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Kiss and Def Leppard rock all night at The Forum

Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley
Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley
Alex Kluft

Kiss concert

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“40 years and going strong,” was the anthem of the evening as displayed on tour t-shirts and being shouted out by fans throughout the LA Forum. Amazing, as it seems, it’s really been four decades of solid and consistent music, stage performances and media theatrics with worldwide tour performances like the one tonight and for KISS, it doesn’t look like the brakes are on!

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and Tommy Thayer
Alex Kluft

The lines of KISS-Krazed fans formed around the entrances to the show early. As expected, a long list of pro-photographers, journalists and radio personnel were in attendance; because after all, this is KISS at the Forum! Regardless of the ongoing trilogy of a band that has performed here decade after decade throughout their career, tonight was about a whole lot more. This tour touched on a topic that has been smeared across the social media world for weeks … Def Leppard was to open for KISS

While patrons lined the outer rim of the arena walkways where porta-potties and ashtrays were well in use, gallon sized beer cups were emptied and parents that have lived the Kiss-Life for as long as they can remember carried their own younglings to their seats, the venue began to fill for the night’s opening act. With razor-sharp vocals, crisp guitar tones and solos that can blow back your hair, the Canadian metal act Kobra and the Lotus took the stage.

Fronted by female powerhouse vocalist and songwriter Kobra Paige, the band might be new to American fans, but they aren’t new to the world of rock and metal. Since their beginnings in 2009, the band has shared the stage with legends including Judas Priest and Black Label Society as well as being featured in National Festivals including the Download Festival, Wacken Open Air and Rock am Ring. Where overseas heavy metal still rules, magazines, online writers and fans throughout the free world have favored the band for all the right reasons. They have their shit together!

In the thirty minutes that the band Gene Simmons hand selected for his label played, they powered through half a dozen tracks and received the full effect of stadium lighting and complete audio prowess. It was loud! Not the kind of loud that makes you turn away however, the band struck out in the same fashion you would expect from artists like Sonata Arctica, Dream Theater or even Iron Maiden. With fists pumping and dual guitars cutting through the darkness, it is clear as to why Simmons found interest in this act, even during their rock and roll infancy. There was nothing short of a professional and well-polished performance on stage. Though the arena had only filled to half capacity, granted it was early in the evening and not everyone had found their parking spots yet, the most of the concertgoers in attendance came inside to witness the band play.

After the first set change the crowd really filled in. The house speakers played a string of rock related tracks and a tease for the audience came when the sound faded down, but was brought back up to the sound of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. It was a spot on rendition, but halfway through the curtain dropped in the front of the stage and it was revealed that Def Leppard was actually playing the song. Fans were on their feet and iPhones were raised to capture the magic. The band is in the process of recording their tenth studio album, has sold over 100 million albums worldwide and ranks as one of only five bands to achieve album sales over ten million count on two separate releases in the US, and tonight they were reappearing at the newly renovated Forum with immediate stellar response! They moved in to a fan favorite, playing the song Let It Go.

The set list as posted online was a rundown of their greatest hits, more or less, and only deviated from the proposed set by dropping the track Rocket from the play list. Let It Go was finished with a blazing 30 second solo by Phil Collen, leading in to Animal and Foolin’. By this time the venue was closing in on a capacity crowd.

They brought the intensity down for a bit with the song Love Bites, though the crowd was consistently riled and responsive, singing each and every lyric in the song along with the band, then they played Lets Get Rocked, Two Steps Behind and the classic Bringin’ On The Heartbreak. The track began as an acoustic version and halfway through, Vivian Campbell offered a shred session finishing the song in its electric version.

Each member was featured in front of the stage, minus Rick Allen of course, during a long rendition of Switch 625, but ceiling high video screens showcased imagery from behind the kit as Allen’s bare feet knocked out precision timing through each song. As the band moved in to the track Hysteria, the video screens showed documented footage of the band through the years, offering a reminder of former, now passed, guitarist Steamin’ Steve Clarke in a tribute that brought some tears, lots of cheers and plenty of celebratory shouting along with the vocals. Ending the song, and perhaps in a tribute to KISS who would take the stage next, Joe Elliot finished the by singing the line “Mama I hear you callin’, but I can’t come home right now.” (Referencing the lyrics of the KISS hit Beth)

Before the next song, Elliott paid tribute to Vivian Campbell and his current bout with “That bastard of a disease, cancer,” and referred to Campbell as “The man who put fast in Belfast!” The band played Armageddon It, Pour Some Sugar On Me and left the stage.

Returning for the encore, Elliott made mention of theirs and KISS’ dedication to the Wounded Warriors Project and let the crowd know that they’d hired two veterans on the road crew and make every effort to help maintain funding for the charity’s benefit. Elliot shared, “They do what they do so we can do what we do!” This brought a standing ovation and the band finished the set with Rock of Ages and Photograph.

