The opening night of the short UK leg of the Kissworld 2017 tour was tinged with sadness after the recent tragic events in Manchester. Tonight’s gig was made all the more poignant by the amount of young children in attendance. Watching so many happy, excited kids, wearing Kiss make up, and in some cases, long mullet wigs, really hit home how devastating the Manchester attack was. Security was ramped up, with a visible police presence throughout the area, and no bags or rucksacks allowed. Sad to see, but reassuring. If ever there was a band to provide a welcome distraction away from the heartache, then that band would be Kiss. Forced to cancel the Manchester gig due to the venue still being closed (remember that fact before typing your bile, keyboard warriors!), Kiss set out to put on a show for people never to forget, and by Lucifer’s beard, that’s exactly what they did.
Kiss usually take out a young band to open for them on the road, the last trip around these shores in 2010 saw Taking Dawn earn their spurs. The European leg of this tour featured British upstarts Raveneye, and for the handful of UK dates these were replaced by New York’s The Dives. Get the obvious one out of the way, The Dives feature Evan Stanley on guitar and vocals. Stanley as in Kiss legend, Paul Stanley. Rather than focus on the connection, it’s simpler to focus on what the band sounds like and how they perform on a live stage. The four-piece play a brand of power pop/rock, straight out of New York, but heavily influenced by The Beatles. When Stanley says “Here’s one you might recognise…” you know instantly it’s going to be a Beatles cover, (“Don’t Let Me Down”, if you’re playing along at home). The four part harmonies are perfect, and fellow guitarist and vocalist Mike Lefton does a mean fab four trademark head bob as he takes over lead vocal duties. Stanley is an engaging, confident frontman, who at times reminds me of a young, ‘The River’ era Springsteen, but although ‘Don’t Take It Easy’ could easily have come out of the same clubs that spawned Springsteen, Southside Johnny, etc, and the mid-section of ‘Mandy’ echoes Springsteen’s ‘Rosalita’, the rest of the set is pure Liverpool, born and bred. T shirts are thrown out into the crowd, the debut EP is plugged heavily, and before they bring their fun, short set to an end, Stanley announces that the band will be pressing flesh on the merch stand. Fair to say that the band left with oodles of new fans in their back pockets.
As far as gig intros go, the curtain drop has always been my favourite, and no-one does a curtain drop quite like Kiss. Hell, even the raising of said curtain after The Dives finished their set is greeted by loud cheers, and it’s a cue for mass selfies with the curtain as the backdrop. So, after the last strains of ‘Rock & Roll’ fade out from the PA, the house lights drop and the immortal lines, “You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world… Kiss!” come booming out, the curtain drops and we’re straight into ‘Deuce’. The wattage on display from the massive lighting rig and stage production has lights flickering all over Scotland as the grid struggles to cope with the power surge. The band are all elevated on platforms and begin their descent from the skies as every pair of eyes in the house follows them down. For those catching Kiss for the first time, it’s the musical equivalent of a kid going to Disney World for the first time… “where do I look, where do I look?!”. Gene Simmons is stomping around like Godzilla awoken early from his hibernation. The cameras pick up fans slack-jawed look of amazement. How can anyone be cynical when they see the obvious joy that Kiss bring? Paul Stanley is as twinkle-toed as ever as he pirouettes across the stage brandishing his guitar, complete with customised Scottish artwork. Tommy Thayer brings the riffs, and at the back, Eric Singer shows yet again why he is such a highly-respected drummer. What a glorious noise they all make.
This is Kiss with all the bells and whistles… and by bells and whistles, I really mean smoke, flash bombs, pyro, and fricken laser beams! There is something strangely reassuring about a massive rock “show” during these uncertain times throughout the world. For nearly two hours, it was a case of check your fears and concerns at the door as Kiss steamrollered their way through five decades of music. Pausing after a breathless ‘Shout It Out Loud’, Paul Stanley led a minutes silence for “our brothers and sisters in Manchester”, as a message of unity flashed up on the giant screens. After this touching moment, it was highlight after highlight as Simmons took over on ‘I Love It Loud’ from the under-rated ‘Creatures Of The Night’ album. ‘War Machine’ was another welcome visit to this gem of an album. If you’ve seen Kiss before, then you know what’s coming. When ‘Firehouse’ starts you know that Simmons is going to spit fire. You know that his demonic bass solo will see him flying to the rafters for ‘God Of Thunder’… but even though you know what’s about to happen, it’s still awesome when it does. Kind of like when Ben Gardner’s head pops out of his wrecked boat in ‘Jaws’! Another gimme is when Paul Stanley introduces Tommy Thayer. You know it heralds ‘Shock Me’, and the resulting solo will see rockets fired out of his guitar. But it still elicits “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” from the crowd, regardless if they knew it was coming or not. One of my own highlights occurred during ‘Flaming Youth’, when the screens came to life with images of the band throughout their career. The grainy black and white pictures were a fantastic trip down memory lane, and it was a lump-in-the-throat moment when they stopped on a picture of the much-missed Eric Carr. Another touching moment.
The make up, the larger than life personas, the massive production… all usually mean that the quality of Kiss’s material is often overshadowed. The closing quartet of ‘Black Diamond’, ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’, ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’, and what else but ‘Detroit Rock City’ are as strong a closing twenty minutes as you’ll see this year. The confetti cannons at both ends of the hall erupt, the pyro goes into overdrive, and the firework guy has buggered off to the loo and forgot to press pause, but it’s the songs that stick in the mind. ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ is so simple it shouldn’t work, but it does. As divisive as it was in 1979, in 2017 ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ is a mammoth, crowd-pleasing anthem (who saw that one coming in 1979?). One after the other, each topped the previous in crowd reaction, and the look of sheer joy on the faces of the crowd was amazing to witness. Kiss in 2017? They came, they saw, they conquered… again.
Review: Dave Stott
Images: Lara Vischi