The KISS Army shows no signs of surrender in 2009. Nearly four decades after the pop-metal quartet first emerged amid fireballs and kabuki makeup, the fans still come. And they bring fresh recruits in the form of teens and toddlers, many in the same black-and-white face paint.
In the lobby of the Honda Center in Anaheim on Tuesday, veteran fans watched the parade as they awaited KISS' explosive arrival onstage.
"This is huge! KISS is my whole life," declared Robert Edmondson, 43, of Monrovia. His smiling face was painted in the style of "The Demon," worn by singer-bassist Gene Simmons. He had a long, black wig over his hairless scalp. "My mom took me to a concert in '77 and I flipped. I wanted to be Gene Simmons. Look at me," he added, rolling out a long tongue. "We have something in common."
As a big-time rock act, KISS is in a category all its own, the ultimate critic-proof band, and its appearance Tuesday night was less a concert than a circus of music, pyro and costumes, proudly focused more on spectacle than songs. This is what KISS does, and the KISS Army loves them for it.
Riffs, not rants
"You know we got trouble in the world," singer-guitarist Paul Stanley noted late in the two-hour performance. "If you came here thinking a rock 'n' roll band could tell you how to end global warming . . . you're in the wrong place tonight!"
The best of the old songs were still catchy and delivered a nice cheap thrill as Simmons shouted "Rock and Roll All Nite" to an exploding cloud of white confetti. "Black Diamond" erupted with dependably crashing hard-rock riffs.
At or near 60, bandleaders Simmons and Stanley remain a lively presence on stage, kicking up their platform shoes and maintaining the same commitment to grand gestures, stunts and fire-breathing. The makeup shields the band from the obvious passage of time, preserving its image just as it was in the glittery 1970s.
Two of the original members -- drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley -- are gone, but longtime replacements Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer filled those slots, respectively, with enthusiasm and ease.
With the notable exception of the band's 1983 hit "Lick It Up," most of the night was devoted to KISS' '70s heyday.
The new 'classic'
But the quartet also performed songs from "Sonic Boom," its first studio album in 11 years, which was released exclusively through Wal-Mart.
The album, produced by Stanley, was aimed at reconnecting with the thundering rock hooks of the band's most popular era, and fans were not unhappy. New songs included "Say Yeah," a catchy, anthemic tune that had the crowd singing along, as the many video screens on stage filled with the faces of fans wearing KISS makeup. Thayer unleashed a heavy riff on "Modern Day Delilah" as huge flames of orange, yellow, red and green exploded behind him.
Stanley had at least one new message for the KISS Army on duty: Buy that new album. "Get your butt down to Wal-Mart and pick up a copy," Stanley urged. "It's good. It's classic."
All lit up again
Support act Buckcherry took a more traditional route on stage, with a sound and flavor that was right off of the Sunset Strip circa 1990. There were no special effects from the Los Angeles quintet, just sleazy rock 'n' roll in the form of hard songs and emotional ballads (2006's "Sorry").
The surly presence of singer Josh Todd has its own charms and keeps Buckcherry forever in the running to fill the gap left by Guns 'N Roses.