By Andrew Bansal
July 5th 2014, Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Irvine CA: Rock giants KISS are out on the road celebrating their 40th anniversary this summer on a North American tour with co-headliners Def Leppard and opening act Kobra And The Lotus, and a promise to deliver a rock show of epic proportions. The touring caravan rolled into Southern California yesterday for a gig at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, and fans from Los Angeles and Orange County flocked in large numbers to attend the event. The previous and only time yours truly saw KISS in concert was at the Honda Center in Anaheim on the memorable night of November 24th 2009, a performance that still remains fresh in memory nearly 700 concert experiences later, and it was about time I got to witness KISS live again. With the added prospect of my first ever time seeing Def Leppard and getting to observe fast-rising band Kobra And The Lotus out of their element in this kind of setting, the evening carried great potential, and for the most part, it delivered.Gates opened at 6 PM, the queue to enter the venue was long and slow-moving, but I made the rather steep trek up to the general admission lawn well in time for the 7 PM start of the show. I have to admit, I’m usually not fond of lawn sections in general and I agreed to see this show from the lawn only because at the time of writing this I’m still not confirmed to attend the Los Angeles show at the Forum next Tuesday and it was one of those things where it was going to be better to see it from the lawn than miss the show and tour altogether. So, I spent this evening perched in the front/lower area of the lawn, facing slightly left of center stage, and as it turned out, in all honesty the view and sound up there was actually great, a thousand times better in comparison the lawn at the amphitheater in San Bernardino. And in fact, being in the lawn gave me a better perspective on certain aspects of the show that I would have otherwise missed. Anyway, on to the show itself, then.
Hailing from Canada, Kobra And The Lotus have been flag-bearers for female-fronted traditional heavy metal since 2009, rising to greater prominence in the last couple of years through impressive live shows all over the world and an excellent self-titled full-length album. They captured the audience’s attention and imagination when opening for Amaranthe at the Roxy last year, and it was extremely interesting to be able to see them tackle the challenge of handling this huge stage and venue. They went on promptly at 7 and played a 30-minute, 6-song set largely focussing on their fantastic new album ‘High Priestess’, presenting four songs from it along with an unreleased tune called ‘Zombie’ and a compelling rendition of Heart’s ‘Barracuda’. Frontwoman Kobra Paige proved that her singing is powerful enough to fill open-air amphitheater settings such as this, the most telling sign of a true singer. But her four band mates played their part as well, and the quintet altogether made a strong statement saying they belong. To go with Paige’s killer vocal delivery, guitarists Jasio Kulakowski and Jake Dreyer (ex-White Wizzard) nailed all the guitar riffs, harmonies and solos. If anything, there is room for improvement in the male backing vocals, and the growling incorporated in the interlude of the song ‘Battle Of Wrath’, not on its studio version, felt out of place. The influx of growls seems unnecessary when the clean vocals are this good. But other than that, Kobra And The Lotus were a worthy opening act for this show, with the song ‘Lost In The Shadows’ standing out as the highlight of the set. The entirety of ‘High Priestess’ is pristine heavy metal gold, and as they introduce more songs off of it in the near future, their live show will only get more powerful. It has to be said that for a fan of their music it’s definitely more enjoyable seeing them in the club setting and this place wasn’t even half-filled during their set which is probably how it’s going to be for them throughout this tour because the majority of KISS/Def Leppard fans wouldn’t be open enough to giving a new band a try and would rather pre-game in the parking lot, but Kobra And The Lotus handled it well and as an admirer of their musicianship, one can only feel thrilled for them getting this opportunity.
