Monday, June 22, 2015

Sending KISS Out On Top

Let’s face it---the hottest band in the land is not getting any younger. And while their two most recent members may be youthful in comparison to the founding fathers, KISS is not KISS without Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. I don’t care what garbage Gene spews about how the band could carry on without them. That’s baloney! KISS without Gene or Paul might as well be a tribute act.

Taking that into consideration, and given the current age of the two KISS centerpieces (Gene is 65, Paul is 63), the countdown clock is ticking fast. Given all that they have accomplished in the last 40 plus years I don’t think that the band has anything to prove to anyone. They could walk into the sunset tomorrow, focus on other projects in their lives, and still go out as being one of the best bands to ever play rock and roll music. Yet, my love for this band has me thinking that they should really depart at the top of the mountain (a place they have been to several times in their careers).

It’s no secret that attendance at KISS shows is waning, especially in the United States. Last year (2014) the band had to take Def Leppard on the road with them in order to drum up excitement for their tour. They continue to play the same tired setlist year in and year out and refuse to perform any deep cuts or new songs. I honestly cannot understand why they aren’t playing songs from Sonic Boom or Monster, as both albums were incredible and contain plenty of concert-worthy tracks. That, however, is another rant for another day. KISS is near the end and as a lifelong fan of the band I would love to see them go out on the very top, ala The Rolling Stones, or Bruce Springsteen. I would like them to be recognized as the cultural icons they are. I would love to see them finish on a high note and then walk off into the sunset, arriving occasionally to perform a festival here, or a short tour there.

There is a way that KISS can do this. Go out with their heads held high and their legacy intact. Leave as the kings of the mountain. And leave the fans screaming for more. It won’t be easy. And it would mean a 2-3 year commitment of epic proportions. I’m talking commitments like they did in the mid-70s. But all of the hard work will come with a fantastic reward. Sold out shows across North America and in some instances, perhaps even 2 or 3 sold nights in a row. In order to achieve this, the theatrics are going to have to depart and the heavy emphasis will need to be on the music (as it always should be anyway).

First and foremost, for this final tour to work, KISS would have to lose their signature makeup and costumes. I know, I know, some fans are crying blasphemy, and others are crafting death threat e-mails for even suggesting such a thing. But let’s be honest, the makeup gimmick was for a younger band. Do we really like seeing Gene in leather pants? Do we love to see Paul’s 63 year old chest hair? I know I don’t. Put some clothes on for crying out loud! And remember, the heart of this band has been, and always will be, the music. Long before I knew of their bombastic performances and theatrical look, I loved KISS’ music. That has never changed. 

I often point to their acoustic convention tour, which led to the MTV Unplugged performance, as one of the highlights of this band’s storied career. And that brings me to my next point. KISS should consider an acoustic set. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there has to be 2 sets. The band could do an acoustic bridge in the middle of their concert. It worked for Alive IV. Perhaps even set up a second stage for the more intimate portion of the night. “Goin’ Blind,” “World Without Heroes,” and “”See You Tonight” could make reappearances into the set for the first time in 20 years (not counting the KISS Kruise, of course). Or better yet, KISS could tryout some different songs in the acoustic portion. “Mr. Speed” anyone? “She.” “Forever.” “Let’s Put The X In Sex.” The list could go on and on. There is an endless supply of hit songs and forgotten songs that KISS could dust off for an acoustic performance.

Then the band could go right back to the electric groove. Open with a few classic songs in the electric setting, move over to the acoustic setting, and finish strong with a mixture of deep cuts and huge hits. Which is another point of contention that I must bring up---KISS needs to mix up their set structure. They have performed the same rotation of tired songs in the same spots for the last decade. At least in America that has been the case. Sure, they might mix in one or two new songs and play the occasional 80s hit, but that’s it. There are no surprises left. I know “Rock And Roll All Night” is going to end the show. I know Paul is going to fly over the audience and perform “Love Gun.” I know “Detroit Rock City” is going to be performed for the umpteenth time. In order for this band to go out on the very top, they have to take risks. Those risks include turning the setlist completely on its rear. And don’t forget the deep cuts and lost classics.

Now it is time to get my geek on. I ran the numbers. KISS has 217 recorded songs to choose from when making a setlist. This does not include any of their solo material. By way of comparison, The Rolling Stones have 439, Springsteen has 212, and U2 has 162. Do you know whose setlist varies the least from tour to tour? If you said KISS, you win a kewpie doll!

Here is the number of varying songs over the last four years:  5. Only 5 songs were different over the last four year’s worth of setlists. Out of the average of 20 songs performed per concert, 10 of them were performed each year, 13 of them were performed 3 out of 4 years, and 15 of them were performed 2 out of 4 years. The songs that were performed only one year: “Say Yeah,” “Hide Your Heart,” “Firehouse,” “Heaven’s On Fire,” and “Do You Love Me.” Out of those songs, three of them were too overplayed to begin with, leaving only “Say Yeah,” and “Hide Your Heart” as real surprises.

The common songs were more than plentiful. The 10 songs that were played each and every year included “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “I Love It Loud,” “War Machine,” “God Of Thunder,” and “Lick It Up.” Look those are all classic KISS songs, I get it. But I am so tired of hearing “War Machine,” and “Lick It Up.” They are too overplayed! When you have 217 songs to choose from and you can only play 10 percent of them live on any given night, why would you continue to perform the same songs year after year? “Detroit Rock City” could easily be replaced with “Makin’ Love” or “King Of The Nighttime World.” “I Love It Loud,” could be booted for “Within.” All of the overplayed songs could be replaced with some real gems!

The bottom line is that KISS needs to add more variety and depth to their sets. They have a vast catalog of under-performed or never performed songs that need to be revisited. Do you know when the last time “Flaming Youth” was played live? 1976 (unless you count the aforementioned Kiss Acoustic Convention tour – it was played once or twice by fan request). Do you realize that KISS has never performed a song from Carnival Of Souls live? Never! There is some good material on that record! No songs on (Music From)The Elder have been performed live since 1981. And those were TV appearances only!

Every other band with a catalog of material as vast as KISS’ varies their setlist from tour to tour, if not from show to show (ala Springsteen). It keeps the fans coming back. KISS, however, puts on the same choreographed concert, year after year. If they want to go out on top, that has to stop! Perhaps my love for the band has made me cynical, but I truly believe that if they were to focus on just the music for one tour, it could be their best tour ever. It’s no secret that the band is nearing the end of the line. How many years do they have left, honestly? Why not focus on what truly matters the most---the music? Why not give the fans one last real treat before riding off into the sunset? Personally, I think it would be the best gift ever given to us by the band. It is my hope and wish that KISS will find it in their musical souls to take this one last challenge and deliver the concert of a lifetime.

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