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It turns out that Paul Stanley knows KISS Kruise attendees better than they know themselves. "You don't really want to hear us play," said the KISS singer, relaxed a linen turquoise shirt, sunglasses, and absolutely no black-and-white makeup. "You want the all-you-can-eat prime rib!"
He and his cohorts, a nearly 40-year-old New York hard rock band, have enticed about 3,000 charter members of the KISS Navy to see their obsession on a huge boat in the middle of the ocean. And the fawning flowed both ways during the opening night's acoustic Sailaway Show amidst pools and hot tubs and glad-handed camaraderie on the Lido Deck of the Carnival Destiny.
With no bright lights blinding them and the sun peeking out at their back, the fellas -- each with a personalized black cup with their name on it -- could see every one of the thousands of glowing faces in the crowd in hot tubs, at bars, on waterslides singing along to a bevy of KISS favorites from the heart of the catalog. It was easy to ignore that the mighty vessel was exiting the Port of Miami with this much infectious admiration spreading over the deck's treated lumber.
After striding out in cowboy boots and jeans, genial bassist Gene Simmons launched into his trademark exaggerated smiles and pursed lips, and was seemingly in good spirits about the added weight to his ring finger. New bride Shannon Tweed was not immediately in sight. But hey, guitarist Tommy Thayer did his part by painting a constant smile on his face for the entire performance.
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Things kicked off with "Hotter Than Hell" -- though it actually wasn't due to the breeze blowing in. Later on, things mellowed out with the tender "Shandi," which brought out wise-cracking Stanley's tender side. Similar emotional territory came when stick-twirling drummer Eric Singer got out from behind his kit to sing "Beth." He remarked that he has a very long cord. Lovers embraced in the packed crowd, and Paul and Gene swayed back-to-back behind him. The rapturous harmonies of "Christine Sixteen" got one of the most feverish responses of the night -- it's a song that the men and women of the crowd can agree on.
"You know what's crazy," Stanley said, genuinely pleased. "We're actually better than we thought!"
Things got muddier and unpredictable in the middle -- Simmons rocked a little of that Otis Redding/Blues Brothers bassline for "I Can' Turn You Loose," and they cut into pieces of old favorites like "TwoTimer." Of course "Rock and Roll All Nite" got thrown in, but that song requires the pyrotechnics. Staying tuned for the big stage show.
Alas, no one wore Skid Row-themed makeup later on. Now dark on the Lido deck, the Sebastian Bach-less lineup tore through some Sunset Strip classics. "18 and Life" is now how old? With the waves washing in behind them on the big screen, it was a sight to behold for the couple hundred who hustled back up there after dinner and crowded around the stage with buckets of beer. Among them, a "Sun Devil" and "Moon God" who form Crash.
They walked out to the Star-Spangled Banner, and got a healthy dose of wind through their long locks --- conditioning does pay off. Singer Johnny Solinger rocked the Bret Michaels bandana/cowboy hat combo, which was fine until his hat caught a little too much breeze. "That's what happens to a cowboy from New Jersey," he said with a laugh.
He would return later to sing the Big Rock Show's final stadium-sized cover of the night Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home." Now we're talking late, loud Lido deck business that relies heavily on the outfit's propensity for workingman heroics, and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" is that song. The crowd, which had recently fussed and feuded to get themselves into free fleece KISS pajamas, was unsurprisingly more civilized after being on the receiving end of a spot-on cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."
Overheard: "Hey Captain and Tenille!" to myself and photographer in reference to our white sea captains' hats.
European fellow holding a drink: "Captain Morgan!" Nearby woman: "Really, can I smell it?"
"Gulp, did you bring a flask."
Kruisers Around the World: In addition to the map -- which a Sixthman staffer said "it comes down eventually or someone will steal it" -- many, many folks brought relevant flags representing their native lands: Peru, Puerto Rico, Norway, Australia, Spain, Germany, and many more.
Random Detail: The bassist for the Big Rock Show's goatee is braided into a 14-inch ponytail.
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Merch of the Day: Kiss Kruise napkins.