‘You wanted the best… you got the best! The hottest band in the world… KISS!’
It’s hard to believe it’s been 22 years since those immortal words were screamed in earnest on an Irish stage. That iconic rallying call has been ripped off dozens of times since, most notably by Guns N’ Roses (‘You wanted the best… well they couldn’t make it tonight!’) and their wrinkly offshoot Velvet Revolver (‘The Hulk couldn’t make it tonight, but we’ve got some comic book characters for ya…’), but nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of hearing those exact words in that exact order. There may only be a handful of bands that can legitimately claim to have had such a lasting impact on rock music as the bemakeupped New York foursome, and fewer still could claim to put on a show this electric. After 35 years, Kiss probably sound as good as they ever have.
As recently as a couple of years ago, Kiss were the mockery of the American rock circuit, playing low-key but well-paid events to seniors at casinos and on camping grounds around the Midwest. 2009’s Sonic Boom, their first studio release in 11 years, ignited something of a revival in the group’s fortunes. Released exclusively in Wal-Mart stores around the country (think Tesco to the power of a hundred), the CD was an unlikely success, not just at home but also in the UK, which the band had traditionally skipped during concert tours due to lack of interest. This time around, though, they’ve hit all the major population centres and thrown Dublin in for good measure. Alas, there was no date at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena, the only other indoor venue on the island capable of putting on such an event, but they at least ensured the gig was more or less a sell-out.
The sudden upturn in the band’s fortunes was also reflected in the quality of opening act. It was a little bit disappointing that they didn’t offer an opening spot to an Irish act – a group like Glyder or the Answer would have fit in perfectly – but it’s understandable, given the strict curfew operated in the O2, that they couldn’t put on more than two bands. As it happens, Las Vegas four-piece Taking Dawn might be the best support act Kiss have toured with in years. Their stage show was oddly understated in light of what was to follow, but the quartet did their best to command the comparatively bare stage, and their brand of energetic 80s-throwback metal was a good way to open the show, even if it did occasionally veer a little too close to Nickelback territory for comfort.
The band took to the stage at 8.45 sharp, opening with Sonic Boom’s lead single, -Modern Day Delilah.’ It’s a risky move for a nostalgia band to open with a new song, particularly one that pales miserably in comparison to even their second-tier material, but it worked out quite well, especially when it segued coolly into -Cold Gin.’ Immediately apparent was the dramatic difference between Kiss on record and Kiss on stage. Classic though the old recordings are, they do sound a little tame by modern standards, but the stage show was considerably more beefy. Eric Singer’s drums were triumphantly loud in a way Peter Criss’ never were, Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer’s guitars sizzled with razor-sharp distortion, while Gene Simmons’ bass never sounded so doomy and menacing.
One thing hasn’t changed, though. Simmons remains the archetypal oversized goblin of rock music, stomping around the stage in ridiculous platform shoes like a creepy sex-charged granddad. Paul, on the other hand, continues to stick two fingers up to the aging process. He may have undergone two hip replacement surgeries in the past few years, but to watch him dance you’d never know it, and aside from the slightly flabby man-boobs he could easily pass for 40. He too wore ridiculous pumps for the duration, and a pair of sparkling black and silver trousers that could only be described as dandy to the extreme. Both he and Gene spent time in the air: Gene performed -100,000 Years’ from a platform at the highest point of the arena, while Paul was carried all the way to a platform directly in front of the balcony for -I Was Made For Lovin’ You.’
Surprisingly, for a tour billed the Sonic Boom European Tour, there were only three tracks from the new album played, with the rest of the 20-track set devoted to the hits (and a couple of lesser-known lights). The band reeled off the likes of -Deuce’ (which benefitted to most from the muscular live sound) and -Crazy Crazy Nights’ alongside newer tracks -Say Yeah’ and -I’m An Animal’ in the first half, before winding down with an unbeatable 1-2-3 of -Love Gun,’ -Black Diamond,’ a cover of the Replacements hit (relax, KISS fans, I’m joking), and -Detroit Rock City.’ The extended encore (it was almost half as long as-the main set) saw Simmons exhibit his unique tongue talent – although it’s not so much a talent as it is Genuinely Disturbing – during -Lick It Up’ and closer -Rock And Roll All Nite.’
Guitarist Tommy Thayer has been filling Ace Frehley’s shoes for a good eight years now, but he has never been fully accepted by fans, and his tepid performance of -Shock Me’ and generally anonymous stage presence will do little to change that. Drummer Eric Singer, on the other hand, more than fills the shoes left by Peter Criss and Eric Carr, and is arguably the best technical drummer the band have ever had. Still, KISS have never been the tightest group in the world, and not much has changed. Stanley’s lead guitar spots, one of which involved him playing the guitar behind his back, were visually impressive but not much else, and Thayer’s again paled in comparison to the departed Ace. There were other sloppy moments, but it was hard to care when the music was so good.
Vocally, the gig was a mixed bag. Certainly, Stanley had little trouble with the higher notes, but he seemed to struggle a little when he hit the lower end of his register, and (to these eyes at least) he appeared to lip-sync much of -I Was Made For Lovin’ You.’ Simmons, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the ability to hit the higher reaches anymore, and he sounded a lot more comfortable on the newer songs, like the brooding, Sabbath-like -I Am An Animal.’ The vocal feed was often drowned out by the guitars and, given that the mix was generally very good, it’s reasonable to assume it may have been an intentional measure to disguise the vocalists’ discomfort with some of the more difficult-to-reach notes.
Throughout the night, Stanley took the lead in addressing the audience, repeatedly reminding us that it had been ‘way too long’ since he’d been in Dublin and that we were the ‘best audience’ they’d played to in X amount of time. In fact, they probably weren’t even the best audience he’d played to that day, and Stanley found it difficult to get them to sing along to even the better-known tracks. Professional that he is, he made it seem as if the audience was doing a great job, but clearly we weren’t. The explanation might lie in the demographics: the Kiss Army at the O2 on Friday was unusually young, with most of crowd appearing to be in their mid-20s, and the absence of a significant spark may have been due to lack of familiarity with the material.
There were hundreds of white and black painted faces (apparently greasepaint was selling like hotcakes in our capital’s costume shops), but perhaps not as many lifelong fans as the band are used to. Whatever the make-up of the audience, though, Kiss put on a fantastic show that few in the audience will forget in a hurry, and it’s a reasonable bet that it won’t be another 22 years before they grace our shores again.
Photos: Loreana Rushe