Utilita Arena, Newcastle
Tuesday, 6th June 2023
I remember seeing KISS on one of their previous farewell tours (their first took place in 2000), so like many others was pleased (but not wholly surprised) to see their change of heart in undertaking one last, positively final set of shows on the “End of the Road” tour. If there’s one thing guaranteed to assault the senses it’s the sheer spectacle of a KISS show, and true to form they brought everything in their armoury to Newcastle’s Utilita Arena earlier this week.
KISS may have never been the darlings of the music press, but they have succeeded probably beyond even their own wildest dreams across their fifty-year career, as testified by album sales of over 100 million. They are, of course, a huge merchandising franchise with a savvy management and, importantly, a loyal following – the KISS army who always turn up in droves each tour.
It’s also true that with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley now in their seventies the pair may not be as dynamic on stage or in as robust voice as they once were, and the barrage of pyrotechnics certainly helps in distracting from such shortcomings, but they’re still capable of delivering the goods.
Stanley remains agile and toned enough to rock a sleeveless waistcoat and fly across the arena on a winch while Simmons deserves praise for his stamina in still coping in eight-inch platforms while wearing a reported 20 kilos of stage costume. It’s therefore unsurprising that Simmons tends not to move around too much on stage these days, but that doesn’t stop him breathing fire, spitting blood and giving that much photographed tongue a regular workout.
There’s no easing your way into a KISS show. The action begins immediately after the playing of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll and the traditional introduction “You wanted the best, you got the best!” screamed out over the PA. The curtain falls to reveal Simmons, Stanley and Tommy Thayler descending to the stage on suspended video screens in a blaze of flaming pyrotechnics to join drummer Eric Singer during Detroit Rock City.
Written in 1976 and appearing on their Destroyer album, not many bands might choose to open their show with the story of a fan who died in a car crash on their way to a show while what appears to be Armageddon is taking place around them, but KISS don’t roll like most other bands. The tempo and the action barely lets up until the final number Rock and Roll All Nite some two hours later, by which time the arena resembled the smoking aftermath of an explosion in a firework factory.
The anthemic Shout It Out Loud had the audience singing along, Deuce saw Thayer duelling head to head with Simmons as archive footage of the band performing ran on the screens behind them. Simmons’ ominous, brooding bass intro to God of Thunder sent shivers down our spines and we responded to Stanley’s repeated call and response requests whilst chuckling at the absurd sight of Thayer soloing like a possessed demon as his guitar fired off rockets during Cold Gin.
There were solo opportunities for all, and while Simmons’ bass solo was on the tedious side, things perked up with Singer’s turn at the end of Psycho Circus. While I’m usually tolerant at best of drum solos, if they were all as entertaining as Singer’s it might be a different matter. It was amusing watching him towel himself down while playing the bass drum, before he and his huge kit ascended upwards on a cantilevered riser in a shroud of smoke.
During Love Gun, Stanley, one foot hooked through a harness, was hoisted upwards and out above the audience to his own platform where he soloed wildly on his golden guitar as lasers danced around him. He returned via the same route during the mass singalong to I Was Made For Lovin’ You.
Beth offered proof that the band are not entirely all bombast and pyros – Singer performing solo on a silver piano to the accompaniment of hundreds of mobile phones being waved – before Do You Love Me and Rock and Roll All Nite closed the show in cataclysmic fashion. There was so much confetti, streamers, flames and smoke that you could barely make out the sight of Stanley smashing his guitar to pieces.
The KISS army lapped it up from the beginning – there’s no doubting that a KISS gig is truly spectacular, even if the show and setlist was pretty much the same as on their last visit to the city some four years ago. Half the fun is checking out the army of fans, many in full make-up and there seemed to be lots of youngsters experiencing their first gig.
Support was provided by The Wild Things who were fronted by Sydney Rae White, star of the hit TV show Uncle, and by the Welsh band Skindred who fused a variety of styles including heavy metal, alternative rock and reggae. Skindred in particular went down a storm, winning lots of new fans on the night, and I look forward to catching a longer set from them next time they are in the region.
So, we bid a final farewell to KISS, an indelible part of rock music culture – at least if what has been said by Simmons in recent interviews about going out on top when the tour ends at Madison Square Garden in December is true. They had promised to go out the same way they came in – “Unapologetic and Unstoppable” – and, in Newcastle, they did exactly that. Their UK run of dates continues next month with their final UK shows in London, Manchester and Glasgow.
[Review & Live Images by Dave Lawrence]
Intro: Rock And Roll (Led Zeppelin)
Detroit Rock City
Shout It Out Loud
Heaven’s on Fire
I Love It Loud
Lick It Up
Calling Dr. Love
God of Thunder
I Was Made for Lovin’ You
Beth (Eric Singer solo on piano)
Do You Love Me
Rock and Roll All Nite
Paul Stanley – Guitar, Vocals
Gene Simmons – Bass, Vocals
Eric Singer – Drums
Tommy Thayer – Guitar