CONCERT REVIEW: The “End of the Road” for KISS Culminates in Epic Fashion Where It All Began 50 Years Ago (Madison Square Garden | December 1, 2023)

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I have always thought that the word “epic” is thrown around way too often, for events and moments that just are not truly so. Well, KISS‘ penultimate show as a band this past Friday night in Gotham checked all the boxes of said definition, and truly was grand in scale – you had the legacy band celebrating a storied 50-year career, you had the iconic venue in the greatest city in the world, and most important of all, you had the show itself.

However, before taking you inside “The World’s Most Famous Arena” for a recap of the KISS concert this past Friday night – a Mount Rushmore band standing on the threshold of immortality who is at the very end of a 50-year storied career – there was a huge lead-up to the pair of farewell shows, including the proclamation of November 30th as KISS Day by NYC Mayor Eric Adams. Paying this special tribute to the extraordinarily important band in the annals of rock history was just the tip of the iceberg.

For the diehard army of loyal fans making the trek into the Big Apple from parts unknown, KISSmas came early with a week-long ‘NYC Takeover’ party featuring unique experiences in and around The Isle of Manhattan leading up to our heroes’ final bow. Various KISS-branded activations and events included commemorative wrapped copies of the New York Post with special edition covers, the Empire State Building was lit up in honor of the band with a one-of-a-kind music-to-light show, an immersive experience held in a KISS store pop-up, limited-edition KISS branded metro cards, 800+ custom taxis displaying special digital tops and content and KISS-themed pizza and boxes at Prince Street Pizza. Even the local hockey club got into the spirit with KISS-themed activities and KISS x NY Rangers merchandise.

Choosing New York City as the final destination in their career was a no brainer for Paul Stanley (a.k.a. Starchild) and Gene Simmons (a.k.a. The Demon), who formed the rock group 10 blocks away from MSG in 1973 with OG members Ace Frehley (a.k.a. The Spaceman) and Peter Criss (a.k.a. Catman).

In the days and weeks leading up to the final two shows, rumors swirled – and fans were hoping – that former KISS members Frehley and Criss were going to make an appearance at one or both of the final two shows. However, to no one’s real surprise, the reunion never came to fruition. Plus, Frehley has been keeping busy on his own lately, dropping his first solo song since 2018 dubbed “10,000 Volts,” the lead single and title track off his forthcoming full-length studio album due out February 23.

At 6:30 pm sharp, amid steadily pouring rain in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, The Garden opened its doors to fans of all ages, many clad in retro KISS t-shirts or wearing the makeup of their favorite member. Taking in the atmosphere as I walked between West 31st and 33rd Streets, the excitement and energy of the night and what it was going to bring KISS fans was palpable. After watching a lovely couple and their high school daughter snap a selfie in front of MSG’s giant marquee video screen on Seventh Avenue, I learned that they had flown in from San Antonio the day before and had paid close to $800 for each of their tickets! However, once the night had ended, I can honestly say that witnessing KISS’ final outing in person was priceless.

An hour after doors, the festivities were officially underway when Stanley’s eldest son, 29-year old Evan, took the stage as frontman and guitarist with his band Amber Wild. The quartet, rounded out by Marshall Via (vocals/guitar), Jake Massanari (bass) and Thomas Lowrey (drums), only recently formed in January 2023 in Los Angeles. That being said, the band performed on Friday night as if they were already seasoned veterans, incorporating raw vocals with explosive guitars, pounding bass and thunderous drums.

Ripping through a 6-song set to a steadily growing MSG crowd, each member of the outfit commanded the stage in his own fashion. The highlights of their 30-minute set included fiery performances of their double-A side debut single, ‘Breakout’ and ‘Silver,’ released this past October 19. Although it may be the end of the road for KISS, fittingly, it is only the beginning for Amber Wild – and I cannot wait to see what heights they soar to.

