KISS has been a proven rock and roll institution now for over four decades. They've conquered not only the album sales charts and live music venues of the world, but the band has been begrudgingly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well. KISS definitely earned the right to call their own shots.
That's exactly what the powerhouse four-piece super-group has been doing lately. KISS can easily pack out five-digit capacity venues, and they still do all over the globe. However, lately they've been visiting cities they've never been to or haven't graced with their presence in years on the Freedom to Rock tour. One of those stops was for a sold out audience of 3,500 lucky fans in Thackerville, OK at the Winstar World Casino and Resort's Global Event Center.
The show at Winstar World Casino and Resort's Global Event Center was a more intimate experience than what I've had before at a KISS concert. Although the word "intimate" might sound ridiculous to some, seeing the Hottest Band in the World in a room that only holds 3,500 is much different than seeing them in an outdoor amphitheater or arena that holds 15,000 to 20,000 people. Unlike mezzanine seats or the back wall of the lawn thousands upon thousands of yards from the stage, there really wasn't a bad seat in the house.
Since the Freedom to Rock tour was at a smaller venue, the massive KISS stage set-up they usually have was scaled down just a tiny bit. As far as spectacle is concerned, it didn't affect the quality of the experience. The band had less room to perform in, but they made the most out of every square inch. The fire and explosions weren't as big as they usually are for a full-scale KISS show, but they were as big as was legally allowed inside the Winstar World Casino and Resort's Global Event Center.
One thing that wasn't affected by the size of the venue was the performances of every member of KISS. Decked out in the costumes the band wore for their "Creatures of the Night" tour in the early 1980s, each one brought their A-game to the set. Numbers included a greatest hits playlist of essential songs from 1973's self-titled album all the way up to 1998's "Psycho Circus." They even pulled out a couple numbers I haven't seen them perform in many years. They played "Flaming Youth" from 1976's "Destroyer" and "Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll" from 1974's "Hotter Than Hell."
Starchild Paul Stanley strutted across the stage and delivered the operatic vocals and wailing we've all come to expect from the charismatic vocalist of KISS. Although he shares lead vocal duties with Demon Gene Simmons, Stanley does most of the talking between songs and manages to work the audience into a frenzy. He was unable to do his usual flying number to the center of the audience, but didn't let that stop him from demanding the undivided attention of all 3,500 fans gathered in the Global Event Center.
Demon Gene Simmons found a way to balance the fearsome and intimidating stomping around and tongue flicking with a fun sense of humor that includes making faces at the crowd, spitting water on them, and just goofing around in general. He performed his famous fire-breathing and blood-spitting in a cloud of green fog, but didn't float up into the rafters like he usually does. Instead, he just rolled into "War Machine" from 1982's "Creatures of the Night." It was interesting to see him change things up a bit by not singing "God of Thunder," although it is one of my favorites.
Spaceman Tommy Thayer exhibited the lead guitar talent we've come to expect from him in the past fifteen years. He perfectly blends Ace Frehley's signature lines with his own energetic handiwork. Thayer shot rockets from his guitar head, as he's known to do, after taking over lead vocal duties on original guitarist / singer Frehley's "Shock Me" from 1977's "Love Gun." Although I understand that there's only so many songs you can fit into a set list from an iconic group like KISS, I do wish Tommy could perform one of his own cosmic tunes off of either 2009's "Sonic Boom" or 2012's "Monster." "When Lightning Strikes" or "Outta This World" are both great songs that completely embody the spirit of the Spaceman, yet give Thayer a chance to continue to make the persona his own.
Catman Eric Singer pounded away on the drums as they levitated up and down during the 90-minute set. He lent his soulful voice to "Black Diamond," which original drummer Peter Criss sang on the band's self-titled album. Once again, I understand most KISS concert-goers want to hear the hits, but I would love to see Singer perform one of the newer songs he sings off of "Sonic Boom" or "Monster."
At one point, Paul Stanley asked the crowd to raise their hands if the show at the Winstar World Casino and Resort's Global Event Center was their first time to see the band. I was surprised when many of them raised their hands or vocally responded. I would say over half the audience replied yes to Stanley's question. Paul looked out at the crowd and addressed the newest KISS Army members.
"Tonight is going to be a night you'll never forget. Nobody forgets their first KISS!"
You can see more pictures from KISS's show at the Winstar World Casino and Resort's Global Event Center right here.