March 12, 2010
By Paul Brannigan
Photo by Nick Stevens

The self-proclaimed "Hottest Band in the World" sizzle at tiny London show

This is all rather surreal. In two months' time, KISS will play to 20,000 people in London as part of an eight day UK arena tour. Tonight, their audience numbers just 800. Officially, according to Gene Simmons, the smallest KISS gig in decades is being played on "an impulse," -- the band are in London for promo duties following an appearance alongside world heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko and actress Sophia Loren on Europe's biggest TV show, Wetten Dass..? in Germany -- but in truth, it's difficult to imagine a band who've mapped out their career with a forensic eye for detail doing anything spontaneously.

A more cynical soul might note that the buzz generated by flying rock hacks from all over Europe into London for this one-off date won't harm ticket sales for those arena shows at all. Whatever, given that a half-decent KISS tribute band could sell out the Islington Academy, seeing the genuine article up-close-and-personal is a true 'pinch me' moment: cynicism is for another day.

What tonight proves beyond doubt is that, deprived of the pyros and bells and whistles that constitute their traditional show, KISS can stand on their stack-heeled feet as a great rock n' roll band. This is still very much a show, with all the retina-scorching lights and tongue-waggling that entails. "KISS' legacy is kicking the live rock concert in the nuts," says Gene Simmons after the gig. "If people are paying almost a week's wage for a live event, you bet we're gonna give them something to look at."

The stripped-down presentation, however, demands focus on the songs, and tonight's set list is a fan's wet dream. Cold Gin, Black Diamond, and Love Gun are songs which have kick-started 10,000 rock n' roll dreams -- this, remember, is the band who inspired everyone from Trent Reznor and Kurt Cobain to Dimebag Darrell and Scott Ian to pick up a guitar -- and the shrieks of excitement from the audience as each classic riff is unfurled are priceless. It's fantastically dumb, of course -- "We can change the world," squeaks Paul Stanley before Rock and Roll All Nite brings their initial set to a close -- "but we're not gonna do it tonight!" -- but it could hardly be more fun.

There is but one misfire: the CO2 cannons blasting out confetti during the song leave the quartet literally gasping for air and in serious danger of passing out, meaning that their encore is restricted to just a delirious Detroit Rock City. But, by then, their triumph has already been signed and sealed with a KISS. A truly unforgettable night. Can we have AC/DC at The Barfly next, please?