One wet KISS: Rocking in the rain at the Iowa State Fair

KISS original members Paul Stanley (left) and Gene Simmons (middle) along with Tommy Thayer (right) and Eric Singer (drums).

DES MOINES — Most musical acts, be they a band or a solo artist, are said to appear “in concert” when performing live. Not KISS. The longtime rock and roll heroes with the devoted following does not play “concerts” rather, they put a show, and a show like no other is exactly what nearly 9,000 fired-up fans received Friday in the pouring rain at the Iowa State Fair.

“We’re not going to let a little rain stop a party, are we?” guitarist and co-founding member Paul Stanley asked the crowd before the band started. The answer was a resounding “No!”

KISS was formed in New York City in 1973 by Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons, both of whom have remained members ever since, although original drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley have come and gone. Several drummers have since kept the beat, with Eric Singer the current pounder of the skins. He was with the band from 1991-96 and again in 2001-02 before rejoining in 2004. Guitarist Tommy Thayer has been on board since 2002.

The band is known for their elaborate costumes and face makeup and Thayer and Singer take to the stage — and make appearances in — the identities of Frehley and Criss.

This was my third time seeing a KISS show. The first was back in December of 1984 when my BFAM (brother from another mother) Bill Ettinger and I were joined by other friends for a wild experience in Peoria when the band was on their “Animalize” tour. The second was Aug. 20, 2014, when Bill drove up from Illinois to join me in rocking with KISS at the Wells Fargo Arena.

The Dead Daisies opened the evening, with Def Leppard following and KISS headlining on their “40th Anniversary Tour.”

Bill and his wife Vicki will be celebrating their 30th anniversary in October, and a few days later will be sailing on their sixth consecutive KISS Kruise, having yet to miss the annual event. Both are KISS fanatics, especially Bill. He went with his brother and others to see KISS Aug. 5 in Moline, Ill. then was joined by Vicki and a group of 14 fellow rockers in a mass assault on the KISS show back home Wednesday at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Friday had the Ettingers and mutual friend Tom Foster drive nearly seven hours so we could see the band in Des Moines.

Experiencing a monsoon was not in the plans.

A steady downpour threatened to cancel KISS after opening act The Dead Daises had performed. Despite unrelenting rain, the show went on after a 75-minute delay.
A steady downpour threatened to cancel KISS after opening act The Dead Daises had performed. Despite unrelenting rain, the show went on after a 75-minute delay.

We arrived at the fair just after 5 p.m. for the 8 p.m. opening of the show. None of us were too keen to spend much time (or money) messing around with the fair itself, although we did avail of the tram rides to take a pleasant circuit of the grounds.

My friends, who had two days earlier been at the Illinois fair, could not believe “how many more people” were in Des Moines and “how much more there was going on” compared to Springfield. They had, of course, never seen anything like the number and variety of food offerings.

We eventually grabbed a bite and sat at picnic tables under a tent while nervously checking the weather radar on our phones. When we took our seats for the concert (they were excellent, five rows up in the lower grandstand and nearly dead-center) we were dismayed to realize that, if it rained, we would be soaked. It did, and we, for the most part, were.

The Dead Daisies, with new lead singer John Corabi (who had once replaced, in my opinion, the overrated Vince Neil in Motley Crue) opened promptly at 8 p.m. and immediately rocked the joint. I had liked their hard-edged performance two years ago, and while they were slightly more tame this time around and played three covers (ugh) they were nevertheless entertaining and worth seeing again some day.

KISS has, during their long tenure, helped several bands get their start. In the late 1970’s Simmons was instrumental in helping a little band calling themselves Van Halen have a demo recorded, a move that launched their career. Rush was an opening act for years and credits KISS with friendship and career help as well.

It rained during much of the DD’s act, and then, as they left the stage, the skies really opened, scattering those on the ground level and those not at least 10 rows back from the grandstand overhang, which included our foursome.

For over an hour it appeared problematic that KISS would play, as the rain poured down and showed no sign of relenting (it did not let up until well after midnight). In the interim, I had found four folding chairs in the handicap area directly in front of the stage and halfway up the grandstand — dry, and perfectly aligned with the band. Yes, we were 20 rows further back, but we were more centered, dry, and had plenty of room to move around. We all agreed that if the ticket holders of the seats we absconded arrived, we would happily move into the rain, but they never showed, and we could not have been more pleased.

Finally, at just after 10 p.m. and after nearly a 75-minute delay, the lights went down and Stanley walked up to the mic.

Rain and wet be damned, the massive pyrotechnic and laser show continued throughout the 16-song set. Often the lights would catch the falling rain and create an otherworldly effect, as here, at the beginning of “Black Diamond” the song which closed their set before the traditional encore.

The “Freedom to Rock” tour included six songs from the 1976 album “Destroyer.” Stanley interacted frequently with the crowd, noting the band was making their eighth appearance in Iowa, with a 1977 show their first. At one point he ordered the house lights up, and asked for a show of hands of those experiencing the band for the first time.

Roughly a third of the hands went up, almost all of them from fans not born in 1977, or 1987 or 1997 for that matter.

“Awesome!” Stanley said. “You won’t forget this night, because everyone always remembers their first KISS!”

Immediately in front of us was a nine-year old girl and her grandparents. I visited with them between shows and enjoyed watching the young lady jump around and scream during the show. Clearly her grandparents have her best interest at heart, I thought.

The set list included “Detroit Rock City” “Deuce” “Shout It Out Loud” “Do You Love Me?” “Flaming Youth” “Love Gun” “Cold Gin” “Lick It Up” “War Machine” “God of Thunder” “Psycho Circus” “Shock Me” “Black Diamond” “I Love It Loud.”

The band stopped the show for a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as Stanley honored America’s veterans. The band has donated generously to veteran’s causes in the past and was doing so again on this tour. Different veteran groups were brought on stage and saluted, and The Military Warrior Support program honored Altoona veteran Dustin Patrick, a Purple Heart awardee, with a remodeled home.

“There brave men and women have volunteered to protect us, to protect our freedom and our liberty and it is our duty to help them and their families when they come home,” Stanley said.

Led by Thayer on lead guitar, the foursome performed the Star Spangled Banner at the end of the salute.

Singer stepped forward to sing “Beth” at the start of the encore, with the traditional anthem “Rock and Roll All Night” closing the show as what must have been tons of confetti fluttered through the rain.

Almost everyone ended up wet, with several thousand soaked all the way through. I had one of the best nights in a long, long time by having the Ettingers and Tom join me for the show. The band looked and sounded great, the energy was high, the volume loud and the pyrotechnics top-rate. It was a solid reminder that there is nothing quite like a good KISS.

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