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Pop Music Review : Teens Still Pucker Up For Kiss

February 13, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

Remember your first Kiss?

For generations, the question prompted sweet memories of the first blush of romance--a moonlight embrace on the front porch or a quick peck on the cheek in the school cloakroom.

To the millions of Americans who were in junior high school a decade ago, however, the more likely image is their first encounter with another kind of Kiss: the cartoonish shock-rock band that fueled fantasies with garish makeup, rocket-firing guitars and tales of forbidden subjects like sex and . . . more sex.

Most pop observers simply rolled their eyes when Kiss stormed up the charts in the mid-'70s with its shamelessly derivative brand of heavy-metal music and outlandish antics. They predicted the quartet would disappear as fast as you could say Alice Cooper.

At the very least, the success would wane when that young Kiss Army--as the band's fans billed themselves--moved on to high school and found more substantial favorites.

But Kiss had an ace in the hole: There's always a new junior high school class.

Twelve years after its debut LP, Kiss is an American institution of sorts. Like junk food, the group's macho- accented celebration is something you'd prefer kids did without, but it's apparently a rite of passage that youngsters can't resist.

It was easy Tuesday night at the Forum to see how the gimmick-conscious Kiss has survived.

The band demonstrated so much show-biz savvy that the whole affair resembled some veteran road company of "Gypsy." Indeed, founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley worked the crowd like a couple of veteran strippers, twisting their hips and (in Simmons' case) sticking out his tongue with equal suggestiveness.

There's such a campy air surrounding Simmons these days that instead of postponing the show due to illness (as the band did a couple of weeks ago), he should just bring in Lainie Kazan to replace him.

The production was so carefully staged that you expected the whole cast to come out at the end of the evening singing "Let Me Entertain You."

Prominent among the crew was the fireworks consultant--probably the busiest man in the building Tuesday. There were explosions at every turn.

Other key crew members: the two men who quickly swept the darkened stage before the encore to make sure no one in the band would slip on the blizzard of confetti that swept the stage during the closing number. Nothing is left to chance with Kiss.

To their credit, Simmons and Stanley hardly approach what they do as art. They know they've got a good thing going and they work hard to maintain it. Even if prompted by self-preservation, the band leaders try to give the crowd value for its money.

The show is spectacularly lit and--except for the tedious solos--well paced. The songs were more tuneful--though no less hollow--than the heavy-metal norm. Stanley's "Tears Are Falling," from the current "Asylum" album, is even a power ballad with a surprising sensitivity and dramatic flair live.

There even may be an up side in the Kiss rite of passage. Ideally, the kids see through all the crude jokes and macho posturing (the same way they see through all the satanic imagery of other shock-rock acts) and get the real message: Hard work and dedication pay off.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the Kiss Army looks back and realizes that its outrageous cartoon band was really a positive role model?

Tuesday's opening act, W.A.S.P., was disappointing on two levels. Though he has one of rock's best names, lead singer Blackie Lawless proved to be an unimaginative front man for an equally uninventive band. Plus: Lawless' glorifications of getting drunk seemed especially distasteful.

While Kiss panders to a young audience's eagerness for cheap thrills, the feeling you get is of a band that acknowledges at least some responsibility to its fans. W.A.S.P. seems to believe that anything is OK if it increases sales, and so its pandering took on a far more cynical edge.

3 lines of 12p

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