The Greatest Show on Earth: KISS, Buckcherry @ Oakland Coliseum, 11/22/09

KISS may have very well been my first concert shirt. I have a vague memory of being a little kid, back before my family’s business became successful and I wore hand me down shirts from my uncle (my mom’s little brother and I are closer in age than they are). I can remember wearing this shirt in early elementary school, thinking KISS meant the thing my mom did before I hopped out of the car to go to school, and not a band of guys wearing platform shoes.

Unfortunately- or maybe fortunately considering the timing in the band’s career- I never got into KISS. By the time I got into music, their songs sounded dated, their merchandising strategy was a huge turn off, and they were a bunch of old dudes wearing platform shoes. But I have always wanted to see the show.

Fast forward to 2009, and KISS is coming to town. Since this is my crazy year of now-or-never shows, I wanted to go. I tried my luck with a press request, and was rudely rejected. I can take rejection- you just don’t have to be so rude about it! However, the show wasn’t selling well, and an email went out GIVING AWAY TICKETS. Decent tickets, too! So I snatched one up for $6 in fees, and prepared myself for an interesting adventure.

After getting over the sticker shock from paying $30 for parking (!), I started the long walk into the venue. I passed people tailgaiting- grills and beers galore. As I got closer to the coliseum, I started to see the costumes. Facepaint was the most common nod to the band, but there were full on KISS costumes- ranging from tin foil and spandex home creations to what I can only assume were licensed costumes from the band. Oh- and there were a lot of protesters….JESUS SAVES! Honestly I thought that protesting this show was a pretty weak claim on their part.

I get to the venue and find my seat, at the top of the first level. Not bad for free! So I decide to go in search of a drink. It was already this early in the evening that I pledged to never go to an arena show by myself again. Everyone seemed to be there in huge groups of people, either all substantially older than me or families. So I got ‘the stare’ a lot, and questions. It got so uncomfortable by the end of the evening that I almost split early….can’t a girl go to a show by herself?

I go hide in my seat (after walking past a pack of Santas, where one extends his arm for a fist bump from me) and start people watching. Beyond the costumes, there’s an astounding amount of sparkly clothes. There are even two people who wear glitter helmets the entire show. It was like being at a Star Trek convention without ever having seen an episode of the show (which is true- I have not)…I felt VERY out of place but it was all highly entertaining.

I had heard of Buckcherry before but I knew nothing about them. When I was getting a drink, the bartender asked me if I knew them, and I said no, and the ladies next to me said that they had looked them up on youtube (which I found VERY interesting) and thought they were “scary”. I found this to be a promising piece of information.

When the band came out, I was struck by the amount of tattoos they have. Then, I listened to the music, and found the first few songs to be surprisingly unobjectionable for mainstream rock. The singer was intriguing- I can spot an ex-junkie from a mile away (or in this case, however far away the back of the venue is). They seemed to fare pretty well on that gigantic stage. However, the end of the set- and what I can assume are their most popular songs- took a turn for the worst. I think there was something said about NASCAR and then lyrics which contained ‘Stroke Me’ which was paired with the appropriate gestures…cock rock at it’s finest.

It wasn’t long before the lights dimmed and everyone jumped to their feet. The video monitors showed the Earth (which, ironically, or maybe not, is how the Dethklok video sequences start their show) and it slowly zooms in to show the arena via Google Earth. Then the screens show the band walking out onto the stage. And there they are, in their silver and black costumed, face painted, platform shoe-ed, and wigged glory.

Not since seeing Daft Punk had I been to a show where I didn’t feel a strong desire to want to be any closer. It’s really cool that they take every person in the expansive venue in mind when creating the spectacle. And it is quite a spectacle.

There are lights and fire and screens that not only project what is going on up there, but they are edited with slick transitions and effects to the point that I wonder if they are prerecorded. But they’re not- the whole thing is just a well oiled machine. Actually, it’s a circus. It’s carefully choreographed with danger moments that elicit ‘ooh’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ and ‘oh my God he might fall!’ reactions from the crowd.

And then there’s Gene Simmons’ tongue. I’d seen it before on TV (I watched a bit of his reality show….pretty disgusting), but nothing beats it in real life, on a jumbotron. I mean really, it’s the fifth member of the band. I hope when he croaks, they preserve it and stick it in a museum.

Oh right- they were playing music! I kind of forgot at times. They sounded good- I’m just not terribly familiar with the music, but the crowd seemed pleased. And to play with that kind of energy in such a constrained atmosphere must take skill. I mean, I’ll never complain about uncomfortable shoes again watching them jump around in those platforms well into their golden years. One time a guitar shot off fireworks!

The highlights of the show were definitely watching Gene get lifted up to the top of the lighting rig and playing from up there, and then Paul getting lifted out to a platform I had been eyeing near the back of the main floor. Apparently these must be staple moves for them- because the people around me were not nearly as impressed.

The endless rain of confetti during ‘Rock and Roll All Nite” was pretty impressive- though I do always think about the poor people who have to clean all that up. I think the best part of the set- the part that felt most like a genuine concert to me- was the beginning of the encore, where they played some of their oldest material.

But KISS is about the spectacle, and they definitely didn’t disappoint in that regard. I can now cross that one off my list. But I do have to say that as I left the show, all I could think about was the GWAR show on Tuesday. That is MY kind of spectacle.

Read about my friend Umlaut’s VIP experience here.

And check out my friend Photo Ray’s AMAZING pictures here. Wow!

More awesome pictures from Alan here.

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