01. High Priestess
03. Battle Of Wrath
04. Barracuda (Heart cover)
05. Lost In The Shadows
06. I Am, I Am
The seats and lawn were filling up fast as Def Leppard‘s 8 PM set time approached, and when the moment arrived, nearly 95% of this 18000-capacity venue was occupied with eagerly awaiting fans. The giant screen in the stage backdrop and the two smaller screens on either side of the stage were now operational to give the distantly situated sections of the audience a closer view of on-stage proceedings. The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was played on the PA as a prelude to the band’s arrival on stage, and they finished off the song by playing its ending live before kicking off their own set with the song ‘Let It Go’ off of the 1981 High ‘n’ Dry album, the only old-school hard-edged rock tune in the entire 80-minute set. I honestly never took the time to familiarize myself with Def Leppard’s catalog and I would neither call myself a fan of theirs nor a hater, but over the years I’ve definitely encountered some of their biggest hits as they’re the popular choice amongst DJs at bars, clubs and during intermissions at rock shows. So I approached this Def Leppard set with no expectations whatsoever, but it went down pretty much exactly how I imagined it would, overloaded with the mainstream hits, all of which sounded extremely repetitive to the extent that even 4-5 minute songs felt long. The song “Foolin'” was certainly enjoyable though, as was the instrumental “Switch 625”. But on the other side of the spectrum was ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, the worst song in the history of worst songs. Despite my overall lack of entertainment during this Def Leppard set, I have to commend vocalist Joe Elliott for his delivery, as he sounded amazing and a lot better than most singers still fronting older rock bands nowadays, including the frontman who took the stage here immediately after Def Leppard. His band mates, specially Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell on guitar also put on a respectable show on their respective instruments, and even though the music the band chose to present in this set didn’t interest me nearly enough, the five members’ performance and stage presence made it tolerable to a large extent.
01. Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who cover, ending only)
02. Let It Go
06. Love Bites
07. Let’s Get Rocked
08. Two Steps Behind (Acoustic)
09. Bringin’ On The Heartbreak (Acoustic/Electric)
10. Switch 625
12. Armageddon It
13. Pour Some Sugar On Me
14. Rock of Ages
Def Leppard departed at 9:20, there was a 20-minute intermission, and the real rock show was set to begin. At 9:40 the lights went out, the intro video showing the members of KISS making their way through the backstage entrance was played on the screens, and momentarily after, the giant curtain concealing the stage was brought tumbling down and the band gradually descended upon it standing atop a pod that formed the center of a giant spider lighting rig, a breathtaking sight in every sense of the word. They began with the title track of the 1998 album ‘Psycho Circus’, the newest song in the entire set as they dropped everything from the two most recent albums ‘Sonic Boom’ and ‘Monster’ and went mostly old-school, much to the delight of fans in attendance here. But aside from the staples and classics, the inclusion of deeper cuts like ‘War Machine’, ‘Christine Sixteen’ and ‘Hide Your Heart’ was particularly delightful. “You probably don’t know this one well”, said Paul Stanley before they started ‘Hide Your Heart’, and the band clearly sensed that the crowd wasn’t as fond or familiar with these songs as the hits, but it was great to see them still dig into the catalog and present something irregular. There are a total of five changes in this set from what they did on the 2012 tour, not at all bad for a band like KISS with such a long list of hits that always need to be played.
Of course, in addition to the music there was the visual and theatrical aspect to KISS’ performance that made it a wholesome rock show. The quantity and quality of the pyrotechnics that rhymed with and augmented the music was great enough to rival any 4th Of July fireworks display, then there was the Gene Simmons blood-spitting bass solo as he stood atop the pod once again with the spider soaring to its maximum height, and the part with Paul Stanley flying over the crowd to land in the center of the amphitheater and perform ‘Love Gun’ and ‘Black Diamond’ from that spot. Even my two least favorite songs of the set ‘Lick It Up’ and ‘I Love It Loud’ were rendered enjoyable as I couldn’t help but admire them visually, Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley beautifully harmonizing The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as a bridge to ‘Lick It Up’, while perched on the spider pod. Critics and haters constantly bag on KISS for charging top dollar for their shows, but based on this concert I wouldn’t deem the ticket prices as unreasonably exorbitant because they clearly put the money back into delivering the best possible show in terms of its quality of production and visual appeal.
