Live Review : KISS @ MEN Arena, Manchester on July 12th 2019

I spent a considerable part of my childhood in Norway. In the late seventies, there was a craze amongst the Norwegian kids to collect KISS trading cards. I was transfixed by these otherworldly comic book like characters. Resplendent in leather, steel with black and white face paint, they captured my imagination like nothing before. They didn't look like the drab rock stars I was used to seeing on telly, they felt more like super heroes. Pretty soon, I had developed a life long obsession with the band. I stayed true during the lean non-make up eighties (Hell! I even bought “Hot in the Shade”). In 1996, I was rewarded for my devotion by finally getting my dearest wish fulfilled and seeing the original line up in make-up and full regalia. It was everything I had fantasized about over the previous seventeen years. In fact, it was more. Ace fired rockets from his guitar and Paul shirtlessly gyrated, oozing sex from every pore. However the money shot was, stood not two metres away, spitting blood and bellowing fire, was the lizard king himself. It was like superman had landed in front of me.

Fast forwarding another twenty-three years (a full four decades after my infatuation with this band began) and I am stood in the same arena as before for what could well be my last encounter with my beloved KISS. In the years that have passed, I have lost hair and teeth, Ace and Peter have both (again) been served their marching orders and Gene has morphed into Heavy Metal’s very own Scrooge McDuck. I love KISS with a intensity on par to how I feel about my children, but boy at these prices they better pull out all the stops...

Needless to say, tonight they are magnificent, the best I've seen KISS since the aforementioned reunion shows. I don't know what it is about farewell tours that brings out the best in bands, but this evening there is a real sense of occasion. It is like doing this one last time has focused their minds and made them determined to go out with on a high. They also seem noticeably more relaxed and playful. There are plenty of sly winks, cheeky bum wiggles and essentially a vibe of a band actually enjoying themselves for once.

KISS invented the big pyrotechnics filled arena show. In the same week that Rammstein have taken it to a whole new level, you got the distinct impression that Gene and co are putting down a marker to the German upstarts that they are still the masters of this realm. To say the staging is stunning frankly does it an injustice. This is by far the most elaborate show I have seen them put on, as everything is ratcheted up to the maximum. Columns of flames accompany every single track, there are hydraulic platforms a-gogo and the drum riser is up and down like a bleeding yo-yo. Paul, Gene and Tommy (admirably playing the part of Ace) use every inch of the stage and interact with all four corners of the vast arena

The secret of big shows is making the punter in the furthest seat in the furthest row of a vast aircraft hangar feel like they are part of the show and this is something that KISS have become veritable maestros in. The stage is adorned with massive screens that Gene gurns out from and on numerous occasions Tommy and he get hoisted into air on various platforms, giving our friends in the nosebleed seats a chance to see them up front and personal. However, Paul tops all of this by having his own personal stage at the back of the room which he flies to near the end of the show. Yes they have no qualms about wringing every possible penny from us, but you cannot argue that they do their darnest to give us value for money.

The amazing balancing act that KISS have managed all the way through their carrier is that the spectacle has never over-shadowed the music. They have a back catalogue of bubble-gum pop-rock to be proud of and tonight they bring them all to the yard. As this is a farewell performance, there is no new album to promote, therefore we just get one solid gold nugget of sugary commercial rock after another. For Christ sake the first three songs are 'Detroit Rock City, 'Shout it Out Loud’ and ‘Deuce’. On any other tour, that’s the encore. And it just gets better as they unapologetically throw out classic after classic after classic. ’Lick It Up, 'Calling Dr Loveand 'Cold Gin' have all been dispensed with before we are even half way through and it just gets better and better.

Black Diamond' closes the main set with Eric Singer on vocals (tonight Mathew I’m going to be Peter Criss) and he pops up again at the start of the encore for a solo rendition of ‘Beth where he proves that actually he has the best set of pipes out of anyone on stage tonight. We get the obligatory nod towards the unmasked wilderness years of the eighties with 'Crazy Crazy Nights’but it is closer 'Rock And Roll All Nite' where they pull out all the stops. In its intro, Paul alludes to the fact that their previous Manchester show was cancelled in the aftermath of the arena attack and with genuine emotion in his voice tell us that during the intervening two years they have been praying for Manchester. However this interlude into reality is fleeting, as it is straight back into KISS’s multi-coloured saccharine fantasy world as the balloons rain down, the confetti cascades while Gene and Tommy soar high above our heads in personalised cherry pickers. This is as over the top as it gets; a kaleidoscope of fire, lasers and streamers accompanied by chorus you could land a plane on it. And its all utterly utterly wonderful. There is a final bow (not a word is mentioned to acknowledge that this is allegedly the final show in Manchester) and they march off the stage to allow us to grudgingly return to our drab lives. 

I can’t stress enough how bloody brilliant tonight was. For many years, it has felt like this had all become just a job for them and watching KISS was a case of observing them go through the motions. Tonight they are quite simply magical. Gene and Paul sparkle with enthusiasm, passion and charisma. They again feel special and that they exist in a different dimension to all other faceless grey rock stars. If this is the end then they have indeed gone out in style, but the lack of any onstage recognition of the impending cessation of activity leads me to believe there may yet be life in the old dog .

Words and photography by Stewart Lucas