Arrowhead Pond; Anaheim, CA; 03/18/00

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

I've said it elsewhere on this site and I'll repeat it here: KISS is the band that begat Rough Edge. From the release of their "Rock and Roll Over" until they put the greasepaint back on for the Reunion tour in 1996, KISS was my favorite band. I loved everything they released and my interest in their music guided me in my hard rock/heavy metal musical taste.

But they had to go and put that makeup back on. 

I understand why they did it - the continued sheer magnitude of ticket sales in evidence enough (the current "Farewell" tour is reportedly sold out or in the process of selling out across the country). But, believe it or not, I was a fan of KISS because of the music. Not the makeup, not the costumes, not the fiery stage antics. The Music. As Pud once said to me as he stared at me with total disbelief: "You like KISS without the makeup better than you like KISS with the makeup?" That pretty much sums it up. I thought KISS was better when Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick were in the band than when Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were. And Eric Singer filled some pretty big shoes pretty well after Carr died.

So it was with pretty low expectations that I went to this "Farewell Tour" at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. It was to be my twenty-fifth KISS concert and - although I was looking forward to the show - I also knew not to expect much from the two original bandmembers who previously had left KISS - Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. 

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

Five minutes into KISS' set, I knew it was going to be a good show. "Detroit Rock City" roared from the wall of amplifiers, fire and sparks shot into the air, Gene Simmons was kicking up his demon-booted feet like a showgirl from hell and Paul Stanley was in fine vocal form. It was a rock'n'roll show in the truest sense and it was a blast. With one glaring exception, the band was in fine form. 

As mentioned above, Paul Stanley's voice just continues to improve. Maybe it's his work in musical plays that has honed his pipes or maybe Stanley just keeps his voice in fine condition. Regardless, Stanley - always one of the best frontmen in live rock'n'roll - belted out the hits with confidence, style and power. And, of course, he did this while running all over the stage, dancing and jumping and playing guitar with the flamboyant grace of someone who likes to be watched.

Gene Simmons was having a ball. Simmons, his garish makeup running down his face in rivers of sweat, wandered the stage menacingly, scowling at the right times and flicking that famous tongue at others. Simmons sounded pretty good, too, his growling vocals benefiting from the wall of amps behind him. One quick note: Gene, we don't need to see you lick Ace's neck anymore, okay? 

Peter Criss surprised me. He may have been a little sluggish here and there but, overall, he played his heart out. He, too, was having fun and giving the fans just what they wanted. His encore presentation of "Beth" was one of the evening's highlights. The fans ate it up. 

And then there was Ace Frehley. Frehley, arguably the most popular member of KISS, continues to amaze me. Why this guy - who's a so-so guitarist at best (one who has admittedly shown occasional signs of brilliance) - continues to rate so high in the KISS hierarchy is beyond me. Frehley's fretwork throughout the performance was sloppy and uninspired. He stumbled around the stage with no grace whatsoever and his vocals were just this side of intolerable. In fact, during "2000 Man," I decided to pay a visit to the restroom. As I was standing before the urinal, the guy next to me said, "So, you waited until an Ace Frehley song to use the restroom, too." I laughed and said that I had planned it that way. "Me, too," the guy continued, "I think my dog sings better than that guy."

To make matters worse, Ace got completely lost during "Shock Me," skipping a chorus or forgetting lyrics and then standing there looking like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar as Gene and Paul tried to figure out where the hell he was. During this screw-up, it almost looked like Ace was lip-syncing the song as well.

When the show was over, the fans were elated but many had nothing nice to say about Ace. I overhead (and these are direct quotes), "Ace really sucked tonight" and "They should have called this the 'Farewell to Ace' tour."

Ace wasn't the band's only problem that evening. At one point, Gene called out, "Come on, Vegas!" (even though we were all at the Anaheim Pond; they'd been in Las Vegas the night before). Gene also wound up hanging about four feet above the stage when his "flying" unit got hung up. And Paul - who was supposed to be carried via a cable and pulley to the center of the auditorium - hung over the stage for most of "Love Gun" when the cable and pulley didn't move at all. Can anyone say "Spinal Tap?" Hey, at least we got the rare opportunity to listen to Gene sing "Love Gun."

But what was really amazing was that - despite Ace and all the equipment screw-ups, KISS rocked hard and delivered an exciting show. The final encore - during which the band ripped through "Rock'n'Roll All Nite" and filled the entire stadium with a flittering confetti storm - had the audience on their feet, singing along with every word and pumping their fists in the air.

The evening's high point, however, had to be the live performance of "Do You Love Me," during which the band played a video that followed their career from 1973 to 2000 on the giant movie screen behind the stage. It was a poignant moment, something that you might have never expected from KISS. (One gripe, however: The video excised any mention of Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, Vinnie Vincent and, most maddeningly, Eric Carr.)

Was it worth the nearly $100 ticket to see the show? If you're a KISS fan, most definitely. If you've never seen KISS live, most definitely. If you've been there, done that and were never impressed, you won't find anything new during KISS' "Farewell Tour."

Ted Nugent was in the middle spot that evening and the Motor City Madman has never been better. I've seen Ted in concert probably four or five times and - although he was always good - Ted was also always a little sloppy. He let the madness of his live persona overtake his incredible guitar playing.

Such was not the case tonight. Ted was tighter than I'd ever seen him before, playing and singing with a restraint that was as stunning as it was powerful. "This is the sexiest fuckin' thing in the world," Ted said, blaring into "Cat Scratch Fever." A few minutes later, he told the audience, "I'm sorry. I lied to you. This is the sexiest thing in the world" and then ripped into "Stranglehold." The audience went nuts and with good reason. Ted simply has never sounded better. Ever.

Skid Row opened the show but we missed their entire set because we stayed too long at the El Torito next door drinking Patron tequila. I heard they were pretty damn good, though.

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Copyright 2000 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:15 -0400.