AMBER WILD Photo Gallery

A few ticks past 9:00 pm, as the Led Zeppelin classic ‘Rock and Roll’ played over the house PA, the giant black kabuki, emblazoned with the famed KISS logo, remained steadily in place while shrouding the entire stage behind it in secrecy. As KISS’ dedicated crew of roadies worked feverishly at putting the final touches to the elaborate set design in place, massive statues of each member’s likeness flanked either side of the stage, standing guard while countdown to showtime drew imminent.

Suddenly, the lights went down, the crowd let out a deafening cheer, and a video feed magically appeared as each member of KISS greeted the camera on their way from the dressing room to the stage. A sonic boom (pun intended) – like no other that I have ever heard at a live show – signaled that it was now “game on” as the stage curtain mercifully fell to the ground. Three hovering pods carrying Stanley, Simmons, and Tommy Thayer (KISS guitarist who has been donning the makeup since a 2002 private gig in Jamaica) began its slow descent from The Garden’s rafters.

Amid heavy theatrical smoke, wildly flashing strobe lights and flying sparks, Eric Singer (KISS drummer who like Thayer, also got his first taste at a live show in 2001 Japan) patiently waited high atop his drum riser for his mates to touch down.

The entire audience, aside from wildly cheering and singing from their feet all night, also played another crucial role. Greeting each audience member at their seat was a LED light wristband that not only enhanced the concert experience, but also allowed each fan to immersive themselves as part of the show too, magically glowing, flashing and syncing in spectacular unison during key moments of songs.

The 130-minute career spanning set of their rich discography, covering the period 1974 and their self-titled debut album to 2009’s Sonic Boom (KISS’ 19th studio album out of twenty total), kicked off with two classics lifted from 1976’s Destroyer, ‘Detroit Rock City’ and ‘Shout It Out Loud.’ Stanley, who directly addressed the sold-out on several occasions throughout the night, was often introspective as he acknowledged the importance of the night. One of the inspirational stories he shared with us, reminiscing in real time right there with us, stretched way back to KISS’ humble beginnings, before they became a worldwide, household name:

You know, we all have stories about our home. I want you to know, [that in]1972, I drove my cab to Madison Square Garden to bring some people to see Elvis Presley. And I said to them, one of these days, people are going to come here to see me and KISS, and here you are!

Friday night comprised all the must-haves and trappings for any KISS concert – Gene breathed fire, Gene spat blood and solos were aplenty, including dueling guitars to begin ‘Psycho Circus,’ the title track from their 1998 offering. And oh yeah, Paul took a zipline from the main stage to an intimate ‘B’ stage at the rear of the venue to perform ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ (Dynasty, 1979) and ‘Black Diamond’ (KISS, 1974), before flying back again high over our heads.

As the night that no one wanted to ever end turned for the home stretch, KISS gifted a trio of numbers for the encore – ‘Beth’ (featuring Singer on lead vocals and piano) and ‘Do You Love Me’ from Destroyer, followed by the rock anthem ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ (Dressed to Kill, 1975) amid floating, giant white balloons and red and white celebratory confetti raining down from above.

What is next for KISS you ask? Are the pair of NYC shows really going to be the last ones, ever? Will fans ever get to see them perform again in a live setting? Maybe a sanctioned, spinoff tribute band with no original members or makeup? A passing of the torch if you will. The answer has already come. The closing number of their last ever show on Saturday night (December 2nd) was a cover of the British band Argent’s ‘God Gave Rock And Roll To You,’ covered by KISS as ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II’ in 1991, with modified lyrics.

However, the song was not performed by the physical members themselves, but by their avatars! KISS has marked the end of its physical existence by crossing over to the digital world. Of course, they have! We now know that KISS’ long history of experimenting with special effects and staging, as well as legendary personas and costumes, will evolve far into the future while continuing to grow their fan base, generation after generation. And the rest, shall we say, is KISStory.

KISS Photo Gallery

Watch Gene’s bass solo and ‘God of Thunder’ here:

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