In a perfect world, Kiss would have wrapped up the final show of their End of the World tour by inviting former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss onto the stage for tearful hugs, an end to the bitterness that has consumed the group for decades, and one last rendition of “Rock and Roll All Nite,” giving the inevitable biopic a perfect last scene.
In the world we actually live on, Criss and Frehley were nowhere in sight when Kiss played their (supposed) final show at Madison Square Garden on Saturday evening. They weren’t acknowledged in any way throughout the night, which ended with a surprise announcement that Kiss will live on as digital avatars with help from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic.
“The end of the road is the beginning of another road,” Paul Stanley told the crowd before the last bows. “We’re not going anywhere. You’ll see us in all different things all the time. We’ll see you in your dreams.”
With the exception of the surprise announcement at the end about the avatars, the show was largely indistinguishable from the other 250 End of the Road shows they’ve done over the past four years. That doesn’t mean it was anything less than a spectacular rock and roll extravaganza, the kind Kiss have perfected throughout the past 50 years.
There was pyro hot enough to feel on your skin from 50 yards away, explosions loud enough to hurt your head even with earplugs in, and the ritualistic moments where Gene Simmons breathes fire and Paul Stanley zip-lines across the floor of the arena. And it all felt extra special since Madison Square Garden is just a few blocks from the rehearsal hall where the band was born back in the early Seventies.
“Back when I was driving a taxi club in New York, one night in 1972, I picked up a couple of people who were going to Madison Square Garden to see Elvis Presley,” Stanley said. “They thought I was crazy because I said, ‘One of these days, people are going to come here to see me and my band.’ And here we are. Here we are.”
The show kicked off with an explosive “Detroit Rock City” and stuck largely to tunes from the band’s original makeup days like “Shout It Out Load,” “Deuce,” and “Cold Gin.” They did dip their toes into the post-makeup era with 1983’s “Lick It Up,” 1984’s “Heavens on Fire,” 1998’s “Psycho Circus,” and 2009’s “Say Yeah.” As always, Stanley did all the talking in his cornball preacher persona (“We better call the doctor! I’m not talking about just any doctor! I’m talking about our favorite doctor, Doctor Love!”), while Simmons remained silent, opening his mouth only to sing or spit fake blood.
Much has been written about the state of Stanley’s voice over the past few years, and Kiss manager Doc McGhee has conceded that pre-recorded tracks are mixed in with live vocals, but the effect was seamless and never distracting. Drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer recreate parts originated with Criss and Frehley with near note-perfect accuracy, even though some OG fans will never fully accept them into the Kiss family. (Their extended drum and guitar solos did test the patience of the audience.)
As the night started to wind down, and even silly songs like “Love Gun” started to feel poignant since the end was so near, Stanley grew reflective. “The first time we played Madison Square Garden was in 1977,” he said. “That memory is so incredible. I can remember looking up there and seeing my mom and my dad. I can remember looking over there and seeing Gene’s mom. Doesn’t matter whether you’re up here, down there. All you ever want is your parent’s approval. You want them to love what you’re doing. Our parents did that for us. Tonight you’re doing it for us.”
The main set ended with a killer “Black Diamond,” which remains the single best song in the Kiss catalog. After a short break, a piano rose from the center of the stage with Singer behind it. This was the moment that the odds of Criss coming out went from .0001% to 0% since Singer was singing “Beth,” Criss’ signature song. Watching someone else deliver it felt a bit sacrilegious, but this has been the reality of Kiss world for quite a while.
They closed out the show with “Do You Love Me,” an extended series of bows, a balloon drop, and “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Anyone expecting Gene Simmons to break from his Demon character and express emotion during this solemn moment was disappointed. The lights simply dimmed at the end of the song to reveal the new Kiss digital avatars performing “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II.” A New Era Begins” appeared on the screen along with a QR code that you send to the Kiss website, and the announcement about the avatars.
Will fans really pay money to see digital avatars perform Kiss songs? And are the flesh and blood members of Kiss really done playing concerts? If so, they’ll be just about the only band in rock history to say farewell and actually mean it. (They also did another farewell tour back in 2000 that stuck for just a little over a year.) But Simmons and Stanley are both in their seventies at this point. Kiss shows are physically grueling, and they just did 251 of them. This could indeed be it. If that’s the case, they went out in pretty amazing fashion. But if they ever decide to launch a third farewell tour, let’s hope they find a way to make Criss and Frehley a part of it. That’s the only possible way to top this one.