — JON HOULON
PREVIOUSLY: Our Q&A W/ Gene Simmons