KISS – Freedom to Rock Tour – Cross Insurance Arena, Portland, Maine, September 4th, 2016

I married a hardcore KISS fan, a man who judges all rock concerts by the fun, fire, and spectacle that is a KISS concert. He has been worshipping at the God of Thunder altar since 1977, and has managed to see the band seven times over the years. While seven KISS concerts is far, very far, from record-holder status, he was there for the 1988 Monsters of Rock show at Donington Park, England. If you ask him, he will tell you everything about the band, the shows, the lineup, the set lists, you name it. He will also tell you this: “After you see KISS, every other concert you see will pale in comparison. You’ve been warned.” I have to agree, he is correct. And for the several thousand screaming KISS fans at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine, on September 4th, 2016, it was another great night.

Opening the show was a newer band with a great old rock and roll sound: The Dead Daisies. Since the band’s inception, The Dead Daisies lineup has been a revolving door for talent with several members involved in different projects. The band appeared in Bangor, Maine in 2014 with their original lineup and gave a solid performance, but the new Dead Daisies configuration featuring John Corabi on lead vocals and Doug Aldrich on lead guitar feels more balanced, less frantic, but just as much kick ass. Corabi is a clever blend of rock and roll party host, cool-headed frontman, and hardcore rock vocalist. Now on their second album with Corabi, The Dead Daisies have a keeper here. Marco Mendoza, Thin Lizzy, on bass is animated and energetic and pulsing. On guitar, Doug Alrich, Whitesnake, is fantastic and plays to the crowd. Also on guitar, David Lowy, is energetic and fun. I must say however that beyond Corabi, the star of the show is drummer Brian Tichy, Whitesnake as well, whose style is controlled chaos and power – it is just a blast to watch this guy.

Even through the constant lineup changes, The Dead Daisies have managed to maintain a hard-hitting blend of top-notch lyrics, great classic rock vocals, talent and energy on guitars, and a lot of rock and roll attitude. They started their set with their driving rendition of “Midnight Moses” and included “Mexico,” as well as “Devil Out of Time,” from their second album. Also included in the set were several covers so that attendees unfamiliar with the band’s material could join in and sing along. Wrapping up with a wild, strobe-heavy, magnetic version of “Helter Skelter,” The Dead Daisies left their mark on the crowd before heading off stage. Great show!

Then it was time for KISS.

The stage for a KISS show is shrouded in a massive black kabuki sheet that drops just seconds before the band is ready to take the stage. The crowd was ready, cell phones armed to capture all their favorite songs to enjoy over and over and over again. Right on time, the curtain dropped and the show roared out with “Detroit Rock City.” The crowd went wild as the fire canons let loose and the music thundered through the arena. It was on! Following up with “Deuce,” “Shout It Out Loud,” and “Do You Love Me,” I found myself remembering these tunes as I heard them years ago on vinyl…you know what I’m talking about – the good old days when a strategically placed KISS LP left on the dining room table could send your crazy aunt into orbit? The world has changed, hasn’t it? But not KISS. Never KISS!

Next in the setlist was “I Love It Loud.” Still naughty and full of antics today, Gene Simmons encapsulated the whole point of KISS’ style of rock and roll all those years ago when he sang “Loud, I want to hear it loud, right between the eyes…” One of my favorite KISS songs, and the crowd loved every minute of it. Next was “Flaming Youth,” full of fire and theatrics, or so it seemed until Simmons started the lead into “God of Thunder.” Dark and bloody and full of dramatic bass guitar to add excitement and theatrics, Simmons was lifted over the crowd for the song to everyone’s delight.

Paul Stanley is the ring leader on stage and covers the breadth of the stage again and again as he sings, plays, sits on the edge of the stage for the fans, jumps up, does it again, all the while encouraging the crowd to join in. It is amazing, inspiring actually, to see a performer who started in the 1970s still going strong now in 2016 and appearing to have fun. I heard mention from fans that Stanley’s vocals have suffered over the years, but honestly, I did not notice. From the sixth row he sounded great to me.

Stanley was up next with “Psycho Circus” before guitarist Tommy Thayer took over on vocals for “Shock Me,” doing a great job on the song and gaining the audience’s appreciation.

“Cold Gin”and ‘Lick It Up” had the crowd roaring. A KISS show is full of pyro, laser lights, a stunning stage show designed to bring the performers closer to the fans, blood, fire breathing, and everything else that makes rock and roll fun. While these effects were thick throughout the set, the tail end of the show enjoyed a heavy dose of the over the top. The laser effects focused on Stanley and Thayer were well done. “War Machine,” with its pounding intro and hard edge brought the show back to a screech before “Love Gun” started and Stanley mounted a zip line of sorts and sailed across the crowd to a rotating stage at the rear of the venue to perform. “Black Diamond” was the last song of the main set, a favorite of many fans.

Exiting the stage for only a few minutes, KISS reappeared for the encore. Leading off with Eric Singer leaving his drum kit for the edge of the stage to sing “Beth,” this song was well-received, fans swaying to the rhythm and singing along.

Next was a nice tribute to this nation’s military men and women, led by Stanley. Portland, Maine mayor Ethan Strimling, presented KISS a key to the city amidst this. Veterans joined the band on stage and the crowd joined in for the Pledge of Allegiance. This was followed up with a rock version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then it was time to wrap up with the classic party song, “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Confetti hit the air, streamers, dancing and singing, everybody having fun, and Simmons and Thayer were lifted off the stage and above the crowd. Then suddenly, just like that – the show was over. Another KISS performance in Portland, Maine, #10 I believe, was on the books, and the rest is history.

KISS is a rock and roll spectacle. Loud, crazy, fire, blood, attitude, the crowd going nuts, and lights galore flooding the stage and the crowd. The band members work the crowd getting everyone to sing along, clap their hands, and everyone has fun. If you aren’t having fun at a KISS show you aren’t paying attention. I’m never sure if we’ll get to another KISS show or not so we soak up all the fun when we do. ‘Til next time, boys, we’ll see you when you make it back to Portland again! “Loud, I want to hear it loud, right between the eyes!”

About the author

Ann James Joles

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You’ll know her when you see her – Ann is probably the only person at a live show scribbling down notes and guarding a camera case. With a long time career in higher education behind her, she is more at home at a rock show with screaming fans than in an office.