REVIEW: KISS and David Lee Roth say goodbye to Oakland (maybe)

KISS, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer

KISS performs at the Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 6, 2020. Gary Chancer/STAFF.

OAKLAND — The Centers for Disease Control was likely not happy with KISS if one of its inspectors happened by Friday night’s show at Oakland Arena.

At one point, bassist and professional gross demon-man Gene Simmons creeped over to guitarist Tommy Thayer and, just when the video screens lit the two up, unrolled his four-foot-long tongue (that’s an estimate) and licked Thayer’s face. Twice. Maybe more. Most people (me) cringed and stopped looking before they could determine whether the health department intervened.

Geez, Gene … c’mon. Coronavirus much?

A few minutes later, after finishing the time-honored tradition of gurgling fake (maybe) blood down his front while launching “God of Thunder,” the stately, serene and wise 70-year-old made a big show of wiping his bubbling red face on an unfortunate rag, making snake noises, then launching said rag into the crowd.

Right in front of 20,000 or so impressionable 60-year-olds who were egging him on. Isn’t that illegal this year?

KISS, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer

KISS performs at the Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 6, 2020.

Somebody, somewhere, maybe thought KISS might go down without behaving like that kid we all knew in school. It’s officially called the End of the Road World Tour, only because they couldn’t call it the Farewell Tour. They did that one 20 years ago.

Only they swear they mean it this time … and they should. For years they’ve been chucking blood, fire and ego-bombs in mother nature’s face.

But, if Friday was it for the Bay Area, they indeed managed to go out on a high note.

So did opener David Lee Roth, in the venue he and Van Halen steamrolled 39 years ago in the famous Oakland shows that still get run on YouTube. But more on Roth and the miracle cure for his voice later. Let’s just say the tagline following DLR has gone from “Hide your daughters” in the ‘80s to “That Uncle Dave sure is a charmer, but don’t let him near the eggnog again.”

Friday was the KISS show. The don’t move like they used to–as lugging around hundreds of pounds of chain mail gets weighty after four decades. The effects were superb, scoring big in all three competitive arena rock categories: Fire! Explosions! Lasers! The playing was solid, for the most part, though there were a couple hiccups only oath-swearing KISS Army loyalists would notice.

KISS, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer

KISS performs at the Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 6, 2020.

Technology has finally enlarged opener “Detroit Rock City” into the expectations of every 11-year-old boy who spent hours staring at the inside fold of Alive II. They then went right into “Shout it Out Loud” (explosions!) and an epic “Deuce”—more explosions!

KISS had more than two hours to kill, and the aging fanbase probably needed a restroom break, so the band played “Say Yeah” from Sonic Boom. It was likely the only song of the night that actually featured Thayer and drummer Eric Singer on the studio recording (you’re not allowed to say “Ace” or “Peter” on this tour, or Gene Simmons will spit into a rag and throw it at you).

Then they plunged into the ‘80s with “I Love it Loud,” “Heaven’s on Fire” and “Tears are Falling,” during which frontman Paul Stanley did his thing and Simmons barely moved (just like the ‘80s!). Simmons shook everyone awake with “War Machine,” featuring a ridiculous amount of fire shooting everywhere to the backdrop of huge videos of dragons and red-eyed minions marching off into battle. That’s how a guy who turns 71 in August—and may be tired—laughingly crushes an audience into the palm of his hand.

That’s not to say 68-year-old Stanley isn’t a physical marvel. He looked good, he was enthusiastic, he said the word “awesome” at least 261 times–and he sounded fine, despite vocal problems the past few years.

After they made “Lick it Up” mildly interesting by steering it into the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Simmons reasserted himself with “Calling Dr. Love,” after Stanley said something about needing a doctor, what with all that coronastuff going around.

Yes, I am sure he understood how ironic it was for Simmons and didn’t care because, ha ha, he’s taking your money.

Thayer got a solo–which (shhh) was Ace Frehley’s solo for years, featuring a guitar that shoots rockets (which is really the best kind of guitar). After, for some reason, playing “Psycho Circus,” KISS pressed on with “Parasite” and “Love Gun,” featuring Stanley extending out into the audience on a trapeze-thingie to a mini-stage by the soundboard, taking lasers with him. Since Stanley already had his feet moving, then came “I Was Made for Loving You,” followed by a big version of “Black Diamond.”

David Lee Roth

David Lee Roth performs at the Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 6, 2020.

Singer came out to play some piano and sing “Beth” during the encore, after which the band did something unexpected and kind of cool. Saying nothing, the four walked to either side of the stage, stood silently, and greeted fans. Like they were saying goodbye. It was nice, but then normal took back over and started blowing stuff up some more during “Do You Love Me” and “Rock and Roll All Night.” It was a fitting end that wasn’t too drawn out because … you never know.

David Lee Roth ran through a tidy 40-minute set, with a band playing all those Van Halen classics, like “You Really Got Me,” “Beautiful Girls,” Unchained,” “Panama,” and more. The 65-year-old looked great and—wait for it—sang pretty well. He still didn’t bother with all the lyrics and to say his cadence was “relaxed” would be kind. But his voice did sound good, especially on solo songs like “Tobacco Road” and “Just a Gigolo,” on which he was simply charming. Roth looked happy to be in an arena at this point and, come to think of it, so did KISS. It would’ve been a fine night to call it a career for both. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll happen.

We’ll see.

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