Review/Photos by John Jeffrey
Darien, NY - KISS brought the legacy of their 40 year recording career and the bragging rights of being "The Hottest Band in the World" to Darien Lake's PAC in front of a packed crowd on Wednesday night. Arguably, the most iconic band from the 1970's, KISS teamed up with the uncrowned kings of 1980's radio rock, Def Leppard. While the combination of the two bands looks great on paper, and the pairing of KISS and Def Leppard on tour together has been rumored for years (roughly going back to 2006, when both bands were inducted together into "VH-1's Rock Honors" that same year), seeing these rock and roll giants back to back was nothing short of amazing, and by far, is the best package tour of the year.
Seeing Def Leppard on many of their previous tours throughout the years, I know that they're in a similar category as KISS, where they are somewhat confined by their catalog of hits. I also know that while most diehard fans of both bands would love it if they just pulled out a set of all obscure 'B-side' material or played a bunch of songs off of their newest releases (which most artists with lengthy careers never seem to do), the majority of concert attendees in the US are the 'general Joe concert goers,' who want to 'hear what they know.' Any time a 'new' or 'unfamiliar' song gets played, that means it's time for a bathroom break and grab another beer. So seeing the set list Def Leppard performed was absolutely no surprise to me whatsoever.
It was almost surreal watching Def Leppard start their set while there was still daylight. They opened the show doing something I've never seen a band do live before, as they started their show and started playing, with no real introduction, while they seamlessly segued from the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" (which was being played over the PA right before they hit the stage) into their own abbreviated version of the song. Officially starting things out with "Let It Go" from their "High 'n' Dry" album (1981), Def Leppard's sound had a great mix - with a strong low end punch - and their highly scrutinized lead singer, Joe Elliot, silenced all of his critics, showing his voice was in fine form, as he is still on top of his game. While not in his 20's anymore, he sounded great on all 14 songs the band played in their set. And in addition to the lead vocals, although the band vehemently denies using any canned backing tracks, the background vocals by guitarists Phil Collen, Vivian Campbell and bassist Rick Savage, were as equally impressive and have that huge sound, just like on the records.
Highlights of Def Leppard's set were definitely during when they switched from electric guitars to acoustic guitars for "Two Steps Behind" and the first half of "Bringin' on the Heartbreak," and also when they incorporated lyrics from KISS' song "Beth" into the end of "Hysteria." And enough cannot be said about the drive and determination of guitarist Vivian Campbell, who in June of 2013, announced that he had developed Hodgkin's lymphoma, a malignant form of cancer that affects the Reed-Sternberg cells, located in the lymph nodes. Vivian has continued performing with Def Leppard ever since the announcement, and has had no shows canceled or rescheduled on his behalf. Unfortunately, the cancer has since reemerged, and he is now receiving chemotherapy once again. Due to the effects of the chemo, Vivian is sporting a bald head onstage, but his illness did not seem to affect his performance in any way. And while the group are no strangers to dealing with adversities (internally within the band), Joe Elliot announced to the crowd how important it is to them to help others dealing with their own afflictions, as both Def Leppard and KISS are donating a dollar per ticket sold to such military charities as the Wounded Warrior Project.
When KISS took the stage to the ritualistic chant of "You Wanted the Best....(You know the rest, LOL)," and the black curtain with silver emblazoned KISS logo dropped, the Darien Lake crowd got the first glance at KISS' most impressive "Spider" stage. While the band's usual entrance would entail KISS' frontline (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley & Tommy Thayer) descending from the Spiders belly (located at the ceiling of stage), there apparently was some sort of issue with the venue's staging that prevented the band from doing their normal entrance. Instead, the band members took their respective places onstage and started cranking out the grinding chords to "Psycho Circus." Although the title track to their late 90's faux reunion album (with original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley) may not be the best opening song, it is a great song nonetheless, and got the crowd going again, in the wake of Def Leppard's departure. Unfortunately, aside from the Spider, there were some additional technical difficulties, as the sound wasn't properly adjusted for KISS when they first started and the main vocals were too low in the mix and the backing vocals were too high, and the drums sounded like their was some mic'ing issues as well. As the band tore into the second song, "Deuce," it became evident that there was also some sound issues onstage as well, as the band got lost in the outro solo section. Paul Stanley, being the constant musical conductor onstage, motioned to Tommy Thayer, making a gesture - pointing to his ear - as if he was telling Thayer to listen, and cue in on Stanley's guitar rhythm, as it was apparently Gene Simmons, who was out of sync with the song. Like the pros they are, drummer Eric Singer got them back on beat, right before the signature "Deuce" sway. While some may criticize a band for making a musical error, I think witnessing something like that makes it a little more special and memorable, because you can really see the professionalism in how the band can recover from a mistake like that, and then pull it all back together and shrug it off like nothing ever happened. However, the "Spinal Tap" moments didn't end there, as when Paul addressed the crowd, he proceeded to tell everyone how it great it was to be playing there on August 31st (it was the 13th). But he just laughed and said he was dyslexic and tonight would "be a night you'll never forget, even if I can't remember it!”
After performing night after night for so many years, I imagine it can be very easy for a KISS show to come off as being mechanical or scripted, but the band's energy Wednesday night was very loose and the way Paul addressed the crowd, it seemed very 'off the cuff.' As he spoke, you could tell his voice sounded a little 'road weary,' but still shined vocally on songs like "Love Gun," "Lick It Up" (during which they normally use the Spider to have Stanley and Thayer ascend during the solo section, but did not due to whatever prevented them from doing the similar theatric for the intro) and "Hide Your Heart." While "Heart Your Heart" seemed unknown to the non-diehard KISS fans, it's a great sing along tune and a nice nod to the much overlooked, late 80's era of the band.
The only disappointment I've heard voiced about the show was that considering that this is their 40th Anniversary tour, that the band is only playing 14 songs within a 75 minute set. Even though the set is somewhat shorter than the usual 90 minute shows they've been doing prior to this tour, it's no 'KISS quickie.' You get the fire, the blood, the bombs and both Gene and Paul's flying routines (at least the venue could accommodate those effects). So while for some fans, it's never enough, one thing is for sure, KISS will always get you coming back for more!!
For a review of The Dead Daisies performance, click here.
Special Thanks to Eric Singer for assisting us to review the show.