They're using backing tracks! The set list is boring! Ace Frehley and Peter Criss aren't coming back!
These are valid concerns and, in theory, strong arguments against seeing Kiss before they allegedly hang up their platform boots in five weeks. But when the curtain fell on Sunday at Austin's Moody Center and the first flash pot exploded during "Detroit Rock City," none of those gripes meant a damn thing.
That's because logic and reasoning are no match for the Kiss live experience. Fifty years into their career, these guys are still rock 'n' roll's greatest comic book superheroes. (You can see photos below to prove it.) They're masters of shock-rock shtick, ringleaders of the biggest, dumbest, psychoest circus on the planet. They're the band that gives Spinal Tap nightmares. Nobody can beat them at this game because they wrote all the rules.
They might also be breaking a lot of them now. Much has been made of Paul Stanley's rumored lip syncing or reliance on backing tracks on this tour. While there's no way of knowing exactly what kind of technological enhancements he's using, it doesn't take a rocket scientist or classically trained vocalist to hear the difference between his stage banter voice and his singing voice. The former sounds like he's been vaping for four days straight, while the latter is tuneful and robust with a few respectably craggy edges to maintain some semblance of believability.
This practice is duplicitous at best, a portent of doom for the entire concert industry at worst. It makes you feel gross if you dwell on it for too long. So, too, does the sight of Stanley and Gene Simmons — two men in their seventies — pantomiming various sex positions with the audience while riffing off one another like a heavy metal Bert and Ernie. But Kiss can't be evaluated by the same standards as mere mortals. They weren't designed to age gracefully because they were never graceful in the first place. Watching Kiss in 2023 is kind of like watching a new Expendables or Indiana Jones movie in 2023. These guys are old as dirt, these stunts are cheesy as hell and — wait a second, did Simmons just breathe fire during "I Love It Loud"? Holy shit, now he's spitting blood? Never mind, this is awesome.
Kiss has mastered this tightrope act, making it incredibly easy for fans to turn off their brains for two hours and 15 minutes and succumb to the crass rock 'n' roll spectacle. It helps that the songs are as great — and plentiful — as ever. There's simply no topping the dueling guitars of "Detroit Rock City," the horndog hooks of "Heaven's on Fire," the melodramatic prog-metal churn of "Black Diamond" or the cartoonishly epic singalongs of "Rock and Roll All Nite." Kiss generously deploys their token bathroom song, Sonic Boom's "Say Yeah," early in the night, giving fans ample time to empty their bladders just in time to fill them up again during "Cold Gin." And Stanley's generous use of the B-stage on the opposite side of the arena ensures that every seat in the house is a good one.
No rock band has ever loved to be loved as much as Kiss, and it makes for a raucous, reciprocal good time. "Whether it's your first time seeing us or your 101st time seeing us, you are the Kiss Army and we couldn't be here without you," Stanley told the Austin audience. Just like your favorite comic book heroes, Kiss has always been there when you needed them for the past 50 years — and if this truly is the end of the road, it's worth heading to the circus one last time.