December 2nd, 2023, a righteous day in rock n' roll history, as the Kings of the Night Time World, the hottest band in the land, KISS, played their last show on their last tour as a group, The End of the Road World Tour. The final stop on the tour landed them at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where the legend that became KISS began.
But as one would come to expect, when KISS says they're done, they're lying right through their grease paint. The band finished the final encore of their final tour, half a century in the making, and exited the stage no longer The Starchild, The Demon, The Spaceman and The Catman, but as Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. But just when the world thought that was the end of the band's Kisstory (bear with me, this will not be the last time I'll have to add 'Kiss' to the beginning of a word), the stage screens shook to life revealing... KISS? Again? The sequel? Scooby-Doo and KISS 2: Return to Kissteria?
To put a ceremonial ellipses (e-kiss-ses?) on their already, well, KISS-sized mythology, the band debuted their state-of-the-art CGI rock avatars with a virtual performance of "God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You," further immortalizing the teachings of Kiss-ology in the digital realm. "The fans own the band, the world owns the band," KISS frontman Paul Stanley said in a roundtable interview clip. "The band deserves to live on because the band is bigger than we are."
I'm not going to lecture y'all on Kisstory or anything like that. It's KISS, dude. Hottest band in the land. F*ckin' google 'em. Their cultural footprint is so absolute and irreversibly immortal, there is no other band in the world with the same kind of brand recognition that Stanley and Simmons have built, except for maybe the Stones, but did Mick Jagger star in a blockbuster whodunit with a talking dog? Righ' don't 'rink so, Raggy!
But again, none of this is surprising in the slightest. As a very kind and wise soul pointed out to me on Reddit earlier this week, who definitely was not CREEM Magazine's editor, Jaan Uhelszki (for legal reasons, it really was not Jaan Uhelszki), KISS has been trying to crack the secret to immortality since the first KISS dolls released in 1977. But Kisstory aside, does KISS really "deserve" to live on? Does any band deserve to be forever immortalized, cursed with the burden of presiding over the digital realm-- at least until a newer, cooler, younger band with a swankier gimmick comes along with enough new label money to buy a slot on the bill at Lollapalooza 2052: Electric Boogaloo?
But again, this is nothing surprising! KISS is just one of the many bands toying with the digital concert format, and another of a growing number of global acts to use motion capture technology to do so. During prime COVID hours, several artists were broadcasting live on Zoom or on YouTube; Post Malone did a Nirvana tribute, Janelle Monáe pushed the boundaries with her crimson backdrop and smoke machines during the Verizon Pay It Forward Livestream. The Rolling Stones also upped the ante with their One World: Together at Home set, where the late Charlie Watts showed off his Freedrum virtual drum chops during a stripped version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Shit, Fortnite was even further ahead of the curve when they began showcasing their digital entertainment skills by inviting Marshmello, Travis Scott and Ariana Grande to perform virtual concerts during the lockdown, and most recently inviting Eminem to do the same on December 2nd-- clearly a big day for digital avatars.
I won't rag on KISS too hard (in this paragraph), the rock avatars can be a force of good, even if they are incredibly masturbatory (Kiss-turbatory?). KISS partnered with Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’ special-effects company, in partnership with Pophouse Entertainment Group, which was co-founded by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus. The two companies also put together the “ABBA Voyage” show in London, a feat of motion capture technology that puts on an entire "live performance" by ABBA, as performed by their rock avatars. “We can be forever young and forever iconic by taking us to places we’ve never dreamed of before,” KISS bassist Gene Simmons remarked about the new avatars, adding, “The technology is going to make Paul jump higher than he’s ever done before."
And while adding extra inches to Stanley's vertical would be a musical marvel, the overarching and still unanswered question remains-- is there a need for such a thing? While KISS is currently teasing some kind of virtual concert starring their rock avatars, the ticket to which I have already shamefully added to my Apple Wallet (it's for research, bite me), how immersive can such a thing really be? How long before bands have suckered the TikTok generation into thinking a live set is just paying an absurd amount of money to watch a glorified Pixar short on a the jumbotron at Madison Square Garden? Is it worth sullying the already perennial KISS legacy with a last-ditch effort to recapture a generation that already lives in the wake of your life's work?
Stanley and Simmons think yes, but then again, there's nothing in this world Gene Simmons loves more than his bank account, making their move to the digital realm even lamer and arguably more deserving of ridicule. KISS fans of every age have weighed in on the announcement, yielding a largely negative response. Some fans were even worried for the band's future, as a thoughtful handful of fans pointed out that Tommy Thayer would likely be reinstated as Stanley's pool boy now that he's out of a job. Onlookers also expressed their displeasure with the band for neglecting to acknowledge or even mention founding members Ace Frehley or Peter Criss during their "final performance", or other past members for that matter, including Vinnie Vincent, "The Ankh Warrior," Bruce Kulick, and the late Mark St. John and Eric Carr, "The Fox."
In true KISS fashion, the whole idea is simple and predictable. One of the most recognizable acts the world has ever seen, feigning retirement only to announce that they'll never dam their money flow, all in the name of the same fans they've been accusing of murdering rock. You know why rock is dying, who's really killing it? Stanley, Simmons and all their peers, because they don't know how to retire and they refuse to die. There are hundreds, thousands of young rock bands out there right now that are doing electrifying things for the genre and the culture as a whole.
Maybe this is just my age and blissful youthful ignorance talking, but at some point you gotta let the next generation take the stage. The future is now, old man, and y'all have no part in it. The cure for Kissteria is not more KISS, it never was. We need new bands to treat the symptoms.