Between Def Leppard’s departure and the arrival of KISS, the crowd hit the beer bars, food stands and long bathroom lines but by the time the hammer dropped for the big show, the seats were a good 90 percent filled. The flanking side seats seemed reserved for banners that stood off like wings on the stage, but the rest of the arena was close to packed from the floor to the ceiling. Billowing smoke, flash pots and beams of light brought the arena to life as KISS came down from above the lighting trusses on a giant black widow shaped stage and lighting apparatus. The arms of the electrical masterpiece seemed to move independently and lit the stage, the crowd and the band in multiple reds, blues and purples. Not only was it their opening song, but also the arena was a virtual Psycho Circus. They followed the opening track with the hit Deuce.

Casting the crowd back a few weeks to their rock and roll induction, Stanley stopped the band to talk about the speech Tom Morello offered the band during the ceremony and stated that the people who choose inductees into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame are pencil jockeys who sit behind desks dictating the music industry. He thanked the fans, along with Morello, for actually buying tickets and attending shows and led the audience in to the song Shout It Out Loud. The song War Machine followed.

Seeing KISS in the modern age is a great opportunity for fans that spent their teen years following the band’s live exploits during the years of Mark St. John, Vinny Vincent and Bruce Kulick. During those years when seeing KISS made up and in their legendary stage dress seemed impossible as they were literally ‘unmasked,’ fans could only dream of the show that once was. Now, with the added benefit of modern day lighting, pyrotechnics and sound design, it’s quite a moment to experience with new versions of the old classic stage show. It’s almost unimaginable! This is why the following performance of Hotter Than Hell mattered so much to so many in attendance. During the end of the song, Gene Simmons blew out a three yard long spout of flame from across handle of a gleaming sword before sticking it into a piece of staging deep in the rolling cloud of fog as the lights went out.

Then, after playing Christine Sixteen, Paul Stanley talked to the crowd about the band’s longstanding duration and broke in to Lick It Up. Halfway through the song, Stanley and guitarist Tommy Thayer stepped on to the widow like stage and rose above the front row playing the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again, coming down after a good two minutes to dueling guitar solos and rolling right back in to Lick It Up, finishing the song with bursts of flame so big that fans even halfway back in the arena could feel the heat. One can only imagine what it must feel like to Eric Singer who sits between the fireballs throughout the show.

Then, through the darkness, near undulating low toned audio swept across the crowd in a nightmarish and horrifying display. Piles of billowing fog clouds spilled over the floor seated patrons and in a shimmering display of violet purple light, the bat demon himself came lumbering to center stage. With each step attendees bodies shivered under the heavy tones of low bass chords, rattling bones and humming in their ears. Simmons made frightful eye contact with lucky fans, and then spewed up blood from the lowest chambers of his gut as he pounded on his bass strings. The screens behind him offered fans in the back seats a close-up look at the display before spreading his leathery wings and launching more than 50 feet in the air to the platform overhead. The sound of his bass was easily drowned out by the applause. They played I Love It Loud.

After performing the songs Hide Your Heart and Cold Gin, Stanley rode above the crowd on a cable to a platform near the back of the arena floor, behind the soundboard, and was raised up nearly 20 feet to perform Love Gun while slowly rotating for everyone in the back of the arena to get a good face to face view, up close and personal. Then, highlighting throngs of fans with spots from a giant crystal ball, the band began Black Diamond, which during Stanley rode the cable back to the stage. At the end of the song, the drum riser was lifted over the stage and syncopated pyrotechnics burst with the drum finale.

Refusing to leave the stage and return with an encore, the band let on that they would rather keep playing and walked fans through the classics Detroit Rock City and finished with the all powerful Rock and Roll All Night, a KISS tradition. The band left the stage to a tape reel of the song God Gave Rock and Roll to You.

Now, it’s been mentioned with mixed opinions as to why Def Leppard would open for KISS on tour. They are certainly two bands that have made their mark on the history of rock and roll, especially having performed and recorded along the same timeline. There was something evident and clear in this show tonight that answers that long time online battle. Without a doubt, it is money making and truly a fan-appreciated effort to book both bands simultaneously, but what we all saw on stage explained a lot. Def Leppard is a top-selling band that draws and performs amazingly well, and they did just that at the Forum. It cannot be disputed! However, the KISS experience involves an immovable stage set, more floor space and larger production to bring the complete experience that KISS has brought and developed for over 40 years to fans and offers in excess of the ticket value, a show you can and will not see anywhere else. It only makes sense that Def Leppard can, and did offer the best of what they offer in the fashion they are accustomed to delivering it in. Opening for KISS didn’t hinder their show at all. As promised, KISS did the same by bringing the circus they have built, in the way fans hope for, and it’s evident that with no complaints, ever, it’s just those who haven’t seen the show that are barking about it online. Overall, if you miss the 2014 tour of the Def Leppard/Kiss shows, you will have truly missed out.

Review: Joe Dolan