Performance-wise, Gene Simmons still brings a monstrous stage presence even after all these years and his live musicianship hasn’t lost any of its impact as both vocally and on bass he’s as solid as ever. Eric Singer held strong on the drumkit and on vocals whenever and wherever necessary, and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer was absolutely fantastic, playing circles around Ace Trainwreck Frehley and vindicating not only his band mates but all fans who rightly choose to support this version of the band instead of fixating on a ‘classic’ lineup that would result in nothing but disaster if it were to perform together in this day and age. As for Paul Stanley, I’m afraid his vocals have certainly taken a turn for the worse since the last time I saw this band, but they weren’t honestly anywhere near as bad as I kept hearing about from people who’ve seen KISS recently and perhaps we were lucky enough to catch him on one of his better nights. Besides, he still rocks the rhythm guitar parts perfectly fine. His talking between songs was without doubt excessive though, and could be dialed down just a tad. But despite the fact that he wasn’t at his vocal peak performance, it wasn’t too detrimental to the impact of KISS show at all, as the positives outweighed this sole negative by a huge margin, and most importantly, all four members seemed to be genuinely having a great time playing music.
Talking of the crowd’s response, it was excellent and in keeping with the enormity of KISS’ show but my vantage point gave me a full view of everyone in the seats below me and it was appalling to see the large number of cellphones held up through most of the KISS set as people attempted to record and photograph each song, completely missing out on the true enjoyment of experiencing the show as it happened, with the naked eye. It is during moments like this that I feel great and proud as the owner of a phone that’s too low-quality to record or photograph anything, and I intend to keep it that way. Even though I already know my appeal is falling on deaf ears, I strongly urge people to put their phones away while bands are playing on stage and start having real concert experiences.
KISS closed the show with brilliantly theatrical versions of ‘Detroit Rock City’ and ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’, the entire part of the amphitheater in front of the lawn completely engulfed in paper confetti while the latter was played, and they ended the show with a true bang as an extended pyrotechnic sequence accompanied the final notes of the song. It’s clear that KISS still delivers the goods when it comes to the live show, and what I witnessed from them last night was every bit as memorable as I’d expected it to be. After tolerating the worst performance of the year two nights ago, I felt fortunate to experience the contrast of following it up with the best of the year so far, thanks to KISS.
01. Psycho Circus
03. Shout It Out Loud
04. War Machine
05. Hotter Than Hell
06. Christine Sixteen
07. Lick It Up (with a bridge of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”)
08. Bass Solo
09. I Love It Loud
10. Hide Your Heart
11. Cold Gin
12. Love Gun
13. Black Diamond
14. Detroit Rock City
15. Rock and Roll All Nite
Remaining Tour Dates:
07/06 – Chula Vista, CA – Sleep Train Amphitheatre
07/08 – Los Angeles, CA – The Forum
07/09 – Phoenix, AZ – Ak-Chin Pavilion
07/12 – Austin, TX – Austin360 Amphitheatre
07/13 – Dallas, TX – Gexa Energy Pavilion
07/15 – Cincinnati, OH – Riverbend Music Center
07/16 – Nashville, TN – Bridgestone Arena
07/18 – Atlanta, GA – Aaron’s Amphitheater At Lakewood
07/19 – Charlotte, NC – PNC Music Pavilion
07/20 – Raleigh, NC – Walnut Creek Amphitheater
07/22 – West Palm Beach, FL – Cruzan Amphitheatre
07/23 – Tampa, FL – MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheater
07/25 – Bristow, VA – Jiffy Lube Live
07/26 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center
07/30 – New York, NY – The Studio At Webster Hall *
08/01 – Mansfield, MA – Xfinity Center
08/02 – Watertown, NY – The Flashback Lounge
08/03 – Rochester, NY – The Montage Music Hall *
08/04 – Pittsburgh, PA – Smiling Moose *
08/12 – Toronto, ON – Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
* = Kobra And The Lotus headlining date