KISS live at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, USA Concert Review

ONE LAST KISS IN TAMPA

Date:  April 11, 2019
Venue:  Amalie Arena
Location:  Tampa, Florida, USA
Reviewer:  William Nesbitt
Photos:  William Nesbitt

I first saw KISS years ago in Georgia on the Hot In The Shade Tour in 1990 just a few dates before Eric Carr played his final show. I still remember Eric pounding his drum solo on an elevated, rotating stand with green hieroglyphics flashing all over the arena while what sounded like an electronic Egyptian instrumental played. Winger and Slaughter opened.

I had started to get into KISS a few years earlier. I caught “I Love It Loud” and “Rock And Roll All Nite” on MTV (perhaps on Headbangers Ball or some other such rock-oriented MTV program) and tracked down Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits. This was way before the internet. The classic rock stations in my area only played “Rock And Roll All Nite,” and I didn’t know anyone into KISS other than my guitar teacher, Jamie Lloyd, who took me to the concert, so this live show was my first time hearing some of these songs in any format. Maybe that’s one reason KISS have always held more appeal for me as a live band than as a studio band and probably half my KISS records are live.

Even though I’ve been listening to KISS for three decades, I still feel like something of a relatively latecomer. How to divide up any band’s careers can be problematic and KISS are no exception given that a number of members have been in and out over the years and some of these members either had new characters created for them or took over pre-existing characters. If you divide KISS into the three phases of the original line-up or makeup years (since some of the later members wore makeup), the non-makeup years, and the reunion and second application of the makeup (which includes the original members and later members who joined or returned to the band such as current drummer Eric Singer and current guitarist Tommy Thayer), then I connected with KISS near the end of their second phase.

I missed the heyday of the first makeup years with original drummer Peter Criss and original guitarist Ace Frehley and a lot of the non-makeup years. I never knew the early thrills of trick or treating as a KISS member, the excitement of listening to Love Gun on the day of its release, or the rush of seeing the original line-up live during their first go around. Maybe that’s why over the years I’ve kept up with the new studio releases, live albums, line-up changes, and so forth, but I’ve not been the kind of fan to buy every new (or old) album and see them on every tour — let alone buy all the merchandise related to KISS. It’s strange to think that by the time of Hot In The Shade in 1989, KISS would only release four more studio albums (five if we count Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions, which we should).

Still, when they announced the End of The Road World Tour and original member, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley declared, “Once we play your city, it is done,” I thought I’d like to experience KISS live one last time. Some fans are skeptical that this will be the final tour. That’s understandable given their Farewell Tour of 2000-2001, which did end up being something of a farewell to the original line-up of Peter, Ace, Paul, and bassist and co-vocalist Gene Simmons who played their final time together during that tour. Plenty of heavy touring followed and continued up until now. However, the End of The Road World Tour looks like the end of the big tours, and while there could be more Las Vegas residencies, festival appearances, yearly KISS cruises, and other sporadic or one-off performances down the line, it’s a biological inevitability that they will play their final show at some point (unless you try running a version of KISS with no original members, which is an idea that has come up). Given that Paul is close to 70 and Gene is already 70 that point is sooner rather than later.

Big riffs, big explosions, big hair, big boots with big heels, big crowds, big fun — let’s do it all again. One more time.

Tampa was the closest location they were coming for us. I’ve seen shows before at Amalie Arena, and I like the venue a lot.  It’s clean, the sound is good, there are restaurants nearby, and the drive out of the parking garage doesn’t take too long. I bought tickets back in October [2018] for section 101 on Tommy’s side, stage left as the available seats seemed a little better on that side. We would be about halfway between the stage and the smaller stage Paul zip lines to.  Front row tickets were going for $1,000 a shot.

I usually don’t go super-crazy buying merchandise. I knew I wanted a program for this show and since I could order it off the KISS website, I did that rather than trying to hustle it back to the car or hold onto and worry about it during the show. I did check out the merch stand, though, as I always do for every live show I go to, and there was plenty of KISS stuff.  I was tempted to get a tour shirt but passed.

