Legendary and revolutionary hard rock band KISS unleashed two final shows at Madison Square Garden in their hometown of New York City on December 1st and 2nd, 2023. After 50 years as a band, these four guys are calling it quits when it comes to touring under the ‘KISS’ moniker.
Madison Square Garden, New York – 1 December 2023
Words: Shannon Wilk
To close this chapter of KISStory, the band presented their NYC Takeover. This included a pop-up shop, KISS New York Times newspapers, KISS Metrocards, a KISS taxi fleet, free KISS flash tattoos and face-painting, a light show on the Empire State Building and more.
All the festivities inspired NYC Mayor Eric Adams to officially dub 30 November 2023 as KISS Day in the country’s biggest city. It was a beautiful sight to see KISS Army members from all around the world gather to experience the celebration, united by one thing: Unwavering love for the hottest band in the world.
Fans lined the city streets for hours, excitedly waiting in the pouring rain and chilly Northeast winter weather. Throngs of people were let into the lobby of the Garden beginning at 6 PM to grab their coveted End Of The Road merchandise. As 6:30 rolled around, we were corralled up escalators and into the arena. As each fan arrived at their seat, they were greeted by a commemorative KISS Final Show bracelet with a 1″ by 1″ light-up piece.
Beginning the evening were Amber Wild, taking the stage at 7:30 PM. The band is the brainchild of Paul Stanley’s 29-year-old son, Evan Stanley, who is the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist. They describe themselves as “all live all the time,” which is evident in their live performance. Each member of the band has a unique style, from glitz and glamour to Victorian to ’80s Glam Metal.
The KISS End Of The Road Tour is the first tour Amber Wild has been part of, and they have yet to even perform a headlining show, though you would never be able to tell with the chemistry and tightness within the group. “Man, this is wild,” remarks Stanley Jnr. The band performed a six-song, 30-minute, nonstop, high-energy set. Exactly what is needed to warm up the stage for a band like KISS.
After an hour’s break from the end of Amber Wild’s set, the lights went down, and Rock And Roll by Led Zeppelin began to play over the PA at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. Excited cheering erupted in the crowd, fans joining in one after the other.
The screens on either side of the stage illuminated, showing the band’s longtime manager, Doc McGhee, escorting the members out of their backstage dressing room and out to the stage. Over the PA comes a voice, “Alllllright New York! You wanted the best, and you got the best… the hottest band in the world… KISS!”
Guitarists Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley began the opening riff for Detroit Rock City, and the curtain dropped as fireworks shot out from the back of the stage. Thayer, Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons ascend and then descend on octagonal platforms as smoke billows out beneath them. As they reach the harmonizing solo section of the song, the audience sings the guitar parts in synchronized “oh’s”.
More pyro is unleashed as Detroit Rock City comes to a close. Wasting no time, KISS kicks into Shout It Out Loud, their second single to break the Top 40. “How ya doin’, New York!?” says Paul Stanley, prompting cheers from the crowd. “This is the 47th time we’ve played New York, SO! We started here… and the road ends where it began. NEW YORK! You’ve been awesome.” Stanley starts a back-and-forth chant from one side of the arena to the other and back again.
“New York City… look out!” says Simmons as the band begins Deuce, from their first-ever studio album released in 1974. The stage is filled with red and blue lights, and straight out of Deuce, KISS begins War Machine. The light bracelets given to each audience member create a beautiful spectacle throughout the crowd. “You know this one!” says Stanley, taking over the lead vocals for Heaven’s On Fire, a classic ’80s era KISS tune. “Ohhhh ohhh heaven’s on fire,” the sold-out crowd sings along with the band.
“How we doing so far!? You’re not getting tired, are ya!?” Stanley asks. All four members sing, “Hey, hey, hey, yeah!” creating a deafeningly loud call and response with the crowd. Simmons grabs a torch lit up bright with fire, as alarms sound. He blows on the torch, causing a big burst of flames, before planting the torch at the front of the stage. “You can sing this one with us, it’s real simple,” says Stanley, “all you’ve gotta do is say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.'” And the band begins playing Say Yeah, from their 2009 album, the newest material included in their live set.
