Sunday, July 3, 2022

Battle of the Bands, US Semifinal 2: KISS vs. Ramones

Earlier this year, The Rock Universe whisked me away to a mysterious time and place to witness a battle of the bands of unparalleled greatness. I documented the experience, and now I'm sharing the battles here on the blog. Today we've got the next matchup of the tournament: KISS vs. The Ramones. Here's how it went.


I returned to my seat, really looking forward to this matchup. I'd actually seen KISS perform live a couple of times back in the '90s during their Alive/Worldwide tour, and it was a fun experience. I imagined it would only be better here.

Even with the house lights off, it was easy to split up the crowd this time: Lots of painted faces from the KISS Army, and lots of ripped jeans and black leather jackets from the Ramones faithful.

Just then, a familiar voice yelled out across the PA system from the darkness:

The stage lights went up, and KISS went right into their hit song, "Detroit Rock City".

The crowd roared at the four costumed icons as they blasted the arena with distortion and explosions. It was like a leadoff hitter drilling a home run on the very first pitch of the ballgame.

The song ended with more pyrotechnics, and the crowd roared even louder. Once the noise subsided a little, Paul Stanley began to address us all, asking how we were feeling, and if we were ready to rock. But before he could finish the sentence, another voice yelled out from the other stage, still in shadow:
It was Dee Dee Ramone. And his band had jumped right into "Blitzkrieg Bop"

It was like the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the inning coming right back with a home run of his own on the first pitch. For the first time in this tournament, I found myself actually standing up to watch what was going on. Most other people were, as well. And there was good reason.

After that blast from the Ramones, KISS came right back with "Deuce". Then the Ramones punched back with "Sheena is a Punk Rocker".

And something remarkable was happening. The folks with standing-room-only space on the floor were running back and forth, from stage to stage, to cheer for whichever band was playing, regardless of who they were rooting for. There was more energy and sound in this battle than any other to this point, by far.

KISS kept it going with their third song, "Shout it Out Loud", and then the Ramones turned it up a little more with "Rock 'n' Roll High School". Without letup, KISS started into "Rock and Roll All Nite". Then the Ramones immediately jumped into "Cretin Hop".

And that's when something else remarkable happened. To this point in the tournament, each band played a total of four songs, and then it was time for a victor to be chosen. And we'd reached that point in this battle. Paul Stanley of KISS started to thank the crowd and say goodnight, but the crowd was so pumped up and energized that no one wanted to go home. And on top of that, for the first time in this tournament, they just couldn't choose a winner. Neither could The Rock Universe. 

Joey Ramone stepped up to his microphone again and got his opponent's attention.
"Hey! I don't think we're done here, pal."

Stanley spoke back.

"We're walking off stage so we can do an encore. That's what we do."

"If you walk off now, we're just going to keep playing song after song, and you'll be done. Simple as that!" Johnny Ramone yelled out. Then Joey took the microphone back and issued an instant challenge.

"We're staying, so if you don't keep up with us now then that's your problem. Take it, Dee Dee!"

Dee Dee knew exactly what to do, and yelled out again, ONE TWO THREE FOUR!
The band blasted into "Blitzkrieg Bop" for a second time, even louder and faster than the first. The crowd lost it.

Stanley, Frehley, Simmons, and Criss had no choice. They plugged back in and followed along, note for note.

Hearing such an anthem played by two iconic bands at the same time was unreal. Frehley, Simmons, and Criss were keeping up. And despite Paul Stanley having trouble with the lyrics and relying only on his guitar playing, the song came to a close and still no final decision had been made.

Stanley yelled out, "Hey! No one understands your lyrics! You're mumbling and not making sense!"

"Who said lyrics had to make sense?" Joey replied. 
"That's not a fair fight!" Stanley cried out.
"Alright, do one of your songs then." Said Joey.
Stanley stepped away from the microphone to think. But Peter Criss had an idea. He tapped on the side of his snare to get the band's attention, and then broke into the drum introduction to "Strutter". Stanley, Simmons, and Frehley jumped in excitedly.
It didn't take long for all four Ramones to pick up on the beats and melody and play along. And although Johnny's guitar solos didn't quite match up to Ace's, the song ended with the bands still at a draw. The crowd wanted even more. Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee huddled around Tommy and his drum kit for a strategy session. We all waited in anticipation. Soon enough they all headed back toward their stations and shed their leather jackets. And that's when something really impressive happened.
Tommy Ramone broke into the same drum introduction to "Strutter", but at an even faster tempo. The rest of his bandmates came in right on time, and blasted out the melody hard. All four members faced the other stage as they played.
Again, KISS didn't have much choice. It was their song, after all, and they couldn't allow the Ramones to outplay them.
It was a legendary face-off, and the bands were going note for note until about halfway through the song. Tommy Ramone was showing signs of slowing. His drums were softer. Less powerful. He'd begun to slouch over. 
But just as Gene Simmons smiled and began to wag his tongue at his opponent, sensing a potential victory, a new figure ran out from behind the Ramones' stage. It was Marky Ramone!
He grabbed Tommy under each arm, helped him away from the drum kit, and quickly snatched the drumsticks and took his place, picking up the beat and pounding it out note for note with renewed energy. This didn't go unnoticed by KISS.

