By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The roar of grease paint
Like voting for Reagan, disliking KISS in its heyday is now something to which no one will will 'fess. Saved by a wave of retro-chic, the KISS kabuki rock clowns--no doubt fueled by relentless, adoring demand--sometimes act as if they invented rock rather than simply figured out a way to mercilessly exploit it.
That doesn't disqualify a band. If you're not working the biz, chances are the biz is working you, and there's a lot to admire about KISS: the fervent embrace of cheese on a wholesale level; the way in which it was the anti-Ramones, reacting to big rock torpor by using the music instead of rejecting it; turning the volume all the way up, way past Alice Cooper. KISS' response to Emerson, Lake and Palmer wasn't 67-second songs your little brother could play, but geysers of blood, codpieces, boots with teeth, and flicking tongues.
Granted, the band wrote some--and this term applies in every sense of the word--seminal stadium-rock songs: "Deuce," "Strutter," the purposeful "Rock and Roll All Nite"--before the long decline of punk derision and "Beth." The problem was that KISS was always hobbled by an air of contrivance and calculation that was just a tad unseemly and that kept the band from the authentically dark rep bands like Blue Oyster Cult enjoyed. In 1979 it was just as common to hear KISS dismissed as a heavy-metal Menudo as praised, and it didn't help that Gene Simmons always seemed to be acting dumber than he really was; the smell of a con was never too far away.
Still, a con everybody wants is great art, or at least a good time, and KISS does deliver that. Back with its original lineup--Simmons, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss--KISS will more than likely rock 'n' roll you all night, or at least for the 70 minutes that pass for all night anymore.
KISS plays Reunion Arena July 5.