KISS: Manchester Arena

You wanted the best, you got the best. Shaun Ponsonby catches the KISS’ brilliantly silly farewell tour in Manchester.

By Shaun Ponsonby
Tue 16 July, 2019

Alright, Manchester! You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band in the world – KISS!

That famous introduction has always raised a smirk on this face. KISS were never really the “hottest band in the world”. In their heyday, they had precisely one album in the US Top Five, and America was undoubtedly their biggest market.

But then it sums two things about KISS; their utter ridiculousness, and their greatest talent – self-promotion. They have always really been a novelty band. You know KISS even if you’ve never heard any of their songs; the make-up, the blood, breathing fire, shooting rockets out of the guitars. All of that. But unlike some of their peers – like, say, Alice Cooper – there’s been nothing clever or interesting about how they approach it on a subversive level. It’s pure, in your face entertainment.

And absolutely none of the above paragraph is a criticism. On the contrary, the idea of everything being an intellectual exercise repulses me. That KISS are a bit of a kitschy novelty is the whole reason I like them. Pretty much every piece of news that we’ve heard about anything since 2016 has been terrifying. Watching 67 year old Paul Stanley – still one of the most joyously camp straight frontmen in the history of rock – fly over the crowd before singing about pulling the trigger on his Love Gun is a relief.

Actually, there have been accusations of Stanley lip syncing on this tour. He has neither confirmed nor denied this. There were certainly moments when it seemed possible, even likely. But it doesn’t really matter.

A lot of KISS fans have taken issue with the concept, but this is a band who have been faking it in one way or another since at least the mid-70s. They’ve never been a band of integrity and standards. Having a realistic view of them, this doesn’t faze us in 2019.

Looking over their history, this is the band who used uncredited musicians on most of their classic albums and pretended it was all them, used guitarist Ace Frehley’s face on the cover of Creatures of the Night even though he had nothing to do with it and had left the band, replaced Ace with an African American and drummer Peter Criss with another actor overdubbing lines in the ghastly movie KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park, got two cosplayers to dress up in Ace and Peter’s make up, performed farewell tours before this and have promised TWICE that “farewell means farewell”, That KISS may be using tracks to support Paul’s shot voice shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone going to see KISS for an enlightening music experience is delusional  anyway.  The KISS experience isn’t about musicality.

The show is a finely honed machine – it has to be, really. There are more fireworks than bonfire night. The only song without pyrotechnics was piano ballad Beth. Gene Simmons spits blood during a bass solo before flying above the stage to sing God of Thunder.  He breathes fire during deeper cut War Machine. The Rock & Roll All Nite finale has confetti canons blasting throughout the entirety of the song, making the stage all but invisible to the naked eye. It’s a genuinely thrilling thing to see.

The set is based almost entirely on their 70s heyday. Only three non-make-up songs appear; Lick It Up, Heaven’s on Fire and, exclusively for Europe, Crazy Crazy Nights. They also play Say Yeah from  2009’s Sonic Boom and the title track from 1998’s reunion album Psycho Circus.

For the rest, its classic KISS all the way; opener Detroit Rock City, Deuce, Black Diamond, I Was Made For Loving You. Loud, silly, bombastic.

This is supposedly KISS’ farewell tour, though there was no feeling of this from the stage. No emotional send off or elongated stories of days of yore. It was business as usual, and there were no real surprises. But then should that be an issue?

A KISS show is an endlessly entertaining, over the top spectacle. As God Gave Rock & Roll To You II played over the PA at the end of the show, 20,000 people sang it at the top of their voices as they left the venue. All of them with a smile on their faces. It’s easy for the snobs to write off bands like this, but surely the whole reason anybody makes music is to lift our spirits. If that is the case, few succeed like KISS.

Pictures by Sakura