A KISS farewell is bittersweet

A lifelong KISS fan (and professional concert photographer) pens a goodbye review of a legendary band on their last tour.
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Review and photography by Frank White

KISS' End of the Road Tour roared into Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 27, a last hurrah at the famed arena in midtown Manhattan. The KISS Army was in full force with some fans dressing up in their favorite KISS member's makeup and outfit. Other fans, in the 50s and 60s, had taken their sons and daughters to witness the hottest band in the world blow the roof off the Garden one last time.

When I first went to see KISS on Dec 16, 1977 at Madison Square Garden, with a neighborhood friend of mine, the tickets we bought were for the back floor orchestra area (about 30 rows back from the stage ) and it cost $8.50 a ticket. My dad, who was 51 at the time, drove us to the concert. When we got there I bought two t-shirts outside for $10.00 and bought the KISS tour program (which was $3.00 after we entered the arena) and I still have these items to this day, My dad was not into the 'wild music' that I was into and decided to go to the closet bar for a couple hours, while my friend and I were rocking out with one of our favorite bands of the 1970s. It turns out my wife-to-be was at the same show and I found this out 23 years later.

Fast forward to the March 2019 show at the same arena and I have come full circle with KISS, photographing them on every tour from 1979 to the present. The outside of the Garden looks the same but it now has an electronic billboard attached to it, The inside of the entire arena has also changed to catch up to the present. Ticket prices for a KISS show are now several hundred dollars (for most seats). KISS T-shirts are selling for $50.00. Tour programs are $40.00.

I walked into the arena with other photographers and MSG's publicist walked us to the back of the orchestra floor to photograph the first song of KISS' set in front of the soundboard. When I got there, I realized I was standing in the exact area I watched them 42 years earlier. Kiss had a giant black curtain covering their massive stage, the KISS logo and the KISS Army logo on screens suspended in the air.

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At 8.45pm the Led Zeppelin song "Rock and Roll" came on. If you are a KISS fan, you know it's the song that signals the show's beginning. The lights went out, the side screens revealed an image of the world and slowly zeroed in on NYC, an aerial view of the Garden, then switching backstage as the KISS followed manager Doc McGhee to the stage. The curtain dropped and three members of KISS —Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer—appear, suspended in the air near the lighting rig on three small separate metal plates, chains lowering them to the stage with explosions going off, flames shooting upward, and smoke and sparks pouring out. Eric Singer pounded away on his drums to start the show off with one of their famous songs "Detroit Rock City." The entire KISS crowd were on their feet going wild as the arena lit up—not with lighters as they did years ago but with cell phones trying to capture every moment. As the first song was about to end, myself and the rest of the photographers had to gather our equipment and go into the photo pit in front of the band to photograph the second song, "Shout it Out Loud." Inside the pit were a camera crew filming the show. I was surprised to see fans in the same area, on platforms on both sides. It turns out these fans—from what I had heard—paid $6,500 each to be close to their heroes.

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After "Shout it Out Loud," we had to leave the photo pit and most of the photographers got kicked out of the arena as they did not have a ticket to stay. Fortunately, I was able to stay and review the show. As I was packing my cameras away, Paul announced to the crowd, "Hey, New York City, this is the 15th time we sold out Madison Square Garden and we could not have done it without you!" I thought to myself, 'I was at some of those sold out shows.'

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After getting something to eat and drink (because I knew I would not be able to do it during the rest of the show), I finally got to my seat as "Say Yeah" was ending. Instead of the rows of light rigs that would usually hang at various angles, this tour had octagon-shaped panels with rows of lights, which looked very futuristic as they hung over the stage.

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"Heaven's on Fire" began with flames shooting out from different angles. I could see why some of the side sections were blocked off as the flames seemed like they shot out to some of the seats. On stage was a giant snake curled around a post, its tongue sticking out—a famous KISS prop from the mid-'70s.

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During "War Machine" flames were continuously shooting up from the stage floor as the back screen lit up with images of mechanical-looking, flying dragons with Gene's image. As Tommy went into a short solo, Gene brought out his pole with flames on top. Gene walked centerstage — sirens blared, smoke covered the stage floor, red lights and red trails of smoke moved in all directions—and all eyes fixated on Gene as he blew a big ball of fire from his mouth. He then thrusted the pole into a box (with the flames still going), the song came to an end and a stage hand put out the fire.

