KISS Delivers to Close Out Rock USA

Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley of KISS performs at 2011 Rock USA in Oshkosh, WI on July, 16 2011

It’s been more than 35 years since KISS first  wowed audiences with their unique fusion of glam and macabre. Though they’ve hit a few lows along the way (The Elder, unmasking, and the departure of Ace and Peter to substance abuse problems), they have become a well oiled machine in the interim and continue to put on arguably one of the best shows in rock and roll.  This was absolutely the case as they headlined the final night of the inaugural three day Rock USA festival in Oshkosh, WI.  A festival that was not without its share of issues despite being host to Country USA for more than a decade.

The configuration used for Country USA two weeks prior was also implemented for Rock USA, albeit with a few more crowd control barricades and increased security. This included a VIP section that comprised nearly 50 rows of VIP seating (more than 50 yards of free space) between the stage and the general admission crowd. Outside of a handful of fans, this simply does not work for a rock concert. The bands derive their energy from crowd feedback and the fans enjoy being immersed in more than just the music. The result was a series of performances over three days where the bands did not play to their expected levels. This was mostly apparent with the earlier artists and most notable for sets by Puddle of Mudd, Candlebox, and Hollywood Undead. Band quotes ranged from “climb over the fences” to “we’ve never played to so many white chairs before, it’s beautiful” to Gene Simmons of KISS actually telling security to “get the fuck away!” This left most of the bands playing to empty chairs because the VIPs were either drinking under the VIP tent or showing up only for the headliners.

Security was doing what they could to satisfy the show organizers; but they operated with a resolute fear of what might happen that eventually denied a majority of fans from enjoying the festival. Power was temporarily lost several times during Korn’s dynamic set, as several mosh pits had generated, and immediately deflated the mood. Whether or not that power outage was planned, in an attempt to subdue the crowd (a rumor that was spreading thru the venue, and more than likely false), there was neither an apology nor explanation offered by management following their set.  It should be noted that the fans were acting in accordance with a hardcore performance and Korn provided the most energy that had been seen on the weekend.


If organizers intend on Rock USA being an annual event, then they need to alter the festival configuration.  The VIP section should be reduced by half, split down the middle of the grounds directed outward from center-stage.  The other half should be  general admission VIP for the first 20-25 yards and then general admission  directly behind a second crowd break.  This would assist the VIP ticket holders who want to stand closer to the stage and would satisfy the majority of other fans by bringing them 20-30 yards closer to the stage.  There should also be a standing room only section for the general admission crowd as well, directly behind the VIP standing section (i.e., no chairs would be allowed for a certain distance from the stage on the “standing” side).  These are just a few observances but it would make for a much improved concert experience.  The additional charges for “drinking bracelets”, “safety bracelets”, and parking need to be addressed as well.  All fees, outside of a small parking subsidy, should also be included in the ticket price.

Hollywood Undead gave a great performance, and much better than expected under the circumstances as they tend to interact strongly with the crowd (having reviewed them recently at 93X Fest). Their blend of angst-filled, but often humorous, melodic rap upon percussion and guitars was a refreshing departure from the old school sound that filled the weekend.  Candlebox had a great set on Friday but Don Dokken’s voice was borderline hoarse from the start, and proof that they were done several years ago.  Hollywood Undead’s live sound is not much of a departure from their recordings and a tribute to their musicianship.  The fact that Danny, Johnny 3 Tears, Charlie Scene and Funny Man know how to work a crowd only improves their ability to keep the crowd entertained.

In terms of high-powered performances, Korn simply owned the festival.  Though most fans purchased their three day ticket because of KISS, Korn provided more energy than any of the other artists combined.  Love them or hate them, they came to play and those who were there to see Korn were in pure bliss–until they suffered numerous audio problems halfway into Falling Away From Me.

Jonathan Davis - KornJames (Munky) Shaffer - KornJames (Munky) Shaffer - KornJonathan Davis - KornReginald (Fieldy) Arvizu - KornRay Luzier - KornJonathan Davis - KornReginald (Fieldy) Arvizu - KornJonathan Davis - Korn

KISS gave the audiovisual experience every fan expected–an abundance of lights, fire, blood, flying guitars, explosions, shooting rockets and platform risers that carried Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and Eric Singer high above the crowd.  Their stage setup was grand enough that they were scrambling to get it assembled between sets all day long and had it completed just before Korn’s 9:00 pm slot. Although they played a couple recent songs, Modern Day Delilah and Sonic Boom, the remainder were classic KISS hits that included vocal arrangements by all, including Tommy Thayer on Shock Me. Despite more than 20 original studio albums, their best track to date remains Black Diamond and they still do the song justice with drummer Eric Singer on vocals.  It was surprising to see Singer approach the front of the stage to begin their four song encore with Beth. By the time they finished with Rock and Roll All Nite they had played for an hour and 45 minutes and finally produced the first true headline set of Rock USA.

As always, there were a handful of fans who went above and beyond for the show.  It was great to see those in support of Hollywood Undead, Korn, and KISS at the show.

One final question I have for the festival:  why is it performed the same weekend as Cadott’s Rockfest?  Would it not make more sense to hold it the weekend before or after, thereby allowing fans to attend both of Wisconsin’s premier rock festivals?



Hollywood Undead Setlist:
1. Undead
2. Sell Your Soul
3. Been to Hell
4. Gangsta Sexy
5. California
6. City
7. Comin’ in Hot
8. Coming Back Down
9. Bullet
10. Paradise Lost
11. My Town
12. Young
13. Everywhere I Go
14. Hear Me Now

Korn Setlist:
1. Blind
2. Here to Stay
3. Pop a Pill
4. Freak on a Leash
5. Shoots and Ladders / One
6. Got the Life
7. Oildale (Leave Me Alone)
8. Falling Away From Me
9. Coming Undone / We Will Rock You / Twisted Transistor / Make Me Bad / Thoughtless / Did My Time / Clown
10. Y’All Want a Single

KISS Setlist:
1. Modern Day Delilah
2. Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll
3. Firehouse
4. Say Yeah
5. Deuce
6. Calling Dr. Love
7. Shock Me
8. I Love It Loud
9. Love Gun
10. God of Thunder
11. Black Diamond
12. Detroit Rock City
13. Beth
14. Lick It Up
15. Shout It Out Loud
16. Rock And Roll All Nite

Head over to Sonic Rampage and The Dead Hub for in depth concert reviews and more photos.

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