Gig review – KISS, O2 Arena, London, May 31 2017
By STEVE MASCORD
IT was a moment so extravagantly cheesy I remain very reluctant to recount it.
Near the end of KISS’s set at London’s O2 Arena last week, the band regarded by many critics as the corniest and most over-achieving in the history of recorded music were halfway through their 1987 UK hit “Crazy, Crazy Nights” – which peaked at no.4 here, making it more successful than any of the iconic American anthems of the seventies such as “Detroit Rock City” or “Rock’n’Roll All Nite” or even “I Was Made For Loving You”, the 1979 disco song that razed my native Australia.
We got to the bit where Paul Stanley sings “They try to tell us/That we don’t belong/That’s alright/We’re millions strong/You are my people/You are my crowd/This is our music/We love it loud”.
I’m two people back, on Gene Simmons’ side of the stage. My ticket cost less than face value on Stubhub but the 20,000-capacity O2 looks roughly 85 per cent full. As I turn around, there are thousands of fists in the air, almost all male. I lock eyes with a fellow of roughly my age, late forties, with corkscrew grey curls.
And this happens.
I high-five him. We clasp hands. Our eyes continue to meet for only a second. We are instantly embarrassed and quickly turn away. We don’t really acknowledge each other for the rest of the night.
You see, when that song first came out, I was 18. KISS were considered “done” in most of the world and to watch the video, I had to buy a VHS tape. And every time Paul sang those words, I was alone. There was no-one to high-five.
I’ve heard the song, perhaps, 500 times since and I’ve NEVER had anyone to high-five during it. Being into KISS is like that; sometimes “the only gay in the village” does not seem like a comedic hook-line when you’re a KISS fan. At 48, 30 years after I first heard the lyric, I was finally able to share with someone – without uttering a word – what it meant to me then.
What, exactly, is that? And does it mean anything now? (continued below)
There is a dichotomy we now see in politics, that of a billionaire reality TV star propelled to great power by representing the “common man”. And the intelligentsia mock the common man for his stupidity, his failure to see that he is being conned.
To their long-derided fans, KISS flog everything from condoms to caskets. Tonight at the Greenwich Peninsula, t-shirts and caps and tanktops are flying off the shelves with greater purpose and accuracy than Paul flies over our heads before “Love Gun”.
The snotty reviews the next day pillory the “irredeemable” music. A Twitter wag points out that after holding a moment’s silence for the Manchester Arena bombing victims (KISS were supposed to play there the previous evening), Paul asked “do any of you ladies like to get licked”? To most people, it’s an inconceivable, hackneyed, lowest-common-denominator, blood-spitting, fire breathing, rocket-firing hell.
And as I try to decipher why it doesn’t seem that way to me, I realise that’s exactly the reason; because it does to almost everyone else.
The sincerity or otherwise of Gene Klein, Stanley Eisen, Peter Criscuola and Paul Frehley when they formed KISS in New York City at the start of the seventies – or indeed their talent – is of absolutely no significance.
Sure, the Barnam and Bailey bombast and fat singalong choruses were a kind of blunt-instrument genius but the idea that they would act as a magnet for pimply, bullied misfits like me and play a role in moulding us into aspirational, purposeful and even celebratory adults could never have been accurately predicted.
Not predicted by them, not by their manager Bill Aucoin or the record company head Neil Bogart, not by anybody.
By 1987, either Stanley had a sense of what KISS had become – or his co-writer on “Crazy, Crazy Nights”, Adam Mitchell, had.
The abiding disdain of the mainstream towards KISS prove to us that “commercial” and “alternative” are not mutually exclusive concepts.
The passage of time has not removed the greasepaint – it went back on in 1996 – but it has dramatically removed the impact of the artifice. Paul once opined that we might like his seven inch leather heels and going to all of the shows but, did we love him? From the second row I can see Gene’s in-ear monitor, I can see the silver paint on the plastic gargoyle shoes, the ragged edges of the facepaint and the folds in his chin.
Paul Stanley doesn’t attempt to pretend he’s not wearing a wig. His backside, wiggled across every time zone in the world since 1973, is that of a 65-year-old man. A 65-year-old man wearing a halter-top and platform boots.
Yet just as there is a contradiction in these millionaires continuing to inspire such loyalty in those they often seem to bleed dry, there is a deeper, more counter intuitive juxtaposition. As the band ages and we with them, the more obvious the fakery becomes to us (Paul’s stock of guitars, half sawn through, ready to be smashed in the finale), the less fake KISS are.
Peaking behind the curtain, strangely, reveals more than what’s in front. If you want to know what I mean, do this as the Hottest Band In The World prepares to ride off into the sunset.
Get a good ticket, get so close that you feel the heat of the flame throwers, hear the shredded vocal chords, see the wires that lift Gene to the ceiling, risk being splattered with fake blood, detect what’s on the backing tape, see through the sagging outfits to bulging waistlines.
You’re almost there, in the best seat in the house, if you want to find the “substance” that hundreds of critics have sought without success since 1973. Now, with your ears ringing and your clothes dripping with sweat, turn around like I did.
Look at the rest of us. That is where the greatness of KISS really lies.