in performance: kiss/david lee roth

Kiss co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley performing Thursday evening at Rupp Arena. Photo by Estill Robinson.

Let’s go reeling through the years with Kiss, shall we?

The logical liftoff point is the here and now with 2020 serving as the midway point of the latest farewell tour by the relentlessly popular pop-metal band, a trek that will stretch well into next year. It stopped at Rupp Arena on Thursday evening before a crowd of 8,200, resulting in a typically flamboyant performance that saw founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, along with show opener David Lee Roth, having perhaps lost a step or two in terms of vocal stamina. But all three have long favored performance vigor and attitude over singing precision. On those former fronts, they were as audience engaging as ever.

Next, let’s zip back to 1977. That marked the second year of Rupp’s existence and the first in what would become nine concert visits through the decades by Kiss. This was the era that defined the band’s glammed up, pyro heavy carnival design on record and onstage. Not surprisingly, the band went right to this golden age at the show’s onset by entering the stage – or, more exactly, being lowered to it on separate platforms – to the tune of “Detroit Rock City” and an immediate follow-up of the celebratory “Shout It Out Loud” (both from 1976’s megahit album “Destroyer”).

Kiss didn’t stay locked in the most distant corner of its past, though. With fellow original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss having long ago severed ties with the band, Stanley and Simmons were free to explore less obvious works, primarily from the ‘80s and early ‘90s, that were cut with different players. Among the highlights from what had been an abandoned era were 1984’s “Heaven’s on Fire” and 1985’s “Tears Are Falling,” a pair of more poppish entries for the MTV generation that have aged well in this program thanks to the electric jolt of Tommy Thayer, Kiss’ guitarist since 2002.

Finally, let’s set the way-back machine to, say, 1917. No, Kiss hasn’t been around that long. But the amount on onstage artillery the band continues to pack onstage – the flames and pyro-triggered sonic booms, in particular – rivalled what was blowing up around the Hindenburg Line in Sam Mendes’ current epic war film. Only the laser extravaganza that Kiss regularly implemented to give a sense of live action neon to the show would been out of place in the movie.

The concert, in essence, was a comic book come to life. Neither Stanley, 68, nor Simmons, 70, have (or have had) the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of Caruso-esque vocal chops. Still, their leads – Stanley on another ‘80s nugget, “Lick It Up” and Simmons on his (fake) blood spitting anthem “God of Thunder” – were serviceable enough to color a rock pageant that, against all odds, sounded ageless.

David Lee Roth at Rupp. Photo by Estill Robinson.

In a rocket paced, 45-minute opening set, Roth essentially mirrored the drive of Kiss’ show, but without the makeup, pyro and set pieces.

Backed by an industrious five member band, three of which supplied very functional backup vocals, Roth, 65, ripped through a set of 11 songs, eight of which were pulled from his storied late ‘70s-to-mid ‘80s tenure as frontman for Van Halen. His voice didn’t reflect the dexterity of those glory days and his range was exhibited more through frequent shouts and screams than his actual singing. But Roth still commands every ounce of the swagger that defined his performance persona during the Van Halen heyday, whether he was riding the power-chord heavy “Runnin’ with the Devil” (with guitarist Al Estrada ably navigating the Eddie Van Halen playbook of licks and solos) or swinging and strutting to his hit solo career medley of “Just a Gigolo” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody.”

Just watching the guy flash a grin big and electric enough to have been seen from Mars revealed a perhaps underappreciated show business paradigm – namely, that age is no match for attitude.

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