NEW YORK – This is the end, my beautiful friends.
The Doors' Jim Morrison may have said it, but KISS lived it Saturday night at the most famous venue in the world – Madison Square Garden – a symbolic consummation of a 50-year career that started a few blocks away in New York City.
Sayanora, Starchild. Begone, Demon. Farewell, ear-splitting pyro to the sounds of “Heaven’s on Fire” and “Black Diamond.”
Or … is it really goodbye?
KISS spent 2 hours and 15 minutes convincing 20,000 diehards at MSG at the second show of a two-night stand that this was their grand finale. That we’d never again see Gene Simmons’ top-knot bobbing and (fake) blood dripping from his chin during “Deuce” or watch him expel a breath of fire at the end of the simple stomper, “I Love it Loud.”
When Paul Stanley took a final flight to a B-stage, zooming over the heads of fans on a type of zip line to pony step and shake his shaggy black coif through “Love Gun," it felt like the close of an era was moments away.
And surely, after drummer Eric Singer rose from the bowels of the stage behind a piano to croon KISS’ most accessible – and unlikely – hit “Beth” and Stanley, Simmons and guitarist Tommy Thayer slowly walked out, all clearly engaged in the moment as they moved to every corner to wave to fans, this was an emotional conclusion. Right? Especially when Stanley thumped Simmons’ shoulder and flashed a thumbs up, a nod to their decades of brotherhood?
Was this really the final KISS concert?
We’ll shelve the cynicism and believe that the four men on stage were showing genuine feelings. But in the most on-brand KISS move even by KISS standards, before the quartet likely hit their dressing rooms after disappearing on stage in the blizzard of smoke and confetti that accompanied the set-closing “Rock and Roll All Nite,” a message blasted on the video screens: “A new KISS era starts now.”
Digital avatars of the band followed, playing their anthem, “God Gave Rock and Roll To You.” Yes, seconds after physical KISS and their dragon boots, studs, spandex and face paint could be mourned, their virtual counterparts were introduced.
But let’s shelve that ick factor for a moment and appreciate the bonkers-in-the-best way production KISS created for their End of the Road excursion that started nearly four years ago.
During the show, which was broadcast live on pay-per-view, Stanley addressed the crowd several times in his honking New York-ese, prefacing every interaction with a conversational, “So…”
He recounted a sweet story about his cab driving career in 1972, when he brought a couple to MSG to see Elvis Presley and told them, “One of these days people are going to come here to see me.”
Throughout the night, Stanley frequently patted his chest in gratitude and made a heart symbol with his hands.
“This … is the end of the road. It seems sad, but tonight is a night to celebrate what we did together. And we couldn’t have done it without you,” he told the adoring throng.
How KISS created a movement filled with fire and showmanship
Simmons voice sounded much better preserved than Stanley’s shriek, especially during “Cold Gin,” and Stanley’s vocals on “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” seemed blatantly beamed in from vocal tracks, but no one seemed to mind.
KISS will never be revered as game-changing musicians. Most of their oeuvre consists of thumping beats, serrated guitars and elementary choruses stuffed with sexual innuendo. But that’s why it mattered. There was no thinking, no hesitating. Just throw a fist in the air, “Shout it Out Loud” and revel in the blitzkrieg of fire, lasers and groundbreaking showmanship.
That unabashed embrace of the silly and thunderous, coupled with their marketing savvy and creation of a movement known as the KISS Army will forever enshrine the band in the rock annals.
Though the sold-out crowd was composed primarily of those who came of age during KISS’ explosion in the late ‘70s, there were pockets of proof that KISS’ reach sprawled generations.
Of course it also meant that some of the younger attendees opted to stay glued to their phone screens during Thayer and Singer’s adroit guitar and drum solos, clearly unfamiliar with the rhythms of an old-fashioned rock show when musicianship was spotlighted for at least a fraction of the spectacle.
Those grand interludes are slowly becoming extinct – which some live music fans will welcome and others lament – but on this night they were appreciated as a vestige of the arena rock that KISS helped pioneer.
“You made us possible and we will always remember and love you,” Stanley said from the stage before balloons dropped during a whirl through “Do You Love Me.”
No doubt that KISS has been well loved for five decades. But the band's future moves will decide the final chapter of their legacy.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: KISS romps through final concert, then debuts 'new era' of avatars