LIVE REVIEW: KISS and Def Leppard in Des Moines, Iowa (8/20/2014)

KISS 2014 Des Moines Iowa Review

“You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world…KISS!”

Forty years later and the hottest band in the world hasn’t lost its shine. KISS delivered a full-throttle destruction of Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on August 20, winning the crowd over with a mixture of celebrated songs and on-stage antics. The band known for mixing simple and addictive rock ‘n’ roll with one of the most historical, groundbreaking live performances hasn’t lost a single platform-shoe’d step in its four decade tenure of melting faces — and that was blisteringly evident Wednesday night.

But let’s back up. Def Leppard, British rock band best known for pouring some sugar on the entire world, was the main support for an evening fueled by a not-quite-washed-up-but-not-so-young-anymore spirit in the crowd. The band wasn’t terrible at all. It wasn’t a set to write home about, but it wasn’t exactly 75 minutes wasted. Def Lep is a part of rock ‘n’ roll history — such as KISS is — and for that, it’s cool to watch.

“Let me see your hands in the air! From the front, to the very back,” lead singer Joe Elliot asked of the crowd after the band’s opening number, “Let It Go.”

The band delivered high-energy, weaving through harmonic-filled guitar solos that squealed louder than the middle-aged women in the crowd; but the middle of the set was muddy and a bit dry. Songs like “Pour Some Sugar on Me ” and “Rock of Ages ” contained nostalgic gleam that sent electricity through the area, but numbers like “Switch 625” and “Rocket” came off as dreary and a bit tacked on.

Drummer Rick Allen showed his one-armed skills with a momentum-saving drum solo midway through the set and singer Joe Elliot swooned the crowd with an acoustic rendition of “Two Steps Behind” that was possibly the highlight of the set. Again, the band didn’t lack energy — it was great to see the guys shine during certain moments of the set. But throughout the set, there was no doubt who the crowd was waiting to see — KISS.

Anticipation built as the nearly sold out crowd waited for KISS to light the stage up. From toddlers to the aged and weary elderly, everyone’s eyes were glued to the stage as a 25-minute intermission took place between bands. And with the famous call from the announcer and an explosion of flame and fireworks, KISS descended from the ceiling to the opening number of “Psycho Circus.”

With KISS, you know what you’re getting. This is a band that built a career on pure entertainment. Not musicianship or songwriting ability, but pure propagandized and well-marketed entertainment. KISS is a band built on a lifestyle, ideas, a way of carrying yourself. From the platform shoes to the face paint to Gene Simmons spewing blood all over the stage — it’s a rock ‘n’ roll performance akin to theatre.

It’s not life-changing the way seeing “Let It Be” live is life-changing. It’s outstanding from a delivery standpoint. The endless fireworks, the explosions, the confetti, the uber-catchy choruses…it’s all part of the greater movement this band has created and maintained for decades on end. And that’s what the crowd saw Wednesday night in Des Moines — a highly entertaining show. KISS paved the way for bands like GWAR and Slipknot to incorporate alter-egos and specific identities with acts and live shows, and this was relevant from the theatrics delivered during the 80-minute, 15 song set.

The band knocked out hit after hit. Simmons’ tongue was flying from left to right as songs like “Shout It Out Loud” and “Lick It Up” reverberated through the room. The set wasn’t vulgar — the kids in the crowd didn’t leave scarred aurally or visually. Singer and guitarist Paul Stanley interacted with the crowd as fantastically as the best in the business. He is the type of frontman who knows how to take an arena and make it feel like the band is playing your buddy’s basement.

“You’re lookin’ at a band in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame!” Stanley shouted at the crowd. “This is a night you’ll never forget.”

And he isn’t wrong. Stanley outshone his bandmates in charisma and performance. He kept the crowd alive throughout the entire set and actually flew to the center of the crowd to deliver numbers “Love Gun” and “Black Diamond.” He teased the crowd with a brief improvisational cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” before questioning the audience.

“Is that what you wanted to hear?” he asked the crowd before busting into “Black Diamond.”

KISS deliver a two-song “encore” of its arguably two biggest songs: “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll All Nite.” It was an “encore” because the band never left the stage due to the city curfew time crunch.

“We love you all! Goodnight!” Stanley shouted before swinging his mic in an almost 2000s emo fashion. Multiple explosions continued to fill the room as the band closed the night with a bang.

I was skeptical walking into a KISS show, but I left knowing I witnessed one of the coolest shows I have seen from an aged, legendary rock band to date. The band gave everyone something to talk about for days to come. And if everyone else is like me, their ears are still ringing from the explosions.

Review written by Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt)
*feature photo courtesy of

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