You drive us wild
We'll drive you crazy
I wanna rock n roll all night
And party every day
Las Vegas loves spectacle. Kiss is spectacle. They are a match made in heaven. (Or, as I'm sure they would prefer: HELL!)
In November 2014, rock band Kiss took up a residency (nine performances - Britney oddly appears to have more stamina) at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas and, fortunately, they documented it. The resulting film, Kiss Rocks Vegas, is getting a deluxe limited release on the big screen for one night only: Wednesday May 25. As with all things Kiss, all things Vegas, it is an event.
From the stage main front man Paul Stanley dispenses wisecracks about their age and says they are about to play some "good old '50s rock n roll." He also references their induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame enough times that it becomes embarrassing. Whether one is a Kiss fan or not, they do deserve respect for surviving so long through so many cultural shifts (they began as glam punk, moved into hair metal, dabbled in disco, released Gothic concept albums, became literal cartoon characters, etc, etc) and for producing so many songs that are quite simply, as Gene Simmons puts it, "More than songs, they are pages in the diary of your life."
The songs stand the test of time - they are insidiously hooky. Kicking off with "Detroit Rock City" and then slamming into hit after hit, Kiss has the audience, in Vegas on film and in the theatre, singing along. The media screening I attended, at 9:30 am, consisted of under a dozen jaded critics of a certain age and there was not a toe that didn't tap, a song that wasn't sung along sotto voce, or fist pumps that weren't forcibly restrained. With a full audience there should be bedlam.
Stanley confesses, "I'm not a ham. I'm the whole pig." And Stanley is. His outfit and huge pouting lipsticked lips would induce envy in a drag queen. He alternates between rock star posturing and a strut that appears cribbed from Bette Midler's mince. He brags about his "seven inch . . . heels" seemingly unaware that only a straight crowd would find that a dazzling figure. The man has been a sex symbol so long that he can do no wrong. He sings like a dream, revs up the crowd and, if the combination of HD and his midriff-baring outfit do him no favours, there is something vitally arousing about his hairy chest, eye winks and impressive spandexed package.
There is a neediness underlying Stanley's cocky persona. The song "Do You Love Me" seems to have the most personal resonance for him. He continually demands to know if the audience is having a good time and, courtesy of the cutaways, it is a question. While the audience roars and cheers, it is also peppered with cell phones (and people glued to them), those determined to be on camera themselves, and, for inexplicable reasons as this footage has been in an editing room for over a year-and-a-half, every second crowd shot features a bored or spaced out person in the very center of the frame. However it does, in a lingering shot, show a gay male couple embracing amidst the hetero-inferno, caught up in the pounding rhythms and each other.
One audience member who is scarily involved is a child in full Gene Simmons make-up, outfit and man bun ponytail. The kid, held by either its father or its probation officer, screams, makes devil horns and burns holes in the screen with the intensity of its eyes. The child is far more frightening than Simmons's bat creature. The make-up gives him an unfortunate resemblance to Grampa Munster which is not contradicted by what is either very copious sweat or strands of drool. His famous tongue is always in action and, though we know it is an historical artifact of great cultural import having been familiar with both Cher and Diana Ross, it has become shtick. And the costume designer needs a serious note: while the from below shots showcasing Simmons's studded codpiece are amusing, this is Vegas and Siegfried's, and Roy's, were several sizes, many sizes, larger.
But none of it matters when Kiss launches into the one-two encore punch of "Shout It Out Loud" and "Rock and Roll All Nite." It is exhilarating. It is camp, it is comedy, it is powerful, it is irresistible. I left the theatre strutting, singing and once home played the first three Kiss albums in succession. And at top volume. Kiss may be 45 years into their career but their age, which they don't hide as it makes them more heroic, makes them timeless. I hope they rock n roll all night for decades more.