Kiss openly admit that they have been influenced by many British rock bands from the 1960s and 70s; most notably Slade and they have, like many American classic rock acts, cited our very own Beatles as influences. In spite of all this, they have never really become established over here despite their huge success back home. This tour is their first visit to the UK in several years, they have 'retired' at least once in the meantime but here they are, now without founder members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, but with Eric Singer in the Cat makeup (who has actually been involved with Kiss for almost 2 decades now) and more controversially, Tommy Thayer in Ace's mask and costume. Ace Frehley actually did carry out his promise to retire after the band's 'farewell' tour and so when Simmons and Stanley changed their minds and broke out the Max Factor once more, they recruited former Black 'n' Blue guitarist Thayer in his place.
The last time I saw Kiss was with the original four, headlining at the 1996 Donington festival. The show was typically large-scale, but I was less than enthused with the actual concert. With that in mind, I had few expectations of this show and had in fact only booked it because it stopped off in my city. I cannot claim to be a fully-paid up member of the Kiss Army (Kiss Territorials is probably more like it!), which is just as well, considering that this show was added to the tour some time after the original four dates were announced. Those who are big fans will have booked for one of those shows, and with money being tight these days it would be a big ask to go to another concert which was added later, even if that show was in your town. I fear that's what happened at this show tonight; the turnout was not great, if I'm honest I think it was less than half full. I had little problem finding a nice spot about ten yards off the front, there was loads of room when I arrived and only the lower tier of the arena was being used for seating. Had I been a bigger fan of the band and had booked for, say, the MEN Arena I would be less than pleased that they were coming to my town if I had spent my money already! This is something that does need to be looked at in my view, when there are gigs like this in our town they should be supported but it's made difficult when the date is added some time after the original batch is announced.
The smaller crowd was not lost on frontman Paul Stanley, who very early on in the show declared that although it was obviously not the biggest crowd it could still be the loudest! With that he made a point of involving those who had showed at every turn, getting them to cheer, shout and sing frequently. Despite a recent hip replacement, he looked agile and trim, and was in excellent singing form. Gene Simmons was, well, Gene. Stomping around the stage like he owned it (he probably would do if given a chance!) poking out that tongue, spitting fire and spilling fake blood, he was in his element playing the showman. He was hoisted high up into the arena (at great speed, I must say!) to perform 'I Love It Loud' - how he does that without getting vertigo is beyond me! Not to be outdone, Stanley was flown across the floor in a harness, to a platform near the mixer where he played 'I was Made for Loving You'. If the band were disappointed by the turnout, they didn't let it get to them and they delivered a polished, professional show with everything a Kiss fan could want - pyro, flashbombs, rocket-firing guitars and a set packed with classic songs and some from the new album 'Sonic Boom'.
The addition of Singer and Thayer has actually reinvigorated the band; although they reformed in the 90s with the make-up and the original members, it was soon shown to be an unwise move as the old cracks appeared. With the return of Singer behind the kit, they sound solid and with Thayer handling the lead very well, the old stagers can concentrate on their showmanship. That's not to say Simmons and Stanley hog all the stage; Thayer and Singer are given a spot to play solo and fire some pyro of their own - Singer was given a rocket to fire at one point! Thayer is also given Ace's song 'Shock Me' to sing lead on, likewise Singer with 'Black Diamond'. Despite the old backronym 'KISS is Simmons and Stanley', this feels more like a band now. I enjoyed this show tremendously, they still have it and I would hope Stanley was not just being showbiz when he told us he and the band were having a blast at this gig and that he hoped they would play here again. If they do, they'd do well to list their whole tour itinerary from the off, rather than the piecemeal way it was done this time. Somewhere backstage in the Echo Arena, a tour promoter is applying ointment to his burned fingers...
Support came from Taking Dawn, the Las Vegas hard rockers had a thankless task opening this show before a sparse crowd there only to see Kiss, but acquitted themselves well. They play energetic hard rock/metal in a sort of 80s vibe, a sort of Skid Row meets Thin Lizzy kind of thing. Although they were greeted with near-apathy apart from a handful near the front, they performed with commendable enthusiasm and verve. Well worth catching if they play in the area again.
To sum up tonight then, it was an arena-sized show played before an Academy-sized crowd!