Rare cuts, make-up contests and chef Paul Stanley - eight awesome things we learned on-board Kiss Kruise 2022

Kiss Kruise logo
(Image credit: Kiss Kruise)

Sixthman is the name of the cruise company responsible for the recent surge in rock ‘n’ roll excursions sailing out of Florida and Los Angeles. They do blues cruises with Joe Bonamassa, punk rock cruises with Flogging Molly, outlaw country cruises, emo cruises, and even wrestling cruises with Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho. They also just announced the Headbangers Boat cruise for next year with Lamb of God, Mastodon, Hatebreed and Gwar. But the cruise they’re best known for is the world famous Kiss Kruise, which has been running for the last 11 years. 

When this writer received an email exactly one week before this 2022's first Kiss Kruise was due to take place (two set sail back-to-back this year), asking if I wanted to come out and DJ the onboard Halloween party and host a series of live Q&As with the band and their manager, legendary music mogul Doc McGhee, I did what any sane person do: I cleared my schedule, packed a bag, and caught the next flight from London to Los Angeles. 

You wanted the best. You got the best, so here are ten things we learned from Kiss Kruise XI - Week 1.

Metal Hammer line break

The sail away show is Kiss as you'll never see them anywhere else

The Sail Away Show has become the stuff of legend over the last decade. It’s basically the only time you get to see Kiss perform deep cuts with no make-up on, and as anyone who’s seen Kiss without make-up will attest, it’s an entirely different experience to the full stage production with blood and pyro and all the rest of it. 

When Paul Stanley becomes The Starchild, he affects that trademark high-pitched voice to ask the crowd questions, like, “How does it sound out there?” But as the afternoon sun beats down on the deck of the Norwegian Jewel, Stanley assures us that won’t be happening today. Today is different. Today is special. Today Kiss will assume the role of a bar band onboard the boat that rocked.  

At other points during the intimate Sail Away set, Tommy Thayer sings Shock Me from the 1977 Kiss album Love Gun, the Gene Simmons ballad Goin’ Blind gets a rare outing, as does Christine Sixteen, Two Timer and Nothin’ to Lose. The band even bust out the old Wicked Lester (Kiss before Kiss) tune She, a song Stanley admits to having not performed live in 47 years. It’s all about the early seventies deep cuts and the Kiss Navy are here for it. As are we.

From Tommy Thayer golf lessons to make-up contests, the onboard activities are amazing

In addition to their live sets across the week (more on them later), Kiss host a variety of onboard activities that give the Kiss Kruisers unparalleled access to their favourite group. Tommy Thayer teaches people how to play golf whilst Eric Singer judges a Kiss make-up contest. A select few even enjoy a fresh meal prepared live in front of their eyes by Paul Stanley – it turns out he’s quite the cook. And Gene Simmons challenges the boat to a quiz rather aptly titled, “Do you know more than a Rock God?” Of course, he wins. 

Bruce Kulick deserves his place in Kiss history

Bruce Kulick currently plays guitar in Grand Funk Railroad. He also played with Meat Loaf, Michael Bolton, John Corabi and Billy Squier. And he’s a prolific solo artist in his own right. But he’s best known for his tenure as lead guitarist in Kiss from 1984-1996. He’s appeared on more than twenty Kiss releases over the years and his deep cut Kiss sets have become something of a staple on the annual Kiss Kruise. 

That might sound like a strange proposition, having an ex-member of a band perform songs by said band at an event they’re also playing – not to mention hosting. But the proof is in the pudding, and the Kiss Kruisers go crazy for Kulick. It actually makes sense when you step back and think about it: he played on most if not all of the songs that he performs, he had a heavy hand in writing a lot of them, and his band – fronted by Todd Kerns of Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators – are as tight as a clenched fist.

All the songs sound massive, from Sure Know Something and Reason to Live to Turn On the Night and Heart of Chrome. But the tune that truly caps off Kulick’s late night set is a cover of Argent’s God Gave Rock and Roll to You. Watching the entire boat sing along to that song is a moment that’ll stay with us forever. 

L.A. Guns are true hair metal legends

Contrary to popular belief, the annual Kiss Kruise isn’t all about Kiss – although they do seem to play Kiss tracks in all the bars, restaurants, casinos and corridors 24 hours a day. It’s their party, sure. But they’ve brought plenty of friends along for the ride. 

