Review: The long Kiss goodbye ends at New York's Madison Square Garden, but Kiss avatars loom

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NEW YORK (AP) — It's the end of the road for Kiss. But it's not the end of Kiss.

The hard-rocking quartet from New York City played final live concerts Friday and Saturday at Madison Square Garden, culminating a half century of rocking and rolling all night and partying every day.

And there was a surprise ending. But it wasn't cameo appearances by former members, as many fans had wanted. Instead, in a venture meant to keep Kiss out there — somewhere — forever, Kiss announced at the end of Saturday's final show that the band will live on indefinitely as digitized avatars — to be deployed in ways yet to be revealed.

One hint, though: In a promotional video released after the show, Gene Simmons said, “It's gonna be the best concert you've ever seen.” (Presumably for an added fee.)

Many Kiss fans said they are not interested in paying to see virtual recreations of the band, including syndicated rock host Eddie Trunk. A lifelong Kiss fan from New Jersey, he has criticized the band in the past for what he considers to be missteps.

“I have very little interest in seeing an avatar concert of Kiss, or anyone for that matter,” he said. “It's like going to see a movie. It in no way is a replacement for the live concert experience. There's no live music.”

On Facebook, negative comments about the avatars were vastly outnumbering positive ones Sunday.

“I couldn’t be more disappointed, disgusted, and shocked at the hideous franken-Kiss they have now created,” wrote Gary Stevens, who portrays Paul Stanley in the Kiss tribute bands Strutter and Kiss Revisited. “Now it makes complete sense why they didn’t want Peter, Ace, Bruce, etc. there to end the era. They would’ve all had to be carried out from laughter had they known what was to come."

That was a reference to the absence of former Kiss band members from the final shows, despite Stanley's repeated statements that he'd be open to former members appearing in some capacity. But the same lingering bad blood regarding original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss that prevented the band from performing together at their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction kept it from happening again, apparently.

The farewell tour was Kiss's second, following one in 2000 with the original four members.

The show Friday and Saturday was basically the same one Kiss has been putting on since the latest farewell, dubbed the “End Of The Road” tour. Begun in early 2019, it spanned a good deal of the band's 50-year catalog and featured the sort of special effects that set Kiss apart from its peers since the 1970s.

With the possible exception of Alice Cooper's guillotine and snakes, no other band has taken live performances to the extremes Kiss did, particularly in the 1970s. Each band member adopted an onstage persona and developed kabuki-style makeup, studded leather costumes and ridiculously high platform boots, Simmons' taking the form of dragons.

He spit blood, breathed fire and flew to the top of the lighting rig. Frehley rigged his Gibson Les Paul guitar to spew smoke and — later — fire rockets at parts of the rigging, one of many things current lead guitarist Tommy Thayer would copy. Stanley rode a circus-style acrobat harness out over the crowd to a satellite stage to sing three songs near the end of the show.

Band members were lifted on hydraulic platforms out over the crowd, and the same risers that elevated original drummer Criss toward the arena roof now did the same for current drummer Eric Singer.

The show began with the classic Kiss opener “Detroit Rock City” as front-man Stanley, bassist Simmons and Thayer were lowered from the rafters on metallic discs. An enormous roar from the crowd greeted the conclusion of the song Saturday. “Shout It Out Loud” got similar love from the fist-pumping crowd.

Stanley, whose voice has been declining over the last decade, nonetheless gave it his all, knowing there was nothing left to hold back for, even though the strain was evident on some notes, and others were delivered through clenched teeth.

Throughout the last two shows, Stanley took the temperature of the crowd and tried to channel sadness over the impending finale of the flesh-and-blood Kiss's concert career into a celebration of the past half-century.

“So this is the end of the road,” he said Saturday, acknowledging a few stray boos. “I know. It seems sad. But tonight is a night for joy. This is a night to celebrate what we did together. We couldn't have done it without you!”

Stanley recalled driving a taxi in New York City in 1972 and dropping people off at Madison Square Garden to see Elvis Presley, telling them that someday, people would be coming there to see him. And he recalled looking out into the crowd at their first Garden show in February 1977 to see his parents, and Simmons' mother.

He asked the crowd if they had gotten what they came for, not just on Friday night but for the past 50 years, and paid homage to the band's humble beginnings in the clubs of Queens, a section of New York City.

“Rock And Roll All Nite” always closes a Kiss concert, and the usual tsunami of confetti and streamers rained down from the ceiling as Stanley smashed his guitar at the show's climax, the fans raining down love on the band one last time.

But then ... fog enshrouded the stage and a video played on a giant screen, revealing the avatars, which looked like something from a video game, promising “a new era begins.”

“The end of the road is the beginning of another road!” Stanley said from inside the fog. “We're not going anywhere! You'll see us in all different things, all the- time!”

Dee Snider, the former lead singer for Twisted Sister, put it best in a comment to me 10 years ago: “As long as there's one kid left in America with $100 in his pocket, there will always be a Kiss.”

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Follow Wayne Parry on X, formerly Twitter, at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC