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Gene Genie: Why Playing A Gig In A Shopping Centre Brings Kiss Alive
Jimmy Martin , March 22nd, 2010 14:38

It might not be the original line-up, but Jimmy Martin is still in thrall to the ridiculous might of Kiss at their recent Islington Academy gig

Islington Academy may well be the most apt place possible to see a Kiss gig. Yet if you were to ask the two prime movers of this glorious abomination of a band why, they'd probably give you two entirely different reasons. Paul Stanley, the preening, strutting Starchild of some 58 years young, would reason that it was because Kiss were reasserting their core values as a ball-busting rock n' roll band as comfortable in an 800-capacity 'club' as the kind of enormodome they're used to. Gene Simmons however, he who supposedly spells his own surname with a dollar-sign, would probably just be satisfied with the fact that Islington Academy is a venue slap bang in the middle of a big ugly shopping centre.

Yet shock! Horror! All doubters be damned! Squinting at the dazzling light of their twelve-foot-high logo and assaulted by the behemothic rumble of their sound, being this close to Kiss is a decidedly wide-eyed experience. At first it's hard to believe that the two aforementioned are actually here, and that we're witnessing the bizarre dichotomy between their personalities at close hand, that which has always made Kiss a good deal more interesting than many give them credit for. The cadences of Paul's stage raps are still oddly reminiscent of Divine's dialogue from Female Trouble, and he clearly still believes that rock n' roll genuinely has the power to save lives. And more surprisingly, the demon Gene has turned up in person, and hasn't hired some minion to play his bass and stick his tongue out while he gets on with some more important financial affairs elsewhere. Hell, we may even have underestimated the chap if the grinding gnarl of his four-string and the passion of his gunning and grimacing tonight are anything to go by.

Those fluffy indignities in full, and proof that Kiss' pinnacle of volcanic tastelessness was actually with their make-up off.

Of course, if you were being pedantic, you'd point out that it's not exactly the 'real' Kiss that we're witnessing here. Stellar axeman Ace Frehley, always the coolest and most unhinged member of the band, bowed out (again) in 2002 for reasons unclear, and make what you will of the fact that he was replaced by Tommy Thayer… the fella that Kiss originally hired to re-teach him his own guitar parts. What's more, drummer Peter 'The Cat' Criss, he who bore the unfortunate task of dressing up as a domestic pet rather than an interterrestrial emissary, left in contractual acrimony round about the same time, replaced (again) by journeyman tub-thumper Eric Singer. Twenty years ago, even for all the fluffy indignities of their 'unmasked' period in the '80s, when Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr were in the band the idea that Kiss would be touring with two blokes wearing Ace and Peter's makeup and outfits might have seemed like sacrilege, but it seems to be some strange kind of testimony to the charisma of the Stanley 'n' Simmons double-act that tonight is such a righteous experience regardless. Or perhaps, and this is the one the unbelievers can't fathom, we're just beholden to the power of the tunes.

It'd certainly be a hard one for the nutjobs here tonight to fathom, as they reel with glazed looks in their eyes and they holler along to 'Love Gun' at the top of their lungs, but a lot of people don't like Kiss. Or at least, they think they don't. People who, not being rockers, can only name the Argent cover 'God Gave Rock N' Roll To You II' and the lamentable 'Crazy, Crazy Nights', as Kiss songs. People who, never having experienced a Hallowe'en in the USA in the late-70s and confused by their bulldozing mogadon metal stomp, shove them away with Gilligan's Island, baseball and Leave It To Beaver in the 'American Things That British People Will Never Really Understand' file. People who, perhaps more understandably, view them as a band who've made a lucrative career taking all the most crass, moronic aspects of comic book culture, pop and metal and rolling them all into one bumper package of banality.

Yet the kind of emotional kick that tonight's show possesses transcends any kind of sober analysis. Rarely has a crowd this size sounded as enormous as during the orchestrated singalong at the start of 'Black Diamond'. Rarely indeed has a collection of ageing, freeloading music journalists looked quite so childishly overexcited as when confronted by this glitzy neverland of riffs, slap and cartoon posturing. And still more rarely has a song created pleasure beyond rational thought to the extent that the monolithically lobotomised 'I Love It Loud' manages this evening.

You'd be forgiven for clearing your throat awkwardly at the prospect of a Kiss show that stands or falls on the quality of its songs, but that doubting racket would be misplaced. At their best, as on the cocky swagger of 'Let Me Go, Rock N' Roll', the bombastic rumble of 'Cold Gin' or the almost indecently thrilling 'Detroit Rock City', Kiss' anthems teeter gloriously like a brickie in stack heels between the most gloriously outré showbiz posturing of the golden age of glam on the one hand and the 14-years-old-forever glory of the most gleaming metal on the other. Still more, perhaps the hardest thing for even a Kiss fan to come to terms with as we usher in the fifth decade of this band's existence is that 'Sonic Boom', their current opus, is, honest injun, the most deliciously stoopid album they've made in some 26 years, indeed since the pancake-free-era 'Lick It Up'. This fact even seem to elude Gene Simmons himself, as he manages to heroically balls up the opener 'Modern Day Delilah' in a manner which, for all it befits a fella who rarely pays attention to his own songs, does also rather charmingly reveal a hitherto unsuspected human side behind the monstrous façade.

That drag-queen banter! Tommy Thayer's alarmingly adept Ace impersonations! And that balls-up! (It's at 3:14, nerds)

'Ah, shit!' bellows a friend as the house lights reveal that the mystical realm we've inhabited for the last hour and a bit is actually the grimmest venue in London, and the blissful nectar we've been supping on is actually watered-down Heineken at four quid a pint. 'Now we're gonna have to go back to our miserable, mundane lives again!' Yet if tonight proved anything, it's that this most potent of all four-man monuments to escapism still has the transformative power to make our daily belief in rock 'n' roll, cynicism be damned, almost as powerful as that of Paul Stanley himself.