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No risk with KISS: Glam metal group revs up RodeoHouston with energized show

No risk with KISS: Glam metal group revs up RodeoHouston with energized show

News_RodeoHouston 2011_KISS
KISS Courtesy of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Alright RodeoHouston... You wanted the best, you got the best!

Over the past 70 years Houston's annual rodeo has welcomed rock acts from Elvis Presley to Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Earlier this week Kid Rock nearly blew the Reliant Stadium retractable roof open with a performance that may have looked a little country, but was definitely rock n' roll.

Never, however, has any band stepped onto the mobile rodeo stage covered in white make-up, sweat, brimstone and sensuality like American glam metal icons KISS did Tuesday night.

"How you doing, Houston?," shrieked KISS lead singer Paul Stanley as he introduced a one hour, 12-song set of glam metal the likes of which RodeoHouston had never seen.

Not since rapper LL Cool J back in 2003 can I remember a time when the usually conservative, family-oriented Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo executive committee put themselves out on such a limb. If ever there was a band that epitomized the legacy of the "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" lifestyle, it's KISS.

The risk paid off.

Their hit-laden set spanned the beginning with opening two-year old single "Modern Day Delilah" and working into hey-day anthems "Shout It Out Loud" and "Love Gun." Gene Simmons doesn't get much credit for his vocals, but his guttural deliveries of "Dr. Love" and "I Love It Loud" were highlights.

Stanley seemed a little thrown by the rodeo stage and distance from crowd. After not getting the sing-along response he was looking for to begin "I Was Made For Loving You" he seemed to forget the lyrics. He finally got his bearings for "Lick It Up.

I had my doubts that a band known for a stage arsenal of pyrotechnics and wires that allowed Stanley and Simmons to fly around the stage like kabuki bats could be scaled down for rodeo and still work. Their ability to unleash hell on stage with smoke, fire, flaming projectiles and Simmons' disgustingly long blood-spitting tongue is part of what makes a KISS show a KISS show.

It did.

In addition to tighter, energized versions of KISS standards like "Detroit Rock City,"  the reinvigorated musicians brought back lesser-known (but no less loved) favorites like "Crazy Crazy Nights."  Even more impressive, they have recorded new material, like two-year old album Sonic Boom, that has enhanced their discography. Another new KISS album is expected later this year.

Together for 37 years, KISS was a rock radio hit machine throughout the '70s and '80s but took much of the '90s off. Since reuniting a little more than a decade ago they have been quite businesslike. In fact something quite unexpected has happened in recent years: They started caring about the music again.

After making the tough decisions to part ways with original (but troubled) guitarist Ace Frehley and contentious drummer Peter Criss in favor of Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, respectively, things really started clicking into place for the reunited KISS.

The latter-day KISS has left old vices behind and concentrates solely on entertaining. This new direction made them a perfect, yet unlikely fit for RodeoHouston.