No Pyro, No Party – KISS Sign Off In Typically Overblown Style At The O2

They say growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional. The long-serving members of KISS may well want to Rock And Roll All Nite but even for these most age-defying of rockers, the sands of time are inevitable. After 50 years as one of rock music’s most flamboyant, influential, and occasionally divisive acts (whilst fans adore them, critics have rarely been as kind), Kiss are finally calling it a day, with their global End Of The Road Farewell Tour. Tonight at the O2 is the very last time they will play London, and they intend to go out on a high.

KISS @ The O2

Gene Simmons, Eric Singer & Tommy Thayer of KISS @ The O2 (Kalpesh Patel)
Gene Simmons, Eric Singer & Tommy Thayer of KISS @ The O2 (Kalpesh Patel)

En route to the venue, it’s clear that these are an act that transcends generations. Entire families in black and white face paint, young couples, grandparents in long black wigs, groups of middle-aged friends and a few lone wolves, who will nonetheless soon reunite with their pack inside the arena. Everyone is here for a party and the mood is one of good-natured excitement and inclusivity.

KISS @ The O2

KISS fans @ The O2 (Kalpesh Patel)
KISS fans @ The O2 (Kalpesh Patel)

Following the excellent Skindred’s riotous support act, the crowd is nicely warmed up and the anticipation ratchets up a notch as the huge black KISS-emblazoned curtain goes up, blocking the stage from view. The intro music plays as we wait… and wait. Then:

BOOM. The curtain drops and an explosion of pyrotechnics announces their arrival.

If I was worried that their advancing years might hinder their ability to put on a show, any lingering doubt is immediately blown away by literal fireballs and the ludicrous pomp of opening track Detroit Rock City. All four members are resplendent in utterly ridiculous, silver and black steampunk-meets-space-goblin outfits and platform boots, with their trademark white and black face paint. There are tongues everywhere.

Lead singer Paul Stanley, bassist/singer Gene Simmons and guitarist Tommy Thayer congregate centre stage, when not prowling and mugging for the cameras, lapping up the feverish response from their fans. They rattle through Shout it Loud, then it’s an opportunity for Simmons – stomping around in 7-inch platforms that reportedly weigh 20lbs – to show he can still carry a tune with Deuce and War Machine. The 73-year-old finishes the latter by deep-throating his microphone before more fireballs sizzle the audience. Subtlety is not the order of the day.

Stanley has clearly had his Weetabix, fit and lithe as he prances about the stage like a 70-year-old man has absolutely no right to do. He screech-talks between songs, chatting with the crowd about years gone by and how much they love London and will miss playing here. There’s a bit of call-and-response crowd rivalry that the audience is only too happy to engage in.

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I’m still mesmerised by the industrially constructed costumes and sheer energy levels on display from these would-be-pensioners, but there’s no time to dwell as they carry on storming through song after song – its only the hits tonight. Gene breathes fire (naturally) and repeatedly licks his bass with that enormous tongue whilst gyrating shamelessly. His codpiece receives ample attention from the onstage cameras, delighting the crowd with numerous angles from the screens above.

The staging is brilliant – clever multi-screens and moving platforms with incredible lighting and infinity effects and, let’s face it, unashamed braggadocio. These old timers put on a hell of a show, it’s full of action and incredibly entertaining. Tommy Thayer gets his solo moment whilst Stanley and Simmons presumably have a quick lie down.

We’re into the second half now with Lick It Up and a cheeky segue into Won’t Get Fooled Again. Calling Doctor Love is followed by drum and bass solos (during which Simmons rises up above the stage like some demented goblin king and drips a huge mouthful of blood down himself).

Next, it is God Of Thunder, then Stanley dramatically flies on a winch across the arena, whilst singing to a second stage at the opposite end, for Love Gun and Black Diamond, before zip-wiring it back to his pals as they head offstage, leaving drummer Eric Singer alone on stage with a grand piano. We are treated to a surprisingly lovely rendition of Beth (nominative determinism at play perhaps, as Singer has a fantastic voice) before the bandmates return for a barnstorming encore of their biggest hits, I Was Made For Lovin’ You and Rock And Roll All Nite. Cannons launch an insane amount of red and white ticker tape, obscuring the band as they bring the house down.

They may not have quite the catalogue of stone-cold classics of some of their contemporaries but the energy and showmanship they have brought to The O2 this evening is astonishing. Tonight has been everything I wanted KISS to be and then some – completely over the top and gloriously silly. If this is indeed the last time they play on these shores, I’m glad I was there at the end.

Review of KISS @ The O2, London on 5th July 2023 by Sarah Kavanagh. Photos by Kalpesh Patel.

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