It’s Sunday, December 10, and I’ve overslept. As a result, the rest of the day is going to feel off-kilter, so what better time to exhale and look back at what took place a week ago. I’ve had numerous chats, a couple of podcasts, and watched other folks’ shows, which will hopefully have helped me organize my thoughts about Kiss’s final stand at Madison “Sqare” [sic] Garden. A week ago, I was in an emotional daze. An accumulation of sleep deprivation, social overload, and the shock and awe of the buffeting of sonic waves and concussive blasts at two Kiss concerts found me in quite a state. And I shall never forget the MSG entry procedures, which with some guards reminded me of communist-era Bucharest on the eve of revolution. And the frenzy of broken ticket scanners. Your phone is your ticket, LOL. Yo, this is New Yawk… The shows were NYC and Kiss distilled into a heady mix. But what about the shows?
My expectations were set low. No Sponge-Bob rainbow eyes delusionally begging “imagination.” Hope is not lost; it is reality that dictates that this is the end. Age is cruel. Age is unkind. Age is unforgiving and unrelenting, chipping away the stone even as it rolls. Most of us are of that age where we know the truth of age and too many of us know a person no longer here to be there… And if you don’t, well bully for you. You will, oh yes, you will… Indubitably, Kiss met my expectations at the Garden. The first night, I was Paul’s side on the floor. The mix was horrible (to my ears), and “Beth” sounded rough. Overall, there was more emotion present from the stage. Paul honestly seemed to break, recounting seeing parents from the stage far back in 1977. It is impossible to project and wonder what he and Gene are thinking as they look out from that lofty perch. The show was good, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
In the audience, my thoughts returned to the beginnings of my Kiss journey: “This is my music, it makes me proud. These are my people, this is my crowd. We love it loud!” In section B, Row 12, the singing was loud around me. People seemed to pulse in unison with the action from the stage, and we had a great vantage point to witness Paul’s flight to the mini stage. All the elements we expect of a Kiss show were there and it was little different from the show I saw at Hollywood Bowl. Or LA Forum. Or… But that doesn’t mean I was bored. How can one be, with the radiant heat of the pyro providing hot flashes! Even the ending sequence to Gene’s blood bit seemed amplified with strobe and a monstrous roar piped in. It was a marvelous and powerful moment, regardless of whether it had been done previously.
Night one was the better performance. Night two was rote. The preshow boggled the mind. Desmond Child I could understand being present, I don’t remember if he remembered to pimp his new book. But he has a massive part of Kiss’s history and a career that has far exceeded his beginnings. Both other segments seemed pointless or lazily conceived for my tastes. That’s all they could get? Just smacked of intellectual and emotional laze, cluelessness, or very calculated smug pique. Couldn’t see or hear shit in the venue anyway, so in gratitude I went for a scotch. Since then, I’ve only watched Shannon’s post-show interview (which was great). With the preshow wankery over, I teared up at the final intro. But once things erupted, there seemed almost desperation to get to the end. The show is so sequenced, choreographed, and structured that it is impossible for anything improvisational or off-script. The show is not built for the enormity of the moment and instead negates everything about it. It’s a deeply unsatisfying bookend sapped of anything unanticipated and any serendipitous chance. It was clear that the group were going through the numbers, but I was still glad to be there as the number of songs left in the set provided the inevitable final countdown to the end.
The ending was sour. The culmination of the show was fantastic, a final savoring of the magical, enjoyed so many times but never enough. At the end of the road it was imbued with special meaning (clearly there is a disconnect between me/them and opinions no doubt vary). Disappearing into fog was a brilliant device, reminiscent in some ways to the Creatures era. Fin. Sortie de scène vers la gauche. An emotionless show devoid of sentimentality allows no lingering for the actors on the stage. But the “we’re not going anywhere” announcement might have well utilized the middle finger of the Revenge stage prop with new meaning. It was the “but wait, there’s more” moment of a lowbrow TV sales charlatan. Around me, on the floor, there was no eruption of joy at the announcement of the Kiss Avatars. There was no amazement at the stay of execution, no hysteria at the transfiguration just witnessed. No tears, no chanting, no singing, just jaws agape and an awkward silence as we trundled to the exits. One has to release a mighty and uproariously loud belly laugh looking back at that moment. It was an absolutely perfect coup de grâce. For the crass commercialization of this brand it was pure icing. To end on a fucking “crummy” commercial. Double tap center mass kill shot.
Everything about the End of the Road finally makes sense. There was never any intention of having special guests, it was all a ploy. It was just another lie, or carrot on a stick for 300 million reasons if you prefer. Where Joe Perry, Phil Collen, or Rick Nielsen, could join the band to jam “Strutter,” “Deuce,” or “Rock and Roll All Nite,” in this script there was no room for any deviation or distraction by allowing Peter, Ace, or Bruce anywhere near the venue. As survivors on the Kiss island, this was undoubtedly Gene and Paul’s moment. They kept the machine going long enough to arrive at and enjoy the payoff. Anything otherwise would distract focus from the setup of the commercial. That would throw the show off script. There was no chance of having Bruce hop up on stage for “Heaven’s on Fire,” or perish the thought of returning “Hide Your Heart” or “Tears Are Falling” to the set for one night. Peter would never be allowed the moment of subbing in for an emotional final rendition of “Beth” in a venue with equal meaning as that of his former partners. Ace’s antisemitic outburst remains unapologized for and he’s got a new album to promote. They’ve performed “Shock Me” at numerous soundcheck VIP events, no slotting that in after “Beth” for the fans or throwing in an unrehearsed “Strutter” afterward with the originals, before having everyone on stage for the finale. Any deviation would have made the ending impossible and diluted the resulting press coverage for the avatars. This show wasn’t about the past or halcyon days of yore, it was about sealing the cover of that Kiss Coffin and announcing the future. That history is written, and nostalgia has been cashed out. There were purportedly no phone calls made with any sincere offer. Ace played his cards too early and then blew it spectacularly. But even an “I’ll be there and ready to go” would have had to have been rebuffed. We can’t say we were swindled; this is Kiss and if the ending was a surprise or disappointment, then shame on you. The press coverage of the event bears witness to the successful execution of plan.
The shows were great. Having been at MSG in 2019, I thought then that the NYC audience sucked eggs. This time the crowd around me didn’t disappoint. But the best part of the weekend was the people. That was nothing new, it’s always been the case for me, but on these two nights there was an undeniable extra poignancy in the moment for us. I was seeing people from all corners of the world, again possibly for a final time, or for the first and last. I had great dinners with friends, old and new. I went to the Kiss sites that meant something to me. I didn’t step foot in a damned pop-up or spend hours in a queue for some overpriced tat. And Kiss is what brought us together for one final communion in the electric cathedral. For another pair of nights in this messy fugazi world, most of us had something uniting and celebrating us, right through the bitter end. In us, the message will live on, and I got closure. I get to retreat to my library and do what I enjoy most. Nothing has changed. My love for Kiss is undiminished. I look forward to the continued chats about this lunatic band we love with the same folk I’ve done so with for decades. One part of the journey has concluded, but my road continues. And who knows where it will lead? Like cockroaches, you can bet we’ll feel the pull of human communion again before too long, and who knows what form it might take when that inevitably happens. Kiss will continue to be the soundtrack.
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