Live On Letterman Turns 50 With KISS

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photo credit: Heather Wines for CBS

photo credit: Heather Wines for CBS

New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater may not have rock and rolled all night on Wednesday (October 10) for the 50th episode of Live On Letterman. But for nearly an hour (more, if you count the soundcheck), KISS shook the legendary room with hard rock anthem after anthem… and probably had the fire marshall paying close attention to every bit of pyro onstage.

Watch KISS Live On Letterman right now on demand.

Yes, pyro. It’s not something that you see at many (or any) tapings of Live On Letterman, but, then, KISS isn’t any band.  Playing the intimate Ed Sullivan Theater meant that the famously over-the-top band had to strip down their huge stage-show, but “stripped-down” for KISS is still more explosive (literally) than anyone else.  Their performace combined elements of their arena stage show (huge “KISS” lights behind the stage, flame throwers) with a club concert: surely this was the closest that the band, at least in makeup, ever get to fans during a performance (they do unplugged/unmasked performances for audience members that pay for a “V.I.P. Experience.”)

gene simmons devil horns Live On Letterman Turns 50 With KISS

Many fans seemed stunned to be so close to their idols, which didn’t stop them from screaming along to every song. Several had been painted with KISS makeup before the show, much to the delight of the band, which includes singer/guitarist Paul Stanley, bassist/singer Gene Simmons and newer members Eric Singer (drums) and Tommy Thayer (guitar).  Stanley scaled down his onstage banter for the situation: there’s a difference in speaking to the intimate Ed Sullivan audience and shouting (out loud) to an arena.

paul and tommy  Live On Letterman Turns 50 With KISS

Which didn’t mean that Stanley was subtle (while Simmons is the most quotable member in interviews, Stanley does all the speaking onstage). “We’re really excited about the new album… because it’s f***in’ great!” The new album, Monster (produced by Stanley himself), was released a day earlier, and the band opened with the lead single, “Hell Or Hallelujah,” which the crowd welcomed as if it was a classic (the band released it over the summer, so fans were familiar with it).  But that was as far as they dove into the new album, dedicating  the rest of the performance to their ’70s and ’80s classics: “Shout It Out Loud,” “Calling Dr. Love,” “I Love It Loud,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Got To Choose,” “Christine Sixteen,” “Strutter” and the only song from their non-makeup era, “Lick It Up.”

kiss 1  Live On Letterman Turns 50 With KISS

The latter song was produced for the ’80s glam metal market, but these days has a strut and swagger that allows it to hold its own alongside the ’70s classics: plus, they threw in a bit of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” giving it some extra punch. After that, the band started to leave the stage, but as the audience chanted “one more song,” KISS, ever respectful of their fans, strapped in for “Deuce” to close the show.

paul stanley  Live On Letterman Turns 50 With KISS

Stanley mentioned that the band are about to go to South America for a tour there shortly, but that they’ll return to the states soon. Whether or not fans will ever get to see them in all their made up glory in such an intimate setting is another story. But for everyone at the Ed Sullivan Theater Wednesday night, they got closer to their heroes – and their heroes’ flamethrowers – than they ever have before and than they likely will again.

– Brian Ives, CBS Local/ all photos: Heather Wines for CBS

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