London The O2 Arena, May 31st 2017
The self-proclaimed Hottest Band in the World is back on UK soil, almost 41 years to the day since they first set stack-heeled boot onto our shores. The line-up has changed, the fans much older (and many with their offspring alongside them), the music industry has moved on, but the KISS Army still remain as strong as always.
Opening the show is The Dives, a straight ahead rock combo fronted by Evan Stanley, son of the Starchild. Their classic sounding rock n’ roll (think early Springsteen or a less-countrified John Mellencamp) goes down well, but is a stark contrast to the good time rock of the main attraction. Kudos goes to Evan for not playing the ‘don’t you know who my dad is’ card during the show, though and actually coming across as a down to earth chap.
There are not many bands that the mere appearance of a curtain on the stage bearing their name would elicit an enormous roar. But KISS is not a normal band, and they don’t have regular fans. Sure, there are plenty seeing them for the first time tonight, the curious and the ‘I was there’ crowd, but the majority of the packed arena are true diehard KISS fans, the band run through their veins. Once they have got under your skin, it’s hard to let them go; no matter how much ridicule is heaped upon both the band and the fans, they keep coming back for more. And they don’t leave disappointed tonight.
After what seemed like an age, the lights dimmed and the deep bass note sent the arena throbbing as everyone knew what was coming. That familiar introduction, inbuilt into fans from the moment they first heard KISS Alive! – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best, we did and we do. From the moment that curtain drops, we’re treated to the best live spectacle possible. Columns of fire, explosions, rising sections of the stage and levitating drums – and that’s all within the first few numbers.
But what of the music, you might ask? That’s what counts, isn’t it. Yes, it is. And KISS deliver in spades. Even the more recent songs that are included in the set are greeted like old friends. They may not be songs that are in the general public consciousness, but there’s no denying that anthems like Crazy Crazy Nights (a top 5 UK single) and disco crossover I Was Made for Lovin’ You are more widely known than one would expect. Those particular tracks are given an airing during the show, probably against long-term fans’ wishes, like with any veteran band, there hard-core fanbase would always prefer the deeper cuts to the familiar ‘hits’. They are appeased, though, with the return to the set of songs such as War Machine (from 1982’s Creatures of the Night) and Flaming Youth (which was last played on these shores on the band’s 1976 tour).
Two songs in, and we’re asked to remember the awful incident that took place at Manchester Arena the week before. Getting 14,000 people to fall silent is some achievement, out of total respect for those affected, the arena does just that. KISS should have played the very arena the night before this show, and the sentiment (which the band have been doing at each show following the tragedy) is heartfelt and genuine from all involved, and the respect the crowd showed rang out through the silence as everyone was determined to enjoy themselves just that little bit more in tribute to those who attended a gig and didn’t go home. There were numerous children in the audience – most wearing the make-up of their heroes (or their parents’ heroes) – which makes the moment even more poignant.
As for the show, we get everything we expect: fire breathing from Gene Simmons, along with his signature blood spitting ‘stalking vampire’ bass solo (complete with a flight up to the highest lighting truss), columns of flame, explosions, and a confetti storm that almost covers the entire arena. Paul Stanley plays the frontman to a tea – teasing the crowd and playing the left side/right side rivalry game that fans’ have gotten used to – as well as flying out to a smaller stage towards the rear of the standing area to sing Psycho Circus, one of only two songs from the band’s post-reunion years. Perched on 7-inch platform boots, he never stops moving and doesn’t miss a beat while playing to the adoring crowd. That is not to say there are not issues. At 65, Paul’s voice has seen better days, and at times it’s sadly painful to hear him try to hit the highest notes of the songs (and he really needs to stop the ‘sung’ introductions, he’s not doing himself any favours), but it’s not enough to ruin the show. Even the occasional bum note and missed lyric can’t put a dampener on how enjoyable the show is. And that’s what people pay for when they go to a gig, after all. Perfect recitals can be boring, watching some chap croon and strum a guitar on a massive stage isn’t engaging in an arena setting. You need to leave the venue knowing you’ve had your money’s worth. KISS gives you that, and much more.
KISS setlist: Deuce/Shout It Out Loud/Lick It Up/I Love It Loud/Firehouse/Shock Me/Flaming Youth/God of Thunder/Crazy Crazy Nights/War Machine/Say Yeah/Psycho Circus/Black Diamond/Rock and Roll All Nite/I Was Made for Lovin’ You/Detroit Rock City