The Sacramento area got an early taste of Independence Day on Thursday night at the Sleep Train Amphitheatre near Marysville, where KISS cranked through tunes from its 40-year career and detonated enough pyrotechnic booms to rival the fireworks following a Sacramento River Cats game.
Sparks poured down on the stage, and exploding flash pots rattled eardrums during the final chords of “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Smoke bombs, fire — and a bit of fire-breathing as well from Gene Simmons — are, after all, just as important to the KISS concert experience as Les Paul guitars and bass solos that double as an excuse to spit stage blood.
But this kind of bombastic concert experience, coupled with tunes that are tailor-made for throaty sing-a-longs and en masse fist-pumping, have made KISS one of rock ’n’ roll’s most successful bands. This year finds the group celebrating the 40th anniversary of its self-titled debut, plus an April induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Band co-founder Paul Stanley, 62, has described its current tour as a victory lap after four decades in rock ’n’ roll. But its set on Thursday night was closer to a 100-yard dash.
KISS whipped through 14 songs, plus that blood gurgling bass solo from Simmons, in 75 minutes. That was nearly identical to the set length of co-headliner Def Leppard, and about eight songs shorter than a typical show on KISS’ “Alive 35” tour in 2009.
This 40-year anniversary would’ve been a perfect time to mine the deeper cuts and less-played tunes from the band’s catalog, which numbers more than two dozen albums. While Thursday’s set included the rarely played “Hide Your Heart,” the bulk of the repertoire consisted of KISS standards (“Love Gun,” “Black Diamond,” “Deuce”).
That’s not to say KISS was phoning it in from the stage. Foot-stomper songs like “Cold Gin” and “Shout It Out Loud” were played with plenty of punch, and still registered as fun for anyone who likes their rock ‘n’ roll with a taste of stage make-up and moon boots. Original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss might be long gone from the band, but guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer do an admirable job of keeping the vigor in KISS’ music and face-painted personas.
So, KISS deferred the chance for more extensive set time to have Def Leppard on the bill, which attracted more than 12,000 concertgoers on Thursday. Def Leppard was one of the biggest rock bands of the 1980s, via the multi-platinum albums “Pyromania” and “Hysteria,” and coupled with KISS made for a double whammy of arena rock.
You could practically smell the Aqua Net in the air as the big-haired days of 1980s’ rock flashed back during such tracks as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Armageddon It.” These Def Leppard tunes and their mix of ear-friendly melodies with overdriven guitars still worked their magic with the crowd.
Unlike its elaborate in-the-round stage from the “Hysteria” days, Def Leppard was sans catwalks and pyrotechnics on Thursday, and had to stick to the front of the stage to allow room for Singer’s drum kit and other elements of KISS’ set design.
That’s to say, it was KISS’ night — and its stage. And by the end of the night, that stage had endured smoke, fire, fireworks and Stanley smashing his guitar during the finale of “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Fourth of July weekend had certainly kicked off with a bang.