Drummer Eric Singer plays a rhythm on the drums, and Thayer rocks back and forth. He does a pick slide across the guitar’s neck and begins the iconic Cold Gin riff. On a screen behind the stage, videos of the members play with a vintage-looking filter. Stanley, Singer and Simmons leave the stage one-by-one, leaving Thayer out there for his guitar solo.
Mesmerizing the crowd, he shoots rockets out of the headstock of his flying-V guitar. The band returns to the stage. “This one is from 1983. Some of you weren’t even born in 1983,” Stanley says, “but everybody knows this song. It’s called LICK IT UP!” and the band instinctively kicks into their iconic hit song.
I might be one of those people who wasn’t even alive in 1983, but you best believe I rocked out just as hard as anyone in that arena. Stanley and Thayer take centre stage, back to back, jamming together for an interlude, giving the nod to The Who. Singer stands up behind his kit, slowing down the tempo for a dramatic ending to Lick It Up.
“Turn on the lights, take a look at yourself, you’re BEAUTIFUL!” says frontman Paul Stanley. As the house lights go up, the fans take a look around at the KISS Army that fills every seat in the building. Stanley gives an intro to Dr. Love himself, Mr. Gene Simmons.
Singer begins hitting the cowbell and kicks off Calling Dr. Love. Simmons takes lead vocals for this one, of course. Sticking with the Rock And Roll Over record and a similar tongue-in-cheek subject matter, KISS plays Makin’ Love. At the end of this hard rockin’ ’70s tune, Thayer and Stanley do a full-on guitar duel.
“I got a feeling we can turn this place into a Psycho Circus! 1… 2… 3… 4!” Stanley starts. Singer, behind the drums, rips a mean drum solo, lights strobing in sync with the kick drum, standing up on his drums as the audience cheers.
As the band returns and begins 100,000 Years, Stanley swings his mic around his neck and back again. As the song closes, he holds up his hands in the shape of a heart, showing his love for the fans.
Suddenly, the arena goes dark. Eerie sounds are playing; thunder rolls and wind howls. Green lights illuminate the stage now, showing Simmons centre stage with his axe bass. Smoke billows out, and he looks around frantically. He gives a demonic grin, and blood begins to spill out of his mouth. Tongue out, Simmons spits blood all over.
He leans up to his microphone and simply says, “Oh yeah!” He rises up on a platform, and KISS are off into the Demon’s signature song, God Of Thunder. As they strum out the last chord, firewalls erupt on the stage.
“Tonight, I love being here, but I wanna come out there and be with you!” says Stanley, “And I can do it! But you have to invite me.” The crowd begins chanting, “Paul! Paul! Paul!” and he flies out to another stage at the back of the arena as the rest of the band begins Love Gun. He dances around the stage as his bandmates sing the harmonies of this iconic tune.
Paul walks around the second stage, excitedly waving at different parts of the crowd. A cappella, Stanley begins the “ooh” intro to I Was Made For Lovin’ You and, naturally, the audience joins in. “I’ve got a question for ya people!” Stanley says. “How many of you know a song called Black Diamond!?” and the cheering erupts. He begins singing and quietly strumming the chords for said song. He zips back to the main stage and joins the rest of the band for the remainder of the song as Singer takes on lead vocal duties. KISS leaves the stage.
A light shines centre stage, and it’s Eric Singer at a grand piano and microphone, playing the only ballad of the KISS live set, Beth. Simmons, Stanley, and Thayer join him on stage after his solo performance, members parading around the stage and prompting applause. KISS takes a photo with the crowd, a moment frozen in history.
Paul Stanley gets choked up as he says, “I remember the first time playing here, and I could see my mom and dad over there and Gene’s mom over there. No matter how big you get, you just want to make your parents proud.”
“This is a song from Destroyer,” he says, “and it asks the question – Do You Love Me?”
KISS balloons fall from above as the band plays Do You Love Me for one of the final times. “Whadaya say… we rock ‘n’ roll all nite!?” asks Stanley. Huge clusters of red and white confetti descend onto the crowd as KISS closes their set.
A united moment of rock ‘n’ roll. KISS closes out their career right where it started… New York City.
Thank you for decades of rock n’ roll mayhem.