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Review: KISS and Def Leppard at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Posted 1:19pm on Monday, Jul. 14, 2014

The smell of sulfur from a few dozen explosions that had fired off during the last tune still wafted between the stage and the outdoor canopy at Dallas’ Gexa Energy Pavilion.

KISS frontman Paul Stanley paused to take in the outdoor scene and, as his is custom, affably engage the audience.

“What do you say we play a lot of good rock and roll and blow (expletive) up?” Stanley, the rhythm guitarist and lead singer with sweat already pouring down the star-shaped makeup on his face, asked the crowd.

What more could a KISS fan ask for?

On a sticky evening, just hours after Dallas-Fort Worth reached 100 degrees for the first time of the summer, the iconic hard rock band from New York drew a full house Sunday at the outdoor venue adjacent to Fair Park. It was the latest stop in its 40-year anniversary tour, with Def Leppard providing the opening act.

With an idle Texas Star ferris wheel in the background, and many adoring fans now in their late 40s sporting KISS makeup of their own as they watched from the lawn, KISS systematically played through a collection of staples in their discography put together over the last 40 years. Many of those fans brought their children — and one man told his possibly embarrassed teen-age son and several bystanders, “We’re going to show you some real rock and roll tonight.”

Nine of the 14 hits performed during the 85-minute set — KISS had to end promptly at 11 p.m. because of a noise curfew in steamy south Dallas — were from the band’s vintage years, pre-1978.

After years of dabbling in style changes — a disco album, a concept album and more than a dozen years of makeup-less, Val Halen copycat-ism — KISS has more or less settled on its look and accompanying sound. The band now sticks to what the fans want — a generous helping of 1970s hard rock, with a smattering of the group’s newer stuff and lots of fireworks on stage. No songs from the band’s two most recent albums, Sonic Boom in 2009 and Monster in 2012, were featured in this show.

The opening tune was one of the newer songs, 1998’s Psycho Circus, which offered a terrific soundtrack for the band to show off its elaborate video boards and lighting setup. The light rafters in particular were impressive, hanging over the stage like an enormous, gyrating spider.

After that initial number, Stanley mentioned the band's induction earlier this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, after 14 years of eligibility.

“The Hall of Fame hated us, but you said put me in and they had to listen,” Stanley yelled to the approving crowd.

The group then launched into a string of its 1970s hits, including Deuce and Shout It Out Loud.

For those who have seen KISS before, elements of the show have become predictable. No matter the tour or the setting, at some point bassist and reality TV star Gene Simmons will spit blood and (with the help of circus cables) fly to the top of the stage and embark upon a God of Thunder solo.

Later, Stanley will hop onto a swing and fly over the crowd to a remote, rotating stage, and sing Love Gun. It’s KISS’ way of providing a hat tip to the fans in the cheap seats.

But a show without those old antics wouldn’t be complete. Would the Rolling Stones dare play a live show without Satisfaction on the set list? Could U2 engage in a performance that didn’t include Where the Streets Have No Name?

Noticeably missing from this KISS show were the typical moments-in-the-spotlight for drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, who replaced original band members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley many years ago. In past tours, each has been introduced to the crowd by Stanley and offered a moment to shine.

In previous shows, for example, Singer sang Criss’ hit ballad Beth, while Thayer took the lead in Frehley’s old standby, Shock Me.

But for this set list, both members stuck to their reliable roles in support of Stanley and Simmons. Thayer did perform several dazzling guitar solos, including the haunting string stretches of Black Diamond toward the end of the evening. For that same song, Singer took charge of the lead vocals and performed well without missing a beat on his Pearl drum kit.

Def Leppard — which seemingly has sold more records and enjoyed more radio and MTV play than just about anyone in hard rock history — was surprisingly comfortable in its role as opening act for KISS. The band stuck purely to its best-known hits, including Let It Go, Rocket, Pour Some Sugar on Me and Photograph in a roughly one-hour, no-frills set.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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