KISSmas In July: KISS unplugs and unmasks

KISS San Manuel

KISS unplugs and unmasks, Stoic Dave meets his hero and Eric Singer does an Aaron Camaro impression

It’s fair to say this was one of the most anticipated KISS related events for me in recent memory. Having never attended the KISS Kruise or one of the VIP acoustic sound checks, seeing the band acoustically was going to be first for me and I could hardly wait.

Billed as “An Acoustic Evening with KISS”, the venue for this event was the San Manual Indian Bingo Casino in Highland, CA, roughly 60 miles east of Los Angeles. This is the second year in a row where the band has played an acoustic show at San Manual, which makes sense as they are a big sponsor of the LA KISS arena football team.

The room is about what you’d expect for bingo hall, a large flat room, resembling an oversized hotel ballroom with a stage at one end. Since the room is flat, it’s a definitely a disadvantage for shorter fans or those farther back. Fortunately, I was relatively close and had an excellent sight line. There was merchandise available, but nothing specific to this show. All merchandise (shirts and a 40th Anniversary poster) were $10 so lines remained long for almost the entire show. The shirts seemed to be remaining stock mostly from the KISS40 and 2015 Japanese tours, but size availability was extremely limited. I ended up picking up a Japanese tour shirt in a small, the only size left by the time the line had died down. It’s a really cool graphic and for $10, I couldn’t pass it up.

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Eric Singer cracking up Stoic Dave with his Aaron Camaro impression

I knew I was going to have chance to say hello to Paul Stanley before the show so I made sure to represent by wearing my Decibel Geek T-shirt. What I didn’t know is that I would run into Eric Singer backstage while waiting for my time. Eric immediately noticed my shirt and asked me about it. We talked for a few. Eric has a great sense of humor and could not have been nicer. By the sound of his impression of Decibel Geek co-host, Aaron Camaro, Eric definitely listens to the show. After my few minutes with the Starchild himself, it was nearly time for the show to begin so I hustled back out to my seat.

From the moment KISS launched into the opening chords of “Comin’ Home” to the final notes of “Rock and Roll All Nite”, the mood was light and the set list was deep, very deep. All four were in their usual stage positions, Paul center with his black Taylor 200-series acoustic, Gene stage right with is signature Punisher acoustic, Tommy stage left playing a Gibson Chet Atkins model and Eric stationed behind his white Pearl kit. The setlist was plucked right from the classic KISS with sixteen of the twenty songs taken from the first six studio albums and only two, “Hide Your Heart” from Hot In The Shade and “Every Time I Look At You” from Revenge from the non-make-up years. Setlists will always generate spirited debates as you can never please everyone, but this was simply one of the best for those members of the KISS Army long clamoring for deep cuts and tired of hearing a best-of package tour after tour. The band even jumped into an impromptu partial jazzy swing version of “Love Gun” just before “Plaster Caster” which came off remarkably well. Lead vocals were split equally between Paul and Gene with Gene getting a slight edge. Eric Singer took the lead vocals on “Mainline” and “Beth”, as well as handling the classic Peter Criss chorus vocal on “Nothin’ To Lose”. Gene, Paul and Eric split the verses on “Kissin’ Time”, a surprise choice given what Paul described as a “love/hate relationship” with the song. Paul handled the lead vocal on “Hard Luck Woman” from Rock and Roll Over. No lead vocals for Tommy on this night, although at one point a fan yelled out for “2,000 Man”. While I thought the set was near-perfect (I was secretly hoping for “C’mon And Love Me”), highlights for Setlist San Manuelme were, “Mainline”, “Love Her All I Can”, “A World Without Heroes”, and “Hide Your Heart”, which came off extremely well acoustically. Gene, in a lighthearted moment, wet his finger with his mouth and mimicked the teardrop at the end of the “A World Without Heroes” video. Paul was also chatty and loose as well, even admitting to borrowing a lick from a Wilson Pickett tune when introducing “Got To Choose” and referring to The Elder as the bands foray into “New Romance” before launching into “A World Without Heroes”.

Much has been said and written about Paul‘s vocal troubles in recent years. For the vast majority for this show, Paul was spot on and sounded really, really good. 1975 good? No, but that’s forty years ago and a completely unfair comparison. There were only a couple spots where I noticed a little crack in the vocal armor. The most apparent was during “Every Time I Look At You”. Paul seemed to struggle a bit at times hitting the notes on this one. Eric sang background with him throughout the verses which helped mask any difficulties he was having.

At down beat, the San Manuel Bingo Room was at about 75% of it’s stated 2,500 seat capacity, with many empty seats in the back sections. I was pleasantly surprised how good the sound was. Everything was clear, the mix was near perfect and the band was tight, although Paul did have the band restart “Beth” after he made what he called a “bad mistake” on the acoustic intro. Tommy Thayer was solid as a rock all night, nailing all the classic solos, not always a walk in the park on an acoustic. I, for one, sure hope they do this again next year.

Here’s the complete setlist

  1. Comin’ Home
  2. Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em
  3. Hard Luck Woman
  4. Calling Dr. Love
  5. Mainline
  6. Christine Sixteen
  7. Hide Your Heart
  8. Kissin’ Time
  9. Goin’ Blind
  10. Do You Love Me
  11. Nothin’ to Lose
  12. Every Time I Look at You
  13. Love Her All I Can
  14. A World Without Heroes
  15. Plaster Caster
  16. See You Tonite
  17. Rock Bottom
  18. Got To Choose
  19. Beth
  20. Rock and Roll All Nite

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