KISS Says Goodbye at Madison Square Garden – December 1, 2023
In 2019, the iconic rock band KISS began their farewell tour, dubbed the End of the Road tour. They announced a date in the summer of 2021 that was to be the date of their final show, at a to be disclosed location. Then, the pandemic happened, and tours were delayed and ultimately canceled. Their schedule finally was able to resume in 2021, and they announced their final shows would be in December 2023.
This past March, KISS announced “The Final 50 Shows,” culminating with two shows at the world’s most famous venue, Madison Square Garden. The band started in New York City, more than 50 years ago, so I always assumed their final show would be here. When the original date was announced, I had hoped perhaps they would play a huge show at Yankee Stadium, but if not a stadium show, MSG makes sense.
So that brings us to tonight, nearly 5 years after the End of the Road Tour kicked off, for night one at Madison Square Garden. As rain poured over Midtown Manhattan, fans filed into the sold out show. Kicking off the night was the band Amber Wild. They played a half hour set that was rockin, with roots that are heavily planted in rock ‘n’ roll influences like Led Zeppelin. Amber Wild only made their debut back in October, and as such, this was their first time playing in New York City. How does a band play Madison Square Garden as their first NY show? Amber Wild frontman Evan Stanley is the son of KISS frontman Paul Stanley. He made a point toward the end of the set to thank “dad and Gene,” for taking them out on this tour. While genetics may have got them the spot on this tour, I enjoyed their set, and have definitely seen worse opening bands.
Amber Wild finished their set, and techs hurried around frantically to prepare for the main attraction. A giant curtain fell, hiding the stage, with the iconic KISS logo emblazoned on it. Around 9pm, Led Zeppelin‘s “Rock and Roll” played over the PA, signaling the band would soon appear. The lights go dark, and a video appears on the screens, showing longtime manager Doc McGhee walking out of the dressing room, with the band closely behind him.
Then the words we’ve been waiting for… “You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band in the world… KISS!”
The band starts playing the opening notes of “Detroit Rock City,” and with a burst of pyrotechnics, the curtain comes falling down. The band lowers to the stage from platforms suspended in the air. No band makes an entrance the way the KISS does!
If you’ve seen any show on the End of the Road tour, the show was fairly similar tonight. We were treated to hits from the band’s entire career, from early songs, like “Cold Gin” and “Deuce,” 80’s material like “I Love it Loud” and “Lick it Up”, as well as later tracks, like “Psycho Circus”, and off of 2009’s Sonic Boom, “Say Yeah.” Gene rose to the sky after spitting blood to sing “God of Thunder.” Paul flew across the arena floor to a small stage at the back to perform “Love Gun.” Tommy launched fireworks from his guitar during his solo, and Eric’s drum solo saw his kit rise to the rafters. All of the show elements, as well as the flames and fireworks, that we’ve come to expect from KISS were here.
While the set remained standard, and there were no special appearances from any former members of the band, as Paul spoke to the crowd in between songs, you could tell this was an emotional weekend for them. He mentioned back in 1972, while he was driving a taxi in New York City, he dropped passengers off at the Garden to see Elvis Presley perform. When he did, he said to them “One of these days, you’re going to see my band on that stage.” Later in the night, Paul spoke about the first time they played Madison Square Garden, looking over here and seeing his parents watching, and looking over there and seeing Gene’s parents watching. “No matter how old you get, you always want to make your parents proud.” They had certainly made New York City proud tonight.
After the explosive ending of “Black Diamond,” the stage went dark. The audience cheered for more, and Eric rose from the floor, playing “Beth” on a white grand piano. The rest of the band returned to the stage and played “Do You Love Me.” After that, the show came to its climax, with “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Gene and Tommy stepped into buckets attached to giant crane arms that stretched clear across the arena, dozens of confetti cannons blanketed the audience, and Paul finished the show smashing a guitar as explosions went off behind Eric. I said no band makes an entrance like KISS, and likewise, no band makes an exit like KISS.
With that, the band is left with just one more performance. The original lineup of KISS famously went on a farewell tour in the year 2000, and over the last two decades, they’ve been the butt of jokes about the never-ending farewell tour. So the question remains, is this really the end of KISS? Time will tell, but I do believe it’s the last we will see of KISS in this fashion. Paul and Gene are in their 70’s now, and people often say “but look at the Rolling Stones!” While the Stones soldier on, Mick and Keith aren’t wearing 40 pounds of armor while they run around the stage. The KISS brand will never go away. I imagine the KISS Cruises will continue, and perhaps the band will continue to perform acoustic shows, sans makeup. Meanwhile, for years there have been KISS tribute bands, putting on faithful reproductions. I won’t be surprised if there becomes an official, large-scale tribute act, or maybe a Vegas show, with younger musicians performing a licensed KISS concert.
I certainly don’t have the answer, but I was happy to be part of this night, honoring 50 years of the KISS legacy.