Lick It Up: KISS Gets Wicked at Whiskey a Go Go Show

Let Me Go, Rock
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for SiriusXM
– Let Me Go, Rock
KISS performs at Whisky A Go Go on Feb. 11, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.

The marquis of the storied Whiskey a Go Go read “Sold Out: Wicked Lester.” The anticipation rippling through the packed Sunset Strip club Monday night was palpable as Tom Morello took the stage, raving, “You wanted the best! And you got the best! The hottest band in the land – KISS!”

In that moment, the activist/rocker was his best 12-year-old self, bringing hard rock’s original carnies to the stage. For the rest of the return-to-adolescence winners, VIPS and local rock scenesters, it was a moment to return to the epicenter of their own rock ‘n’ roll awakening.
A good thing, as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley didn’t come to pull light. Though the 500-capacity West Hollywood club is significantly smaller than the arenas on their End of the Road Tour, the band strutted, pumped and preened with fierce bravado. Yes, fierce.
In a world of posturing, this opportunity to drop an intimate show for SiriusXM’s KISS Army Radio (Ch. 30) was a take-no-prisoners, dozen-song romp through their catalog. After Morello invoked the 1975 KISS Alive introduction, the band blazed onto the stage with go-for-broke “Strutter,” the same song that opened the double album that gave the kabuki-painted rockers ubiquity.
After 45 years of record making, the founders have stood the test of time and testosterone. Once an obsession for hormonal teenage boys, they’ve – by virtue of solid songs, industrial strength rock and precision playing – become as much a part of the rock ‘n’ roll architectural pantheon as The Stones, AC/DC and the Doors.
It’s a simple reality: testosteronic, amped up, unwavering and unrelenting, there’s just a waft of a wink to their macho bluster. In a world of political correctness, they deliver a camp vamp on do-me-baby sexuality that somehow never manages to threaten.
Whether it’s Simmons’ gargling with venom gravel while tearing into the metaphorically heavy handed “Love Gun” or Stanley flirtatiously careening through “Lick It Up,” they make the invitation to cheap sex on the back of the bus seem like good clean fun. As Stanley, covered in black rhinestone spandex and a similarly black rhinestone encrusted vest, reminded the dude heavy audience, “When we were coming up, you didn’t go on a TV talent show, you went to the streets and played for the people.”

Of course, it helps that the 67-year old Star-faced guitarist and 70-in-August Monster/Lord of the Underworld bass player have maintained their vocal chops and shameless showmanship. Stanley snake-swivels the guitar, air humping the night, while Simmons flickers his infamous tongue menacingly and stomps those six inch platforms while maintaining a robustly melodic rhythm pocket.

Bolstered by note-scalding guitarist Tommy Thayer as the Space Oddity and hard-hitting drummer Eric Singer as the Cat, the concept has held up. And the songs – long on express train velocity and simple song structures – maintain their vigor via the “newer” members’ relentlessness.
Channeling Chuck Berry for the Hotter Than Hell track “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll” and folding in a bit of pep club rev for Destroyer’s “Do You Love Me,” the band that started in Queens revealed an offbeat pop infectious that rivals those other NYC outliers The Ramones. Both bands served as working class outsider groups who played for the people; serving up outsized hooks, they galvanized communities around each’s singular aesthetics.
As the set wound down, “Black Diamond” recalled the extended AOR explorations of the ’70s –tempo and key changes, modulations, extended soloing. But even those things that timestamp a moment had a vitality that makes them somehow more than nostalgia. When the cymbal and high hat circling culmination finally tumbled to a halt, the audience surged. Not quite catharsis, but certainly spent. 
Seventy minutes into a chilly California evening, Stanley laughed that they were too big to leave the stage, but that the set was over. Well, not over, but the notion of leaving the Whiskey’s teeny stage and returning was abandoned. Instead, a beat past, and a guitar figure swirled up. Lights spun and confetti cannons went into overdrive, showering the sweaty room with red and white paper. It wouldn’t be KISS without a bravura finish – and while they left “Rock And Roll All Nite” on the bus, the foursome exploded into a propulsive “Detroit Rock City” that left a room that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, LL Cool J, Rob Zombie and Rodney Bingenheimer shrieking at the top of their lungs.