Review #305: Alive!, KISS

Karla Clifton
3 min readAug 16, 2022

#305: Alive!, KISS

Seeing a great live concert is transcendental.

I just saw Lady Gaga, Ms. A Star Is Born This Way herself, and every second of the how was quite literally spectacular. Gaga wore cement shoes and played a piano made of vines. She sang her #1 milquetoast hit “Shallow” dressed as a sexy insect. It hardly gets any better than that.

So how did my favorite performer grow her sexy insect wings? Like most great performers, she was inspired by KISS. “In a Kiss concert, Paul Stanley flies across the arena, and it’s oddly normal. It’s just, like, ‘But of course.’ I want to do that.”’ She even said that Born This Way (#484, holla) was inspired by KISS’s cover of The Crystal’s “Then He Kissed Me.” Amen, Fashion.

Paul Stanley opined that it took a live record to break KISS through because they were a better live band than a studio one. (So, the opposite of Steely Dan.) They were such a great live act that other heavy acts like Black Sabbath kicked them off their tour because they were an impossible act to follow.

So what made them so unforgettable? Could have been the fake blood, or the energetic audience interactions, or the pyrotechnics? (Which, by the way, you can hear blowing up at the end of “Black Diamond.”) And those are just their visual tricks — their musical ones are even more thrilling, like the inspired use of alarms on “Firehouse” and the two-day long drum solo on “100,000 Years.” Could it be the way Paul Stanley screams HOW MANY PEOPLE OUT THERE BELIEVE IN ROCK AND ROLL? (I do.)

I’ve come to blows over KISS, and I’ll probably do it again. Rock and roll theatrics appeal to me very much. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that KISS is just a pretty, painted face. “Strutter” pairs Bob Dylan lyrics with an exceedingly fat guitar, resulting in something way more fun than Bob Dylan could ever put together. They play the blues on “Nothin’ To Lose” and “Got To Choose,” and both “Parasite” and “She” sound like Black Sabbath outtakes. KISS is a hard rock band with range, and don’t you forget it.

(That said, the the energy of each song is strikingly similar. I love “Hotter Than Hell,” “C’mon And Love Me,” and “Watchin’ You,” but I can’t tell the difference between them. Did that bother me? You tell me.)

But ultimately? Who cares about any of that, when what matters is the joy. From the opener “Deuce” to the album’s darkest moment “Rock Bottom,” you can just tell that KISS is having so much fun. They sound like kings of the world. Have you ever heard this version of “Rock And Roll All Nite”? It’s a love letter to rock audiences in general, people who scream and sing and throw their well-being to the wind for one night of Gene Simmons. And even though “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll” is their crescendoing encore, you know they don’t mean it.

I’ve seen Lady Gaga three times now. The second time, I went with someone who was a self-proclaimed Classic Rock fan. She was not impressed. “Whatever happened to just four guys rocking out onstage?” she asked. I wish I still knew where she was, because now I know the answer: KISS happened.

(And for the record, you can still see “just four guys rocking out onstage.” For a lot cheaper, in fact.)

Most Fun Liquor Song Ever: “Cold Gin.” (Gross.)

Fun Fact: Even though this is the one and only KISS album on the RS 500 list, Weezer name-dropped Ace Frehley and Peter Criss on The Blue Album, #294.

Review #304: Just As I Am, Bill Withers

Review #306: I’m Still In Love With You, Al Green