As Paul Stanley might exhort from the stage, “Who here likes Garth Brooks?!” Along with the nearly 20,000 who saw the country superstar perform his first comeback show last night in Chicago, Kiss sure did back in 1994. In the summer of that year, the hard-rock band recruited Brooks to perform with them on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
The appearance was timed to promote the release of the tribute album Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved, which featured artists like Gin Blossoms, the Lemonheads, Anxthrax and Lenny Kravitz putting their spin on the rock monsters’ best-known hits. At first glance a fish out of water, Brooks turned in one of the best tracks on the album, covering the acoustic ballad “Hard Luck Woman.”
With Stanley on 12-string, Gene Simmons on bass, Bruce Kulick on guitar and Eric Singer behind the drums, the “unmasked” makeup-less Kiss performed the song live with Brooks on vocals for The Tonight Show. Written by Stanley and sung by the group’s original drummer Peter Criss, the studio version of the song, released as a single in 1976, already had a country flair. Which was only amplified when Brooks wrapped his Oklahoma twang around the lyrics, both on record and on the Tonight Show stage.
An unabashed and vocal Kiss fan, the four-time CMA Entertainer of the Year drew inspiration from the band’s outrageous stage show for his own performances. While not featuring fake blood and greasepaint, Brooks’ Nineties concerts were nonetheless over the top. The singer swung on ropes, scaled lighting trusses and flew over the crowd on a harness — much like Stanley and Simmons perfected during their heyday.
Twenty years later, Brooks has returned, with his Kiss influences intact. During last night’s tour kickoff at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, his stage featured an illuminated pretzel-like drum set that would make Criss or Singer drool and an enormous cube that doubled as a video screen.
Meanwhile, recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Kiss are still going strong. They just completed a summer tour with Def Leppard and are gearing up for a November residency in Las Vegas. And given the band’s knack for always finding the most lucrative business decisions, they’d probably be available to back Garth one more time should he call. For the right price.