We wanted to get a soda or something before the show, but didn’t want to wait in the long lines, pay premium prices for average or substandard service and goods, and then sit and burn in the sun in plastic seats. We went to a hotel where we could relax in comfortable chairs in air conditioning, get a little more elbow room, have more options, and probably pay less or not more than what the venue charges for something as basic as water.

David Garibaldi:

This was our opening act. Garibaldi swirls, flicks, and splashes paint around in time to various hard rock tracks as he creates portraits of rock stars. He’s kind of like Jackson Pollock but with a jamming soundtrack. The idea of a painter as an opening act is not as lame as it sounds, but it’s still pretty lame. Why could we not have gotten a band? I’m into art and I like art museums, but if I go to a rock concert, I want to see a rock band, not a painter. In hindsight, this is especially disappointing since David Lee Roth would be the opener on later legs of this tour. In recent years, Paul has gotten into and found success with painting, so one wonders if that was a factor in the selection of Garibaldi. There are plenty of hard rock stars and bands that would have killed to be part of this tour package. Surely more people would have been interested in, say, Sebastian Bach, The Cult, Tom Keifer, Ratt, Europe, or Kix than Garibaldi. Strange. If Paul and Gene just wanted to move away from the standard idea of an opening band, maybe Steve Vai or Joe Satriani could have joined the tour.

KISS:

Now we’re going to get what we really came for.

The announcer screamed, “You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band in the world! KISS!” With that the curtain fell, the concert began and KISS ripped into a tight rendition of “Detroit Rock City.” At the end of “War Machine”, Gene breathed fire on a sword (available for $10,000). This was especially exciting for me because my understanding is that the one tour Gene did not breathe fire during was the Hot In The Shade Tour. Though I would rather have heard other classic tracks, “Calling Dr. Love” was a cool call back to the early days and it was a recent substitute for “Hide Your Heart.” “God of Thunder” focused on Gene. He spit blood, gave us a bass solo, and the various overhead screens all showed the same image of his head moving, creating a surreal and somewhat unsettling effect. Near the end of the main set, Paul took the zip line over the crowd to a mini-stage at the other end of the arena floor for a powerful version of “Love Gun” and a fun performance of “I Was Made For Loving You.” “Black Diamond” closed the set.

KISS performing “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout It Out Loud” and “Deuce” live at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, USA on April 11, 2019:

The encore began with “Beth” featuring Eric handling vocals and piano (no idea if he actually plays piano live or not). “Do You Love Me” brought up the energy and there is no other way KISS can end a concert than with “Rock And Roll All Nite.” Tommy and Gene each got on a cherry picker that swept across the crowd as Eric’s drum kit raised several stories above the stage, confetti fluttered down, pyro blew up, fire shot out, sparks literally flew, and the crowd went wild.

Paul finished by saying, “Hope you had a good time. Did you get what you came for? Tampa, we will never, ever forget you. Good night!” Yes, we got what we came for, and we will never forget you either.

It was a great show, a great concert, however the band made it happen.  There have been a lot of speculations, accusations, and theories about Paul lip synching. The theory is that in preparation for the tour he pre-recorded his vocals, left them untouched enough that they sound live, and onstage switches from those canned vocals to a live mic in between songs to talk to the crowd and such. The amateur detectives working the case offer video comparisons of selected problematic past performances and point out that is no other explanation for how his voice has recovered and improved over the last few years and tours to the level where it is now, especially considering how heavy the dates have been with back-to-back shows — often with only one day of vocal rest in between. I do wonder if these video clips from previous tours are representative of the overall night / tour or just off nights, isolated moments, or occasional instances where the songs just didn’t come together vocally for whatever reason. While it’s always possible Paul underwent some sort of vocal procedure that brought about a restoration of his voice, changed his vocal delivery, worked with a coach, warms up more or differently before the show, and/or paces himself while singing live, it’s also possible Paul made the decision to use some tracks to support his stage performance.

