IN LONDON: THEN AND NOW
March 04, 2010
Welcome to Classic Rock's new occasional column Then And Now, where we look at classic gigs past and present. We kick off this week with Xavier Russell comparing Kiss across three (or should that be four?) decades.

Xavier first saw Kiss way back in 1976 when they headlined the Hammersmith Odeon and hadn't clapped eyes on them for some 30 odd years. This week he finally saw Kiss again, when they did a their low-key club gig at London's Islington O2 Academy.

THEN

Venue: Hammersmith Odeon, London

Date: May 15, 1976

Kiss first came to my attention when I heard Kiss Alive, the classic double album recorded at Detroit's legendry Cobo Hall in 1975. I remember being blown away by the rawness of the production, and by the whole look and concept of Kiss. I just had to see them LIVE. As luck had it they were due to play two nights at the Hammy Odeon (as it was affectionately known back then) but could I get a ticket? No chance. Both gigs sold out in two hours flat!

I turned up on the night without a ticket and casually asked a tout what price he was charging. "25 pounds for the circle, or 50 pounds for the stalls." This was way out of my price range. So I decided to play a patient waiting game. I knew that once Kiss were on stage, the touts would get desperate.

Kiss were loud, even from outside the venue, I could clearly hear Deuce, Strutter and Flaming Youth from the just-released Destroyer album. A tout approached. "How much have you got mate?" "A fiver," I replied. "Oh, go on then'." And I was in. A stalls ticket near the front, what a bargain. As I made my way through the foyer, a rather embarrassed lady offered me a promotional Kiss mask. "Oh, go on please take one, I've got a bus to catch, and Iíve still got two boxes to get rid of!"

As I made my way down to the front, Kiss were launching into Hotter Than Hell, complete with flame bolts and Gene Simmons' funny leg routine. And, yes, the great man spat out fireballs. Paul Stanley, meanwhile, donned a fireman's helmet, complete with flashing light, during Firehouse.

Sadly a lot of the special effects and pyro Kiss had planned were booted into touch by the then GLC (Greater London Council); they were deemed too dangerous. So most of the special effects came courtesy of Gene Simmons. The houselights dimmed and all one could see was his eerie face, and a hideous thumping bass. God, he looked evil. He slowly opened his mouth and out came this oozing red blood that
took an eternity to hit the ground, a feat only recently repeated by Tom Williams, the Harlequins wing, in the infamous Blood Capsule rugby scandal!

Kiss were very entertaining, Ace Frehley was all over the place, and certainly lived up to his name of Space Cowboy. Peter Criss's drum kit slowly rose to the heavens, and Paul Stanley's raps were, let's just say a tad predictable. Stuff like: "Come on London, shout it out loud!" But there was no denying Kiss's singalong appeal, especially during the likes of Black Diamond and the anthemic Rock And Roll All Nite. A great show, despite the GLC!

NOW

Venue: Islington O2 Academy, London

Date: March 2, 2010

So jump forward in time some 30-odd years and here I am seeing Kiss for the first time since Hammy Odeon in 1976. Kiss in a small venue, now this I gotta see. But just like Hammersmith all those years ago I had trouble getting in.

This time, though, it wasn't the touts' fault, it was the bloody guest list! Simply, my name wasn't on it. Frantic text messages went unanswered, as once again I could clearly hear Kiss on stage in the background. Modern Day Delilah from Sonic Boom was thumping its way down to the box office. Cold Gin and Let Me Go Rock 'N' Roll came and went before the band's press officer, Paul Elliott, finally emerged having read my 20 texts pleading to get me in.

It was like Groundhog Day. It seems that if I'm prepared to miss the first three numbers of a Kiss set, I will eventually get in, and so it proved. With a much-needed beer I headed toward the middle of the Kiss Army and they were lapping up every chord that Kiss could throw at them. Say Yeah, another stomping newie, got the thumbs up.

This was my first look at Kiss without Criss and Frehley. Although with the make-up on it could be anybody up there on stage. But Eric Singer (drums) and Tommy Thayer (guitar) seemed to slot right in to the Kiss groove. Although I'm not so sure about Thayer's barnet - the 'matted' look was, erm, odd!

It was refreshing to see Simmons and Stanley looking virtually the same as they did all those years ago at the Odeon. They clearly both still love playing live, and genuinely seemed to be having a ball. So were the lucky 800 Kiss fanatics who sang along to every tune. Gene Simmons snarled his autobigraphical Calling Dr. Love before the band went into overdrive on 100,000 Years, pre-historic Kiss complete with nifty guitar solos.

Other highlights included Love Gun, Black Diamond (still as fresh today as it was at the Odeon in 1976) and the inevitable Rock And Roll All Nite complete with the one special effect of the night - a confetti shower! Encore? of course, it could only be Detroit Rock City - an absolute barnstormer.

Although the set was relatively short it was great to see Kiss close up in a venue this size. Something had to give, and in this case it was the stage show. But Kiss have such a good back catalogue of music, so are the effects really necessary? If you wanna see the full show then Kiss are coming back in May for the Sonic Boom tour.

Overall, I think the Hammersmith show had the edge mainly because Kiss were younger and hungrier back then, and it was the original line-up. But what I liked about the Islington show was the warmth and genuine love that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons still put in into this monster that is called Kiss.

After 35 years of solid touring, Kiss are still very much ALIVE.

(Photo by WireImage.)