Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Kiss - Birmingham Review

As with Iron Maiden the previous week, a Kiss concert is something I have been waiting for for some time! If my memory serves me well, a Kiss compilation was the first CD that I bought with my own money back in the day, and the American party rock band became a very important band for me in my musical development. Similarities can also be drawn with Iron Maiden when it comes to UK tours. I believe the last full UK arena tour was way back in 2010, a full seven years ago. A few festival appearances aside, this run of European shows as part of their Kissworld 2017 tour was long overdue! As soon as the shows were announced I knew I had to go and secured a ticket on the day they went on sale. Crossing off both Iron Maiden and Kiss in the space of a week was a very exciting prospect. I believe it is possible for gig fatigue sometimes, where you see so many bands in a short space of time that the novelty begins to wear off, but that would certainly not be the case here! As was the case with the Iron Maiden show, Kiss played at the city centre-based Barclaycard Arena which I now much prefer over the lightly bigger Genting Arena as you do not have to contend with over-crowded trains after the show! With all that had unfolded in Manchester earlier in the week, it was amazing to see how much the security had increased. I practically just walked straight into the venue before Iron Maiden, but the Kiss show saw lengthy queuing with thorough back and body searches. While it was excellent to see the venue so vigilant after all that happened, I do question why do many doors were not opened as this would have definitely reduced the time needed for queuing! I tend to choose seated tickets for arena shows these days, as views from the floor can often be poor if you are anywhere but the front, and although I was seated quite near to the back of the hall I had a great view of the stage and the sound throughout was excellent.

Before Kiss the growing crowd was treated to around half an hour of music from young American power pop band The Dives who really impressed me during their set. When I read the announcement that The Dives were to be Kiss' support band, and also that The Dives' frontman Evan Stanley was the son of Kiss' Paul Stanley, I was a little disappointed as I was hoping for a bigger name and was worried that the band were only there due to the obvious family connections. While the latter is almost certainly true, they were clearly there on their own merits too as their catchy, poppy rock music really seemed to go down a storm with a crowd and the soaring melodies filled the room perfectly. The Dives are certainly nothing original, but their confidence and songwriting skills made them instantly stand out. Upbeat rockers like Anticipation mixed well with more emotionally-charged songs like Man, Oh Mandy, and the set came to and end with the best song of the bunch Make it Like the Movies. Many in the crowd seemed to warm to The Dives and I immediately went to the merch stand after their set to pick up a copy of their debut EP Everybody's Talkin' - although sadly the queue at their signing session barely moved during the interval due to a few selfish fans taking too many selfies so I was unfortunately not able to get my copy signed.

After half an hour or so's change over, the lights went down the famous 'You wanted the best!' introduction heralded Kiss' introduction, as the band were lowered to the stage on a big platform as they played the opening bars to Deuce. What followed was just shy of two hours of pure rock and roll theatre with pyrotechnics, fire breathing, blood spitting, and even flying; all while the band steamed through a career-spanning set packed with classic rock anthems and a few lesser known deeper cuts for the hardcore fans. Led by Paul Stanley (vocals/guitar) and Gene Simmons (vocals/bass guitar), the seasoned four piece impressed throughout with each member getting a chance to shine as the evening moved on. Despite his voice being noticeably weaker these days, Stanley was still often the star of the show - throwing himself around the stage in his platform boots and pulling poses that would put many younger men out of action for weeks! He is the mouthpiece of the band and continually interacted with the audience throughout the show and helped to keep the energy levels high. After Shout it Out Loud, a moment of silence was held for the victims of the Manchester attack, before Stanley turn up the sleaze for a run through of the 1980s classic Lick it Up. A rousing version of the golden oldie Firehouse showed that his voice still sometimes resembles past glories, and saw Simmons rolling out his old fire breathing routine at the end to huge cheers. Tommy Thayer (vocals/guitar) who has been involved in Kiss camp since the late 1980s in various capacities sung the oldie Shock Me, which was probably the only strange setlist choice of the night. It was not a bad performance by any means, but I would have preferred to hear him sing one of his own songs (When Lightning Strikes in particular is a cracker) rather than sing a song made famous by previous guitarist Ace Frehley. His explosive guitar solo (literally) that followed was great however, and showed how invaluable he is to the current incarnation of this legendary band. The lesser-played Flaming Youth was a surprise, but welcome inclusion to the set, before Simmons' bass solo (that included his blood spitting trick) led to him singing God of Thunder from a raised platform as demonic red lighting filled the arena. From then on, the classics really started to flow again and the party atmosphere was turned up to 11 with Crazy Crazy Nights and the groovy War Machine. While the announcement of Say Yeah, the only song in the set from either of the band's latest couple of albums, was met with a rather muted cheer, by the end of the song everyone was into it and helped Stanley to sing the chorus when asked to do so. Stanley then rode his zip wire out to a mini stage by the sound desk and started off a barnstorming version of Psycho Circus which was definitely one of the songs of the evening for me. The slightly heavier feel, combined with a soaring chorus, makes the song a real classic in my eyes and it predictably went down well with the crowd. Black Diamond followed and this allowed Eric Singer (vocals/drums) a chance to shine with a strong, raw vocal performance that shows him to probably be Kiss' best singer now! That guy works so hard all night, and has picked up much of the backing vocal slack now that Stanley's voice is not what it was. Rock and Roll all Nite brought the main set to an end, with Stanley smashing his guitar at the end as Simmons and Thayer flew out over the crowd on moving platforms. There was of course to be more, and a couple more all-time classic tracks followed. The pseudo-disco track I Was Made for Lovin' You took on a heavier feel live with more guitar than synthesiser, before a hard rocking version of Detroit Rock City, sung with passion by Stanley, brought a wonderful evening of music to an end. The setlist was:

Shout it Out Loud
Lick it Up
I Love it Loud
Shock Me
Guitar solo
Flaming Youth
Bass solo
God of Thunder
Crazy Crazy Nights
War Machine
Say Yeah
Psycho Circus
Black Diamond
Rock and Roll all Nite
I Was Made for Lovin' You
Detroit Rock City

It was a dream come true to finally see Kiss live and the legendary band did not disappoint. The setlist was well-chosen and the stage set-up and theatrical antics made the evening more of a 'show' a times than a rock concert. This is what you expect with Kiss however, and I would not have had it any other way!

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