When it comes to KISS, almost anything is possible for better and for worse.

KISS performing “Love Gun” live at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, USA on April 11, 2019:

I’ve also had the thought that maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Perhaps for certain songs or certain parts of songs, Paul incorporates taped vocals. Or perhaps certain nights, locations, or parts of the tour leg are better for him and he can sing more or even all of the songs completely on his own. I think Paul’s vocal may not always be completely live, but I don’t think they are completely taped either.

I don’t know, and I’m not sure how much it matters to me. People have been ripping on KISS and coming up with outrageous, uninformed rumors for years such as the nonsense that KISS are really an acronym for Knights in Satan’s Service or that Gene’s tongue is so long because he had a cow’s tongue grafted to it. On the other hand, KISS have thrown some misdirection out over the years. For example, Psycho Circus was supposed to feature all four original members. We now know that Kevin Valentine played almost all of the drums and Tommy played the majority of the lead guitar on that record, and this is not the first record to feature instrumental contributions from uncredited ghost players. To get the fullest enjoyment from KISS, sometimes we have to look the other way at their processes. It’s fine if people aren’t willing to do that, but I am.

I would rather hear consistent vocals that are less than completely live if it will spare me from hearing strains, squeals, slips, cracks, breakages, missed notes, and anything else that sounds like a bald tire sliding and screeching as it makes a turn and tries to stay on the road.  I don’t want to hear or see KISS struggle for traction.

I am willing to overlook some mixing and matching at this point in the game. If someone else isn’t, they don’t have to buy the tickets, burnt swords, coffee, condoms, coffins, or anything else KISS use as a vacuum cleaner to suck up your cash with. All of it is optional, but some people want all of it. Some people want some of it. And some people want none of it. KISS end for you whenever you choose to stop paying attention to KISS.

Probably not every fan is aware of the lip synching theory or even of the line-up changes, especially since Eric and Tommy duplicate the look of Ace and Peter. Of the ones who are aware, plenty of them don’t seem to care and just want to enjoy the show. Lots of people were in face paint and some were in full KISS costumes. Obviously, KISS continue to have a strong and loyal legion of multi-generational fans. Somewhere during the main set, I even saw Jean Beauvoir who contributed songwriting, bass, and backing vocals to various KISS tracks in the 1980s. He was with his family and walking up one aisle over to my right. You know Jean Beauvoir when you see him (very tall guy, huge bleached blond Mohawk) and his attendance was confirmed by another source I know. Afterwards, I read reports of more celebrities in attendance. The boxscore for Tampa later revealed that this concert was a sellout. Seems like everybody came out tonight for KISS.

Paul’s vocals sounded live to me on this night. Whether they were completely live or not, I don’t know as I am not a vocalist. I paid attention to many other cool things during the show, and I was not trying to figure it out and find irrefutable evidence one way or the other. I came to enjoy myself. I can stay home and nitpick for free about much more significant matters. Vocals are important, but KISS are about more than just the vocals.

Although Gene and Paul were not as kinetic as what I remember from almost 30 years ago, they moved around more than just about anyone else in their peer group, and Paul, especially, puts frontmen less than half his age to shame with his shimmying, shaking, and strutting. Paul clearly still does arms. Gene sounded about the same as always. While it would be stretching things to say KISS are at their peak, and sound and move as good as ever, I was not disappointed at all with their performance visually, kinesthetically, or musically. Cohesive but lacking an obvious theme, the stage with its big and frequent explosions and numerous visual effects was a fairly typical KISS stage, though each fan will have their personal favorite stages from earlier tours. You’ll have to watch the video or seem them live to understand, but the use of the overhead moveable LED video pods was a new addition that worked well. The setlist is what I would expect from KISS at this point — more than adequate but not exceptional.

KISS performing “I Was Made For Loving You” live at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, USA on April 11, 2019:

Creating the perfect setlist that will satisfy each and every fan is an impossible task. Any band that cannot fit its entire catalog into a single setlist will find itself second guessed by the fans for excluding some song or the other. Even if said band can play every track it has ever recorded, it will face the opposite problem from other fans who will fault it for playing songs that they didn’t want to hear. Or someone approves of the selection of songs but not the order. You can’t win.

