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KISS keeps on shoutin’ in farewell tour boasting the best of a bygone era

Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS perform during the "End of the Road World Tour" at the United Center, Saturday night, March 2, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“You wanted the best! You got the best! The hottest band in the world … KISS!” 

It’s the last time we’ll hear that in Chicago as KISS took one final bow at the United Center on Saturday night with a stop on the heavily hyped End of the Road World Tour.

Announced last September, timed with the band’s appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” the 69-date trek (running through September) seemed gimmicky from the start, especially for anyone who remembers the first go-around on the “KISS Farewell Tour” (2000-2001) or who questioned why original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were not invited to the goodbye party, even after making appearances on the KISS Kruise and Gene Simmons’ solo tour over the past year. For this go-around, the spots were respectively filled by the exceptional guitarist Tommy Thayer, who was at ease on showstopping guitar solos, and breakneck drummer Eric Singer, both of whom have been a constant in the band since the early 2000s.

With 20 greatest hits padded by the trademark fire breathing, blood spitting, firework exploding, stage rising, flaming guitar shenanigans that have always made KISS’ “Psycho Circus” the greatest show on Earth, what the End of the Road Tour brilliantly did was leave everyone wanting more.

But KISS has always been a maniacal brand master: Coming of age in the glam-rock hotbed of 1970s New York City, the quartet ascended the ranks with attractive character portrayals, shock-rock tactics, merchandising expertise and a sense of honorary community with card-carrying members of the KISS Army.

The troops came out in droves on this night, as they have done all tour, donning the makeup of their favorite members — the Starchild (Paul Stanley), the Demon (Simmons), the Spaceman (Frehley/Thayer) and the Catman (Criss/Singer) — and bringing the newest members of the Army. Looking at some of the blank stares on their faces, it was interesting to consider if KISS’ over-the-top antics were even considered impressive or could live on in another generation.

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Forty years ago, Simmons’ blood-gurgling, Satan-invoking bass solo spectacle he delivered with a perfect performance on “God of Thunder” was as controversial as they came, leading many to whisper that the band name stood for Knights in Satan’s Service — or even better and more laughable, that the “SS” was some salute to the Nazi party. But today, what is even considered rebellious anymore?

Before the show began, as the stadium filled with background music of Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Alice Cooper — as well as phenomenal live painter David Garibaldi producing detailed portraits of Angus Young and Elton John timed to their music — it gave pause to a pure era of music at a time when arena rock shows were the boldest form of entertainment. When makeup and costuming and light shows and fire were all that was needed to incite devout fandom. KISS seemed to be feeling nostalgic about that era too, Stanley commenting at one point about the band’s first Chicago show at the Aragon in 1975 and filling the giant, spaceship-motif screens with vintage footage of the bandmates in their heyday. To have had the luck to have seen the group at their primal formation would have been something, but to still see them in 2019 is no short change. They just don’t make concerts or, for that matter, rock music like this anymore.

As KISS ran through hit after hit — including a memorable delivery of “War Machine” complete with a breathing dragon and Simmons’ fire-breathing stunts, and Stanley’s beautiful guitar work leading up to “Black Diamond” — there was a reminder of how classic the band’s catalog really is, with anthemic heavy-metal glam rock that in great part defined the coming-of-age of rock music in the ‘70s. We could have done without the cheesy sequin piano and group huddle take on the languid “Beth.” Still, Stanley’s hair-raising vocals, the ego-filled instrument solos and defiant stunts (like the time Stanley flew through the air on an acrobatic hoop like he was a member of Cirque du Soleil) were the work of a band that has perfected its craft in over 2,000 shows and still has made the whole production feel special. The End of the Road Tour didn’t feel like it was capitalizing on our nostalgia as other recent tours and movies and re-releases have done, but rather felt like, as Stanley said, “that March 2 would be a night you’d never forget.”

SET LIST

Detroit Rock City
Shout It Out Loud
Deuce
Say Yeah
Heaven’s on Fire
War Machine
Lick It Up
Calling Dr. Love
100,000 Years
Cold Gin
God of Thunder
Psycho Circus
I Love It Loud
Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Love Gun
I Was Made for Lovin’ You
Black Diamond

Encore
Beth
Do You Love Me
Rock and Roll All Nite