Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 28, 2016)
Back in 1977, I attended my first rock concert: Kiss, with AC/DC as the opening act. Almost 40 years later, the fact I saw AC/DC with Bon Scott buys me more “street cred”, but Kiss remain a popular act who’ve maintained a good following over that long time span.
As part of their never-ending life on the road, Kiss played a nine-show stint in 2014 at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel, and this run becomes the basis of a new Blu-ray. Kiss Rocks Vegas gives us a look at those concerts.
The 16-song set covers various periods of Kiss’s 40-plus-year existence. 1974’s self-titled debut brings us “Deuce” and “Black Diamond”, while second album Hotter Than Hell offers “Parasite”. 1975’s Dressed to Kill delivers the classic “Rock and Roll All Nite”.
From 1976’s Destroyer, we find “Detroit Rock City”, “Do You Love Me?”, “God of Thunder” and “Shout It Out Loud”. 1977’s Love Gun boasts the title song, and we then skip ahead to 1982’s Creatures of the Night for its title track, “I Love It Loud” and “War Machine”.
1983’s comeback Lick It Up delivers another title tune, and 1985’s Asylum features “Tears Are Falling”. 1998’s Psycho Circus offers its title song, and “Hell or Hallelujah” pops off of 2012’s Monster.
Does it come as a surprise that more than half of the setlist comes from the band’s first five years of existence – and that only two songs represents the last 30 years? Not really. Kiss still scored hits through 1990, but they don’t differ from most other “legacy bands” who maintain popularity mainly due to their “classic years”.
It’s a tribute to the Kiss discography that they leave out quite a few well-known songs here and still deliver a show packed with familiar tunes. Of the band’s six US top 20 singles, only one of them – “Rock and Roll All Nite” – appears here.
One other thing that hasn’t changed much over the decades: the nature of the Kiss stage show. As a kid in 1977, I got a big, larger than life concert with all sorts of theatrics, and that trend continues unabated all these years later.
Whether or not this exists as a good thing depends on one’s POV, of course. As much fun as the band’s shows can be, their flash and pizzazz tends to distract from the music, which doesn’t seem fair. While not a groundbreaking band, Kiss made good, solid meat and potatoes rock. They’re better than their visuals-oriented reputation leads many to believe.
At least they were in their salad days – what does Kiss 40 years down the road have to offer? As seen in Vegas, the band still sounds pretty good – they may not be a creative force anymore, but they’re in “well-polished machine” mode, which means a fairly high-quality performance.
The biggest relative positive comes from Paul Stanley’s vocals. As any You Tube-using Kiss fan can attest, Stanley’s voice has encountered more than a few rocky moments in recent years, but he manages to sound pretty good in Vegas. No, Stanley doesn’t approach his prime, but he hits the notes and gives us a respectable vocal performance.
Of course, Kiss fans embrace their shows partly due to the showmanship, and that side of things hasn’t changed since I saw them almost 39 years ago. Actually, the reliance on bombast occasionally gets to be a distraction, as the use of explosions and other elements can seem like a gimmick.
That said, Kiss doesn’t use the “extreme” techniques on a constant basis, which helps. Every song features some form of visual accompaniment, but that’s true for many touring bands, and Kiss doesn’t “crank it to 11” for each tune. Some “bombast fatigue” threatens to sink in at times but the concert stays on the right side of that ledger.
I can’t say the same for the way director Devin Dehaven chooses to reproduce the concert on video, though. Vegas offers an assault on the eyes, as it mixes a hyperactive array of band shots, rapid edits and gratuitous crowd images to become far too aggressive.
Concerts are a journey, and not every song has to be treated like the show’s climactic number. Dehaven doesn’t grasp this, so Vegas becomes tough to watch – literally. The mix of techniques gave me a headache after a while.
Which is a shame, as Vegas presents a pretty good Kiss concert. Even with the annoying visual techniques, the show works well enough to become enjoyable, but I’d like it better if the director’s choices didn’t create so many annoyances.