MiniKiss is better than no KISS at all

Never in my life have I wanted to throw Gene Simmons over my shoulder so badly. Or change his nappy wig.

It's not the real Gene Simmons in question here — this is actually "mini Gene" from MiniKiss, a group of KISS-lovin' Lilliputians who're paying tribute to the primordial gods of pyrotechnic rock at Dos Gringos on the Saturday before Cinco de Mayo. But the illusion that I'm almost a foot taller than KISS' strapping bassist/co-frontman is pretty damn cool for me, as I'm barely 5-foot-2 and accustomed to being one of the shortest people in the room.

I was immediately fascinated when my friend B-Boy told me about these four enterprising "little people" from NYC who've been touring the country since 1996, doing their diminutive emulations of the Demon (Gene Simmons), the Starchild (Paul Stanley), the Space Ace (Ace Frehley), and the Catman (Peter Criss), in full stage regalia and makeup. Their mini-gimmick has landed them on The Daily Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live, and now here at this swingin' Scottsdale club, where the crowd tends to get ripped beyond all recognition by midnight.

Dos Gringos is actually a pretty fitting environment for such a surreal show. The club is always one of the rowdiest weekend hangouts in Scottsdale, brimming with guys who have a beer in each hand and use the word "bro" a lot, and chicks who're often dressed as though they just want to be tossed over a shoulder and undressed very quickly (it's a symbiotic caveman vibe). This is a club where people get staggering drunk and grind up on each other, rhythm and dance-floor litter be damned. Why not add some wee rock glee to the mix?

I'm here with my friend Stacks, a geek-chic chick with '50s beach bangs and stylish glasses whom guys often describe as having a "sexy librarian" look (those stacks could be books or boobs; she's got both). Before the show, I lamented that I didn't know what to wear — to which she deadpanned, "Wear flats." Stacks is also a lifelong musician who immediately points out that the members of MiniKiss are not, in fact, playing their own instruments the whole time. Once MiniKiss takes the stage and starts prancing around to a pre-recorded track, we are essentially watching live-action bobbleheads.

But I didn't come to be wowed by MiniKiss' musical prowess. I just love a good gimmick, and the original KISS — the all-time masters of mass-scale merchandise and branding — have gotta be proud of their pint-sized progenies. Gene Simmons was proud enough to book the band to perform at Studio 54 for a private party celebrating the launch of his Tongue magazine in 2002. Watching them onstage at Dos Gringos, I empathize with Simmons, who, according to Mini Gene, could only find the words "different" and "unique" to describe the spectacle.

Mini Ace is in silver platform boots, occasionally lighting off a small sparkler or green smoke bomb attached to the head of his silver glitter guitar. Mini Peter (oh yeah, Stacks and I riffed on that for way too long) hits his little kit with some rhythm, but isn't actually doing fills or timing changes. Mini Gene is rocking the red cape and spewing fake blood, and his unkempt wig looks like the matted hair of a corpse. Mini Paul is winking and pointing at me. I giggle. Not even the real Paul Stanley, with all his legendary Grecian chest hair, could make me giggle like that.

I've never been a huge KISS fan, but I do own a handful of KISS records on vinyl, including the classic Destroyer, the double albums Alive and Alive II, and a 1974 Japanese import of Hotter Than Hell. The KISS songs I know best — "Rock and Roll All Nite," "Shout It Out Loud," "Detroit Rock City," "Beth," "Lick It Up" — were all chart hits for KISS (even though "Beth" was actually the B-side of "Detroit Rock City," it charted at number seven). I expected a KISS tribute band — of any size — to roll out the KISS hits. Before the show, someone commented that they hoped MiniKiss would play KISS' entire catalog, but since KISS used to release an album every six months (and has put out a whopping 27 studio and live albums to date), I knew their set list would be far from comprehensive.

But I didn't expect their performance to include lip-synched covers of songs by bands other than KISS. Throughout the band's hourlong show, they mimed a Black Sabbath song ("Paranoid"), a Guns 'N Roses smash ("Sweet Child O' Mine"), and an Ozzy tune ("Crazy Train"). I was already disappointed that they were faking playing KISS songs to a bad backing track, but hearing bad covers of other bands' songs was a bigger bummer.

That's not to say the night wasn't thoroughly entertaining. Now that I've seen a group of midgets performing "Detroit Rock City," I can die happy. And local drummer AD Adams (of Crash Street Kids, and Glass Heroes) was in the audience, and he lovingly — and drunkenly — accosted me and planted a big, sweaty kiss square on my lips. He also sent some leggy ladies onstage to dance around during "Sweet Child O' Mine."

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