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Kiss, the rock barbarians

Gene Simmons of Kiss performs his trademark tongue flip in this Oct. 31, 1998 file photo (File / AP) Gene Simmons of Kiss performs his trademark tongue flip in this Oct. 31, 1998 file photo
By Steve Morse / Globe correspondent
February 4, 1978
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PROVIDENCE - Upon borrowing a Kiss program, I opened the pages to find this caption: "Kiss has conquered several major land masses. Like Attila the Hun, Napoleon and Alexander the Great, they have done 360s around the globe, non-stop rock raids disregarding race, color, creed and national boundaries."

Whatever backward bard penned those words, he was more accurate than he probably realized. At least the Attila the Hun analogy.

Kiss are the barbarians of rock. They are on the ultimate power trip, from a $300,000 stage set replete with fireworks, 10-foot bursts of flame, lighted stairs and movable platforms, to an arsenal of hard rock that taunts, torments and relies on gross outrage. They are an ego-mad, glitter band that represents the lunatic fringe of rock. They exalt sex and recklessness, and the fact that they were voted the most popular rock band in America in a Gallup Poll last year, should give all reason-guided souls considerable pause.

As bassist Gene Simmons flicks his tongue lasciv -iously, as Peter Criss' drum kit rises 30 feet high and flashes more lights than the spacecraft in "Close Encounters," as Ace Frehley shrieks off power chords and singer Paul Stanley prances bare-chested and in eight-inch heels, you have to wonder if these four guys from the Bronx (Simmons is an ex-sixth grade teacher, no less) are more berserk than already assumed. They are definitely con men, in their grease-painted faces, S&M chains, and macho histrionics, but the perverse pleasure they derive does appear genuine.

Their Providence audience was very young (numb, chaperoning parents were even spotted) and, after a horrible, feedback-laden set by Rocket, was hypnotized immediately by Kiss' "I Stole Your Love," as the band descended

from a moving balcony and began their assault. "King of the Night" had a pagan backbeat, "Ladies Room" had Stanley saying, "We have some hot girls up front that we want to meet in the ladies' room," and "Firehouse" found him in a red fireman's cap, shouting, "We're going to burn this place down," as eight sirens wailed overhead. Jets of flame added to the chaos, and it was easy to see why, due to strict fire laws, Kiss cannot play in Boston.

"Love Gun" had a trench-warfare tone, "Let Me Go Rock & Roll" a savage guitar break (the band is only adequate musically, but holds nothing back), "Makin' Love" a grinding episode by Stanley, "Shock Me" a feedback attack by Frehley followed by a smoke bomb. "I Want You" and "Shout It" were frenetic singalongs, while "God of Thunder" had Simmons on a hoist barking bass lines as if he were King Kong, before fireworks and flames sprayed every whichway.

This was the sullen underbelly of rock, and the logical next step will be for the band to annihilate themselves with their own props.

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