Pretty much any band who plod on well into their fifth decade will have long ago passed the point of self-parody. This rule of thumb does not apply to Kiss, who splendidly sidestepped the problem by being a masterclass in self-parody from day one.
It’s been 44 years and more than 100m record sales since the face-painted, self-proclaimed “Hottest band in the world” formed in New York City. Yet new music plays little part in their strategy nowadays. They have released two new studio albums since the millennium, preferring to tip out endless greatest hits compilations and milk the world’s nostalgia arena-rock circuit.
That cynicism has blighted the band’s image, with their co-founder, bassist and leader, Gene Simmons, widely perceived as one of the most mercenary figures in rock. Kiss’s marketing philosophy can be best summarized as “If it moves, monetize it”: they may no longer be flogging band condoms or coffins, but you can still pick up a nifty Swarovski Kiss-logo coffee tumbler for a mere £335.
If they began life in 1973 as a garish, defiant cartoon, they have long since descended into full-on panto-metal. Opening the evening descending from above, a vision in circus slap and thigh-high silver platform boots, these four men of pensionable age illuminate their oddly rudimentary, plain heavy rock with sufficient ground-shaking firebombs and pyro infernos to annex a small country. Their shtick is to push every idea and song to its max, even when there’s not much of an idea or song there to begin with.
Kiss’s ludicrousness is their raison d’etre, and it can be both deliberate and unintentional. Two songs into the set, guitarist and singer Paul Stanley, as ever an endearingly camp Dr Frank N Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, calls for a one-minute silence to honour the victims of the Manchester terror attack. Once respects are paid, he turns his mind to more familiar concerns: “How many girls here like to get licked?”
Stanley is a more engaging figure than the gurning Simmons, who distracts the Kiss army from the fact that his bass solo is not terribly dextrous by spitting fire, oozing fake blood from his mouth and taking flight to the ceiling of the arena. Yet by the 100th time that he extends and waggles his infamous lizard tongue at the crowd, you feel as if you are humouring a beloved grandad’s party piece of wiggling his ears.
Sleek, streamlined pop-metal missiles such as Crazy Crazy Nights and Rock and Roll All Nite boast infectiously soaring choruses, but in truth, for a show that is predicated on excess and spectacle, there are too many lulls and longeurs where the music fails to equal its packaging. After a pulverising Detroit Rock City unleashes a final shock-and-awe blast of pyrotechnics, the superannuated hottest band in the world toddle off to peruse the night’s balance sheet.