The song ended, the crowd cheered for both bands, and Stanley waited for a chance to gripe.

"What is that about?!?" He yelled.

"What is what about?" Marky replied.

"You can't switch drummers in the middle of a song!" quipped Stanley.

"Yeah? Says who?" challenged Marky.

"You just can't!" protested Paul.

There were more jeers than cheers from the crowd, however, and there was no word from The Rock Universe. The call on the field would stand.

"Tell you what", Joey Ramone said. You choose a song, and both bands will just keep playing it over and over until there's only one of us left standing."

Stanley looked at his bandmates. They stared right back at him and confirmed without a word.

"Strutter again." Stanley said. "Do it."

Immediately, Dee Dee counted off and the Ramones blasted the song out at their own pace. KISS followed right along. However, determination not to be beaten by their own song only went so far.
A still fresh Marky Ramone had set up a cadence that, after two consecutive repeats of the song, was getting to Peter Criss. He'd started to tail off noticeably, and soon was stumbling so badly that he had to stop to rest his hands and forearms.

Paul Stanley, still agitated with the non-call on the drummer issue and tired of singing his own lyrics to a different pace, was next to bow out, dropping his guitar and storming off the stage.

Ace Frehley had a trick up his sleeve, however. He began to shoot fireworks out of his guitar toward the Ramones' stage. He had quite a few loaded up, but none landed significant blows, and the four guys in jeans and sneakers didn't let up one bit. Out of ideas and ammunition, Frehley boarded his guitar, flew out of the arena, and launched into outer space.

That left Gene Simmons. The big, imposing bassist looked around, realized that he was the only one in the band remaining, and pulled out all the stops. He stuck out his tongue to impart fear, he breathed fire, he stomped around the stage as he played "Strutter" a third time along with the Ramones, matching them note for note, speed for speed, pounding out eighth notes. 
Admirably, he kept up for a long while. But eventually the Ramones looked at each other and somehow managed to turn the effort up one more notch. A final wall of sound knocked Simmons down to one knee, and he shielded himself by turning his back to the stage. After bracing, he looked at the Ramones, grunted at them, coughed out some smoke, turned his volume knob to zero, and sat down.
Again Dee Dee yelled out ONE TWO THREE FOUR! to start the next playing of "Strutter". Simmons could do nothing but shake his head, partly in anger, partly in admiration. Still catching his breath, he acknowledged defeat and watched the performance. The crowd and The Rock Universe agreed: 
Four punk rockers from Queens had defeated all the theatrics, pyrotechnics, and stage presence of KISS.
What an amazing battle. The Ramones made a statement, but with all the energy they expended, I wondered how they would ever follow this performance. 
Here are the set lists:
Detroit Rock City
Shout it Out Loud
Rock and Roll All Nite
Tiebreaker: Strutter
Blitzkrieg Bop
Sheena is a Punk Rocker
Rock 'n' Roll High School
Cretin Hop
Tiebreaker: Strutter

And here's the updated bracket. 

Next week it's back to the UK section of the draw for the final first-round matchup: #1 seed Led Zeppelin versus #4 seed The Who.
Which band are you going with?


  1. Epic battle. I'll be rooting for Led Zeppelin next week.

    1. Indeed it was. Thanks for following along, Fuji! Definitely stay tuned next week.

  2. Love the Ramones. Great story. Although I don't know why they did "Blitzkrieg Bop" a second time when "I Wanna Be Sedated" is right there.

    I'm Team Who for next week all the way. Would probably give them to win in the whole tournament, although I certainly wouldn't be upset to see the Ramones take it.

    1. I'm also not sure why they did "Blitzkrieg Bop" a second time. Maybe a lot of fans in the front row were chanting for it. Ultimately, it worked out for the Ramones, and now they have "I Wanna Be Sedated" in their holster for the next battle if they want it.

      Glad you're following along, Brett. Stay tuned for more!

  3. Wow that is epic. Would be off the charts if it could really happen. Next week is 50/50 for me, but I like Zeppelin in that one.

    1. Right? What a show that would be. Thanks for following along, Crocodile. Be ready for next Sunday!

  4. Well, that was interesting... :)