There aren’t really words sufficient to get round a KISS gig. It’s the sort of spectacle that would have made ancient Picts fall to the floor and weep. For sheer pomp and bombast the sextagenarian monsters simply can’t be beaten. If you think that outdated dad rock isn’t cool, let me tell you – there’s a pure, wild joy in wigging out and having your retinas burned by a ten-gigawatt lighting rig and pyro stack.
That’s particularly the case in light of recent events. The O2 is under heavy security these days, and only a week after the Manchester attack there’s a certain tension outside the venue. Armed police patrol the grounds, and queues for the airport-style security gates curl back towards North Greenwich tube. KISS’s brand of rock’n’roll pantomime is a much-needed tonic to all this ominousness.
When the lights go down there’s a very throaty roar from the crowd (despite a noticeable lack of attendants up in the far balconies – maybe still tangled in security), and the familiar bellow rings out of the speakers. ‘You wanted the best….!’. Oh we know this one. ‘You got the best…!’ Here it comes here it comes. ‘The hottest band in the world…. KISS!’ The riff to Deuce revs up like a Dodge Charger, and with a colossal explosion the curtain drops to reveal our cartoon heroes descending from the roof on a steel platform, spitting sparks and smoke in all directions.
KISS’s facepaint-and-costumes schtick has made them into superheroes. Seeing them onstage there’s the thrill that that’s really them up there. That’s really Gene Simmons, he of the tongue and the fire and the blood. That’s really Paul Stanley, the starchild, the ultimate rock star, man! Not for them the slow decline into grey-haired decrepitude of their 1970s peers – 2017 KISS is still larger than life and hotter than hell.
Stanley in particular is astoundingly limber and lithe for a man of 65 – he spends most of the night dropping to his knees (when did your grandpa last do that and get back up again?), and his biceps are visibly toned on the big screen. We also get plenty of campy appreciation from him. He’s like a kabuki prima donna. One could imagine him in a red dress clasping a large bouquet of flowers to his chest – ‘thank you, my darlings, thank you all!’
Then there’s the stage set, as spectacular as we’ve come to expect – giant video screens, lasers and smoke machines vying for attention amongst flame jets, fireworks and hydraulic lifts. For this tour the band have also installed twin banks of LED arrays leading up to the ceiling – a stairway to heaven of twinkling KISS logos fifty feet high.
You can only goggle, really. You just have to let your jaw drop. I don’t care who you are – if you can’t get a bit crazy with all that madness going on in front of you, you must be clinically dead.
Simmons dribbling blood and spitting fire and flying up to the rafters during God of Thunder; Thayer shooting sparks out of his guitar (despite a malfunction on the last blast); Stanley riding a zip wire to the back of the arena; Singer’s drum riser floating up to the roof – the old favourites all get an airing. In a way, that’s the joy of KISS – in the same way you enjoy shouting ‘he’s behind you!’ at a pantomime, it’s damn good fun hitting your cues at their gigs.
In the midst of all this exhilarating excess, Stanley calls for a minute’s silence for the victims of the Manchester attack. The contrast is striking, and it works beautifully. Not only do KISS have us recognise the darkness that has taken place: they also give us a million-dollar party to shake it off.