It's easy, even tempting, to be cynical about KISS. The arguments about paying to see them live in 2019 pretty much write themselves: “Do you really want to see a bunch of 70-year-old men cosplay as themselves from 45 years ago?”; “This is just another cash grab tour.”; “They are the ultimate style-over-substance band.”; and so on.
And in the comfort of your own home, the arguments are pretty convincing. Then you see the band live and realize, “well actually, KISS are great.” Somehow everything—the face paint, the schtick, even the consumerism—it all just works together in perfect harmony to create a night out that's genuinely enjoyable.
So yes, KISS came to Houston for potentially the last time—the tour is called The End of the Road, but that road is going to last a few years, so it's not impossible they'll swing through again—and they brought all their gimmicks, and even though they've been playing this city since before The Summit was open, people still aren't tired of the fire-breathing, blood-spitting, laser-and-fireworks extravaganza that comes with seeing the group live. These bits are just as much part of the hit parade as the songs themselves. Amazingly, they still shock some audience members all these years later.
They also brought a small warehouse of merch, and the line to throw money at the band dwarfed anything seen at a Taylor Swift or Beyoncé show. Never underestimate the buying power of people who've paid off a mortgage but still want to feel young again for the night. The KISS Army does not balk at the idea of a $50 shirt the way that a fan buying clothes with their allowance does.
But does it all mean anything, you ask stubbornly, still wanting to hate a band you want to call “sellouts” but can't because making money is essentially baked into the concept of KISS. After all, no one comes up with that much personal branding if their goal isn't to become rich. And maybe that's a fair critique; mainlining so many of their songs in a row in a short period doesn't provide a whole lot of meat to chew on when it comes to philosophy.
There's a moment in the show where Tommy Thayer plays a guitar solo, and at various times his guitar shoots out sparks, and then an explosion goes off. This is a great metaphor for the mystical power our society used to place in rock guitar. There's something beautiful about the idea that with the right chords and notes you can use this instrument of the modern age like a wand to conjure explosions out of thin air.
More than so many other bands, KISS really lean into the power of rock 'n' roll. Not in the redemptive way that someone like Bruce Springsteen does, but in the “you can be a real life superhero if you play rock 'n' roll” way. Most bands that slap on makeup and play with fire are trying to scare you or evoke something primal inside you. KISS just wants you to remember that rock music can be fun. For some that's not going to be enough in 2019, but most of us don't have the emotional or physical energy to declare total war on climate change, toxic masculinity, and all of the other terrible things going on in the world right now that won't fit in this concert review, so these reprieves can be quite nice for the soul.
More than anything, the question one leaves a KISS show with is “why would they give this up?” Up on stage, flanked on one side by bright lights and pyrotechnics and on the other by thousands of screaming fans, doing a job that they clearly still enjoy doing. If you were in their shoes, could you could walk away? Being KISS must be exhausting, but it feels from the outside looking in that it would be worth it. But maybe knowing going out while they can still deliver thrilling performances is the actual proof that things aren't always just about the money.
Unless, of course, there's an officially licensed KISS: The Next Generation on the horizon. And admit it, if that was a thing, it wouldn't surprise you one bit.