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Paul said to the crowd, "How we doing so far?" and KISS went back to a time when a makeup-less KISS had guitarist Vinnie Vincent in the band with "Lick It Up," and a spectacular light and laser show followed. Tommy and Paul dueled it out on guitars during the middle of the song. Paul told the crowd, "We could not do it without you. Thank you so much for staying with us." He mentioned climate trouble and global warming, too. "One day it's hot, one day it's cold, one day you will come down with rock and roll pneumonia and we gotta call out the doctor..."Calling Dr Love." The Demon took over the singing duties, telling the crowd "Let me see your hands" while spreading his bat wings. He told the crowd: "Do you know why? 'Cause I'm the doctor of love."

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A blue light appeared on Gene in the middle of the stage to start "100,000 Years," while the snake on the side of him poured smoke out of its mouth. During the middle of the song Eric went into a killer 10-minute drum solo, kicking the hell out of his Pearl double-bass drums. His kit lifted in the air, still pounding away as the drum riser lowers itself back down. Paul asked,"How many people here tonight believe in rock and roll?" and the stage exploded with balls of fire. Tommy and Gene moved to each side of the stage and got lifted on small platforms that lifted them straight up above the crowd. While the lift brought the guys down to finish the song, Tommy continued playing, stuck his guitar in the air while sparks shot out to hit one of the panels above the band.

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Paul introduced a "classic, old-school song" and Tommy led into "Cold Gin." As they got into the song, the screen behind them showed black-and-white footage from the mid-1970s. For the next song Gene stood in the middle of the stage again with a green light on him. He strummed his bass and started looking around, as a bell started to go off, and as he raised his arm to show the devil horns, blood started pouring out of his mouth and all over himself. He wiped himself down and was lifted to the top of the lighting rig as "God of Thunder" began. During the song, video of Gene's face with blood around his mouth appeared on the multiple octagon screens and once again flames shot out for the end of the song.

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"How we doing so far? Ya not getting tired yet are ya, 'cause we are just getting started," Paul screamed. Paul explained that the bad news seen on TV and internet will be there tomorrow, so have a great time tonight. "We can turn into the New York Zoo and if we can do that, we can turn it into a Psycho Circus." With the back screen showing a circus-like framework, the arena lit up with flames and lasers. The Rock and Roll Circus had come to town.

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"Let Me Go Rock and Roll," is the only single from the band's second release Hotter Than Hell (1974) that is performed. KISS play this song all the time live, this night was no exception. Paul went into a rap about driving a cab in New York City when he first joined the band. He was taking people to the Garden to see Elvis Presley in the early 1970s and said "One day soon, people will come here to see me...15 times." Paul is lifted high above the KISS Army crowd to land on a small stage behind the soundboard. He quickly went into "Love Gun." Lasers surround the Star Child. He got in the faces of the crowd to get them to sing along with "Love Gun." I wish that happened to me in 1977. I would have had a great story to tell.

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"I am doing one more song out here and it is our biggest international song," Paul said, going into "I Was Made For Loving You" off the1979 Dynasty album. "I Was Made For Loving You" came out when disco had a chokehold on the America music scene. It had a disco style and when I first heard it, I thought the band was bending in a new direction. However, the song has become a concert staple over the years and it is now part of the the band's final tour.

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After the song was over, Paul got back on his lift and was carried back over the crowd. Paul stepped back onto the stage and started the guitar part of "Black Diamond." Black balloons fell from the rafters and the rest of Kiss came back on stage with two very large pinwheels of spark showers going off behind them. Eric's drum kit rose up to show the Twin Cats draped around the drum riser—that was part of Peter Criss' drum set at the end of Kiss shows in the 1970's. This ends the main part of the show.

For the first encore, Eric played a gold-studded piano, rising from under the stage, to sing "Beth" He asked the Garden crowd: "New York, can you light up this place." In the past there would be no piano but this time it made the song become a better live version. As the song was ending the rest of Kiss came out without their instruments to gather around the Catman.

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"New York is where it all started," Paul said to the crowd. "We could not lasted 45 years without you. This comes off the album Destroyer and asks a very simple question: Do You Love Me?" As the band played on, light panels begin to move around in different directions and short video clips of KISS are shown from the 1970s.

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As for the last song of this spectacular, bombastic show, it was "Rock and Roll All Nite." As the first few notes were played tons of confetti shot out from the stage to fill the entire arena. While the band played through the song, Gene and Tommy were lifted on two cranes that brought both of them almost half way out into the arena. As they made their way back to the stage, Paul grabbed a guitar and started swinging it up and down, hitting the stage floor to produce more flames, He held the guitar up into the air and slammed it on the stage, breaking it apart, and a huge firework display ended the show.

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