Kiss’ final tour review – a glorious, absurd triumph from kings of rock’n’roll theatre

From the moment they first graced a club stage in 1973, envisioning themselves as the star children of Alice Cooper, the Beatles and the New York Dolls, Kiss have introduced themselves as “The Hottest Band In The Woooooorrrrld!” even when no one had ever heard their name. Never has anyone better worn the adage: dress for the job you want, not the one you have.

“You wanted the best, you got the best!” booms a voice over the PA, and over the heads of 20,000 fans gathered at the stadium hosting the Sydney leg of the band’s End of the Road tour – an allegedly final string of shows that began in 2019 before being endlessly interrupted by Covid. Down comes a huge, black Kiss-emblazoned curtain as pyrotechnics erupt, fireballs shoot towards the ceiling and four grown men in shiny black and silver clown costumes stomp out in unison to the opening riff of Detroit Rock City. Paul Stanley wails triumphantly, “I feel alright/On a Saturday night!” and we do too, already beaming at the unfettered rock’n’roll theatre of the absurd that is Kiss. (Detroit Rock City is about a young fan dying in a car wreck in his haste to get to a Kiss concert – which seems a huge bummer of a way to start a show, but as with all things Kiss, you just don’t think too hard about it.)

Few bands have been as critically maligned as Kiss over their career, and no band has single-handedly done more to prove music critics redundant than they have, striding – perhaps a little more slowly than their younger selves – around the stage in front of a packed arena a full 50 years after they formed. They have always viewed critics as losers and critique as pointless. And, they are right: attempting to police what people enjoy is the last bastion of the bitter and defeated, of the self-deluded and the lame. The only thing Kiss cares about (apart from making more money, about which they care most) is their lifelong army of fans: the ever faithful Knights In Satan’s Service. And for them, they will deliver nothing but wall-to-wall hits for two straight hours at a volume beyond deafening.

On top of their hilarious, ridiculous and ingenious attention-seeking gimmicks, Kiss also has more than a few songs that are legitimately canon-great, and they still sound fantastic singing them. Gene Simmons turned 73 on this tour, so word is that this truly is the last dance for Kiss – and never in such a short span of time have I amassed more respect for our elders than during this gig and its feats of physical endurance. Will holographic versions of Kiss tour in the future and into eternity, playing to no one in the decaying ruins of casinos surrounded by dust? Yes. But it will never be the same as this.

Their shows are, by and large, family-friendly entertainment (catering to the very lucrative kids market). The songs Kiss wrote that could be interpreted as encouraging naughty behaviour tonight come down to just a few: Cold Gin, a stone classic written by Ace Frehely, who was kicked out of the band for indulging in substances that the famously teetotal Simmons could not abide (but who sings this song with the conviction of a true lush); Lick It Up, which is not about ice-cream; and Love Gun, which is not about a water pistol. Best not tell that to the numerous kids visible around the arena, up on shoulders and singing the choruses at the top of their tiny, innocent lungs.

Is this all somehow … arousing? Look, we’re all three sheets to the wind here

Simmons’ adolescent proclivities remain vitality alive as he breathes fire and lurches on 7-inch platform heels, while baking inside 20kg of stage costume. He unfurls his enormous tongue to spill about a litre of (absolutely real) blood down his front while rising on a platform above the stage to holler out the ludicrously righteous God of Thunder, engulfed in dry ice. He duels face-to-face with guitarist Tommy Thayer during Deuce, twice reaching across between the pair to grab Thayer by the manhood, in some kind of very public hazing ritual that he notably avoids with Stanley.

Paul Stanley! He bestows a kiss on his magnificent 70-year-old biceps, displaying himself as a proud graduate of the Iggy Pop school of insanely ripped older rock dudes. He shimmies his still-slender hips with effortless brio and slings his guitar behind his head to play a solo. He steps one foot into a hoop on a kind of flying fox and is winched up above the crowd, singing as he goes, until being deposited on a stage at the other end of the arena floor. Is this all somehow … arousing? Look, we’re all three sheets to the wind here. Not one octave has been shaved off his vocal range, as he hits the high notes on I Was Made For Loving You: an irresistibly danceable disco-rock track Kiss wrote in a moment when it looked liked disco might unseat hard rock as the dominant pop genre of the late 70s. It’s now a song that has proven itself with the same longevity as the men who wrote it.

Though it is difficult to wrest the spotlight away from the antics of the two original septuagenarian frontmen, the other half of the band are allowed their moments to shine with extended guitar and drum solos, during which the frontmen duck backstage, presumably to lie for a few minutes in a hyperbaric chamber while being fanned by giant palm fronds. Eric Singer takes the stage to play a sparkling silver piano while singing Beth, the sweet sentiment of which only the most stone-hearted cynic could deny. (Kiss began the “metal band with heartfelt ballad” genre rule with this song.)

Kiss were fighting for our right to party (every day) when the Beastie Boys were still in primary school. To look around the crowd at this Corporate(™) Arena, is to see people wantonly basking in pure adoration. It is beers held aloft and very bad singing. It is fist pumping and cheering at explosions. It is standing under a shower of red and white confetti as the crowd is led through the chorus of the show’s closer, Rock and Roll All Nite. It’s no more Mondays sitting at your desk all day tabbing through spreadsheets, or prepping in the kitchen giving your wrist RSI. It is unabashed braggadocio and rockstar fantasies laced with unexpected vulnerability. Kiss is the part of us that sometimes needs to disengage from the exhausting realities of the world; the part that lets us reconnect with hedonistic pleasures that exist only to be enjoyed. For me, Kiss is about simply being very alive in glorious moments as they pass through us. It is all of that, at least for two magnificent hours.

  • Kiss’s End of the Road tour continues around Australia through September.

  • This article was amended on 30 August 2022, to correct Eric Singer’s surname.