Sometime during sound check, a towering black curtain with the massive KISS insignia dropped before the stage in epic fashion. The audience roared. It was immediately apparent this would be no humble night.
“The suspense,” whispered one audience member, who wore Paul Stanley’s Starchild makeup with a black star covering her eye, “it’s killing me.”
Then a disembodied voice (borrowed from the “Shout it Out Loud” music video) shouted to the arena: “You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band in the world: KISS!”
When the curtain finally dropped, three men – Stanley, Gene Simmons and Portland native Tommy Thayer – stood atop a platform elevated above the stage and played “Detroit Rock City.” Behind them, Eric Singer was installed in the middle of an elaborate drum set.
Seeing Kiss live feels larger than life, and it’s not just the platform boots. The fireworks that detonated and punctuated each song’s end, the explosions that soared on either side of Singer’s drum riser and sent a blast wave of heat through the arena, Simmons sporadically ejecting his hooked tongue toward the crowd (not to mention his fire breathing, his performing cunnilingus on his guitar, his tongue whipping in close vicinity of Thayer’s neck, or his gargling up fake blood while gazing into the crowd during a droning bass solo) – everything was fittingly extreme.
Stanley honed Peter Pan as he zip-lined to a rotating saucer stage on the opposite end of MKA and Simmons levitated to perform “I Love It Loud” up in the rafters. Kiss’ live act is like Cirque du Soleil, just with more blood, fireballs and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s precisely what you want.
Musically, the band still sounds incredible and the set came with numerous things to love: Thayer’s inky, sludgy guitar in “Calling Dr. Love” and “Strutter,” Singer’s drum fills in “Cold Gin,” and Singer taking the reins on vocals during the lighter-sparking ballad “Beth.”
Paul Stanley capped the Freedom to Rock set encore by inviting members of the Oregon National Guard out to stage; the band, he said, raised $150,000 for the “Hiring Our Heroes” campaign, an initiative to help veterans find work.
Stanley praised the military, decried the unfair treatment of veterans returning home, and then – in true, patriotic Kiss fashion – asked the entire arena to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with him before the band played an explosive version of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Stanley himself is endlessly entertaining to watch. He strutted around the stage, casually addressed the audience, exploding a word or two per sentence. His showmanship was best exhibited as he often struck a power stance to play guitar between his legs or tossed dozens of picks (conveniently duct-taped to the bottom of each guitar) into the audience.
“We’ve been to Portland and we’ve been to Medford,” Stanley told the Matt Knight crowd. But, he offered, they’re in Eugene tonight because “it’s not about the size, it’s about the quality” and declared that Saturday, July 9 would be a night that we would all remember forever. He’s not wrong.