There are many version of KISS to choose from, and no single version of KISS can encompass every version of KISS. Even a KISS show that rotated all the living members in and out, played songs from all eras/albums, and put on and took off makeup would itself be yet another version of KISS. At one point, KISS were trendsetters in terms of image, if not songwriting. Then, they started chasing trends such as disco, pop, glam rock in the 1980s, and grunge in the early and middle 1990s. Now, KISS are anchored somewhere in the middle or late 1970s, which is where they have been hanging out since about 1998. The present for KISS is the past. You change, people complain. You stay the same, people complain. Again, you can’t win.

Various sections of the fan base have been criticizing KISS for the consistency / staleness of their setlist for years, and if I was coming out for every tour, I’d probably want to hear something new, too. Judging from their setlists, KISS have spent most of the last 20 years pretending that most of the last 40 years never happened. With all that in mind, let me add my critique to the heap. I know we’re not going to get anything off of unpopular / unknown releases such as Music From The Elder or Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions, but what about “Rock Bottom,” “Almost Human,” or “Charisma” (all three probably too obscure) instead of “Let Me Go, Rock N’ Roll” “Unholy” or “Creatures of The Night” instead of “War Machine”? “Forever” or “Reason To Live” (which could be getting uncomfortably far into Paul’s upper-register) instead of “Beth”? “Strutter” or “I Stole Your Love” instead of “Say Yeah”? I am still trying to appreciate Sonic Boom and Monster, although a lot of the studio work is hit or miss for me. The non-makeup years seem a bit neglected, though my proposed substitutions draw mostly from the makeup albums, too.

Still, I’m mostly satisfied with the setlist selections. “Deuce,” “I Love It Loud,” “Love Gun,” “Rock And Roll All Nite” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” to me are essential. Almost all of the rest from this show were fun to hear even if they might not all be my top picks. The only real clunker for me is “Beth” but not because of this show. I’ve just never cared for it — but I get why KISS think they have to play it, especially on a final tour. KISS’ main market and target audience for the tour is the casual fans. That means playing mostly their biggest and most well-known songs and skewing to what was their peak era of the 1970s. KISS gave Tampa a pretty much classic setlist.

To be fair, KISS have made a couple of changes since the Tampa date and “Parasite” and “Tears are Falling” are now included, “Let Me Go, Rock N’ Roll” has been dropped, and the number of songs has increased from 20 to 21, so we have to give them a little credit. KISS didn’t ask me about these decisions, but I approve them. As of this writing, not all of the remaining potential dates are filled, so when the End of The Road World Tour gets back on the road, who knows where else they might play. Maybe I’ll try to catch them one (more) last time in Orlando, Florida if they come.

In the meantime, as we wait for the current global situation to pass and KISS to get back on stage, we can fill in the gaps with all the live music and video out there like the clips below. Most recently I picked up the 2008 double CD of KISSDonington show in England. Any and every night, for now and forever KISS will be out there playing some show, somewhere on the stereos, computers, phones, tablets, and televisions across the world.

We endure and we prevail. Stay strong and keep rocking KISS Army!

KISS’ setlist on April 11, 2019:
01. Detroit Rock City
02. Shout It Out Loud
03. Deuce
04. Say Yeah
05. I Love It Loud
06. Heaven’s on Fire
07. War Machine
08. Lick It Up
09. Calling Dr. Love
10. 100,000 Years w/ Drum Solo
11. Cold Gin w/ Guitar Solo
12. God of Thunder w/ Bass Solo
13. Psycho Circus
14. Let Me Go, Rock N’ Roll
15. Love Gun
16. I Was Made for Lovin’ You
17. Black Diamond
Encores:
18. Beth
19. Do You Love Me
20. Rock and Roll All Nite

KISS performing “Rock And Roll All Nite” live at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, USA on April 11, 2019:

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