Denver sure got a lot of shoutouts Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center when Def Leppard and Kiss co-headlined a nearly sold-out show (or Leppard opened, depending on your point of view). And the crowd loved every minute of it.
“We’ve been coming to Denver longer than some of you have been alive in Denver,” yelled Paul Stanley early in Kiss’ 90-minute set. He exhorted Denver to sing along on a couple of songs, and, even though it might have been canned, or the result of a show that was pushing close to 11 p.m., told the ecstatic crowd after “Black Diamond,” “This is the part when we would go off the stage and you would yell until we come back. But we want to play for you.”
Say what you want about Kiss’ music, the band knows how to put on a show. It also knows how to merchandise. Many fans sported “40 years of Kiss” T-shirts. Others were either in Kiss facepaint, Kiss wigs, or even full costumes. After Def Leppard’s set, the screens on either side of the stage advertised the “Hotter than Hell” Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas (“For weddings that rock!”), the Las Vegas Kiss Monster Miniature Golf Course, and the upcoming Kiss Kruise IV, where fans can take a Caribbean cruise with their heroes.
The show itself is quite the spectacle, from the arachnid-shaped lighting rig complete with evil red eyes to the pyrotechnics with every song to Gene Simmons getting lifted off the stage on wires on one song to Paul Stanley riding out to a riser near the back of the floor by sticking his boot in a ring and holding onto a pole. Kiss has always seemed to live by the motto “Bigger is better,” and for its 40th anniversary tour, the band has pulled out all the stops.
Of course, some of it was so over the top that it verged on parody, and made me wonder how the band keeps a straight face onstage. Perhaps that is what the makeup is for. When Simmons breathed fire after “War Machine” and then theatrically threw the torch point down into a stage prop such that the torch was standing, the crowd roared its approval. Later, during Simmons’ rudimentary bass solo on a bass shaped like an axe, he started his blood-spitting routine, then rode the wires to the top of the arachnid.
However, as Stanley pointed out while mocking Kiss’ selection into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Kiss has always been about the people. “Those people hate us,” said Stanley of the HOF. “But you made it so it had to happen.”
From a musical point of view, the show was curious at best. There were a few obscure songs that Stanley introduced by saying that the fans would know them by the first chorus, or be able to sing along by the second. Perhaps that was true for the die-hards, but songs like “Hide Your Heart” were probably best left forgotten in the first place.
In fact, given the brevity of the show, the songs left out were glaring. There was no “God of Thunder,” or “I Stole Your Love,” or “Firehouse,” or Cold Gin.” In their places were “Psycho Circus,” “War Machine,” and “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll.”
Even some of the better known songs were strange. Looking around the audience in between sets, it seemed it was comprised of mostly middle-aged men and some women. There were also many young kids, such as the one in front of me who fell asleep during the show. However, the teenage audience that propelled Kiss to the top in the ’70s hasn’t been replaced by current teens. Hence, hearing Stanley and Simmons, both in their 60s, sing “Christine Sixteen” to a bunch of guys in their 50s seemed a little creepy.
Whereas Kiss delved into some more obscure songs, Def Leppard’s set was all hits, all the time. Union Jacks were everywhere, including on the drum kit, on drummer Rick Allen’s headphones, on the bandanas that guitarist Phil Collen had hanging from his belt loop, and on the bandanas draped off singer Joe Elliott’s microphone stand. The last song cranked on the PA before Leppard started was The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” As the famous combination of Pete Townsend’s crashing guitar chord and Roger Daltry’s “YEAHHH” was about to hit, the huge curtain on the stage with “Def Leppard” written on it fell away and the band played the rest of The Who’s hit, then launched into perhaps its only obscure tune of the night, “Let It Go,” a fantastic rocker from its second album.
The only other possibly obscure song to non-fans was the instrumental “Switch 625,” which like on the album was played out of the hit power ballad “Bringin’ on the Heartache.”
Elliott also gave out plenty of kudos to Denver, introducing “Foolin'” by dedicating it to “1987 and McNichols Arena, where we filmed this for ‘In Your Face, In the Round.'”
Otherwise, guitarists Collin and Vivian Campbell were in fine form, dishing solos on classics like “Animal” and “Armageddon It” like the ’80s weren’t 30 years ago. Elliott’s voice may not be able to hit the high notes anymore, but the harmonies are still there, and more often than not, Elliott recaptured the band’s heyday with his singing. During the set-closing “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” the screen behind showed images from the “Hysteria” tour, and it made me wonder whether Collen went for laser treatment on his formerly abundant chest hair or whether he waxes.
Kiss too picked up The Who theme, with guitarists Stanley and Tommy Thayer jamming on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” during “Lick it Up.” If you want to channel the greats, Townsend is a good choice.
So, when Stanley asked before the fake encore, “Have you had a good time?,” only the most cynical person couldn’t have said that the show delivered in spades.
Won’t Get Fooled Again, Let It Go, Rocket, Animal, Foolin’, Love Bites, Let’s Get Rocked, Two Steps Behind (acoustic), Bringin’ on the Heartache (acoustic until final chorus) -> Switch 625, Hysteria, Armageddon It, Pour Some Sugar On Me, E: Rock of Ages, Photograph
King of the Night Time World, Deuce, Psycho Circus, War Machine (Simmons breathes fire), Shout It Out Loud, Christine Sixteen, Lick It Up (with Won’t Get Fooled Again jam), I Love It Loud (Simmons bass solo to start), Hide Your Heart, Let Me Go Rock ‘N’ Roll, Love Gun (Stanley rides into the audience), Black Diamond, E: Detroit Rock City, Rock and Roll All Nite
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.