Of all the hair metal bands assembled, it’s L.A. Guns who really shine. The Hollywood staples have been through all manner of personal struggles, musical shifts and line-up changes over the years, but their hattrick of performances on the Kiss Kruise prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that they’re still a force to be reckoned with. They have the players, the chops, the catalogue of songs, and all the charm and charisma of a band at the top of their game. Not bad for a group who formed nearly forty years ago. Their stripped back acoustic set is especially enjoyable thanks to the storytelling skills of lead singer Phil Lewis, who’s quite the rock ‘n’ roll raconteur.  

The Alive are the future of rock 'n' roll

At this stage you’re probably thinking the Kiss Kruise is a purely nostalgic experience designed solely for old people to relive the glory days of their spandex-sponsored youth. And you’d be well within the realms of accuracy to assume that’s the case. It’s very much a celebration of the past, but the future is a topic of conversation that comes up a lot, not just in regards to the future of Kiss and the possibility of more Kiss Kruises (more on that later on), but also in regards to the future of rock ‘n’ roll. 

During our live Q&A with Doc McGhee, we talk a lot about the future of the rock music and there’s several young bands on the Kiss Kruise who prove that rock ‘n’ roll is in safe hands – shout out to Caleb Johnson & The Ramblin Saints, Baron and The Aviators to name a few. But the young band that really make an impression on this year’s Kiss Kruise is Californian alt. rock trio The Alive.

The combined age of The Alive is less than the average age of anyone in Kiss (bassist Manoa Neukermans is 14, drummer Kai Neukermans is 18, and guitarist and vocalist Bastian Evans literally turned 18 on the boat), but they more than hold their own amongst a bill of seasoned professionals who’ve been at it for longer than they’ve been alive. They also stand out musically: their sound owes much more to the music that knocked hair metal off the top of Mount Olympus in the early nineties (i.e. grunge and alternative rock) than it does the dominant style of music on the Kiss Kruise. 

Green Jellÿ are batshit insane, and it's brilliant

There’s no two ways about it, Green Jellÿ are fucking nuts. If you look on the comedy rockers' Wikipedia page it says they only have one member: frontman and founding member Bill Manspeaker. But as Manspeaker informs the crowd during the first of their three equally insane sets on the Kiss Kruise, Green Jellÿ has 1,013 members worldwide – a statistic that’s earned them a place in the Guinness World Records. 

He also confesses to having bought 45 band members onboard. God knows where they all sleep. Maybe they don’t. One thing we do know is you never see any of them out of costume. And whenever you do spot one of them, they’re often heard screaming the band’s maxim into the face of unsuspecting Kiss fans: “Green Jellÿ sucks!” Indeed they do. But they’re also pretty damn funny. 

Incidentally, look out for the upcoming Vice documentary about Green Jellÿ. Who knows, maybe the film will inspire a Green Jellÿ resurgence much like the outstanding Gwar documentary did for them this year. I just hope the world’s ready for it. 

Kiss fans remain undefeated

Kiss would not be the band they are today without the Kiss Army. The band know it. The fans know it. It’s what makes the whole Kiss phenomenon so unique. As Paul Stanley points out during our live Q&A with the band, all the best armies are voluntary. And every good army needs a navy. Kiss fans from 33 countries (Brazil, Bali, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Columbia and many more) have all gathered for this year’s annual sea voyage and they’re as much a part of the experience as the band’s performing onstage. Every band thinks they have the best fans in the world. But there’s a strong argument to be made that Kiss objectively have the best fans in the world.

The indoor show is the closest you'll get to capturing the spirit of an old school Kiss concert

Alongside the On Deck Super Jam featuring Lita Ford & Friends, which needed a mention here, without a doubt the greatest moment of the whole trip is the indoor Kiss show. 

Unless you saw the band during the early days when they were still playing club shows, chances are you’ve never seen Kiss perform in such an intimate setting. Obviously, we’re on a ship, so there’s no fireworks or pyro, and Paul Stanley doesn’t zipwire out into the crowd on this occasion, but it’s still the biggest rock show you’ll ever see on a boat. And the setlist is a diehard Kiss fan’s wet dream: War Machine, Heaven’s on Fire, Take Me, Strutter, I Love it Loud, and our personal favourite, Black Diamond, are all in the mix. It’s a hell of a way to end the week. 

And for all those wondering: yes there will be a Kiss Kruise XII. It sets sail January 2024. But this year’s cruise will be the last time Kiss perform onboard wearing makeup. Next year there will be a Sail Away show, but that will be it for Kiss. Instead, the individual members will perform with their solo bands and side projects. So it will still be the Kiss Kruise, but not as we know it. 

It looks, then, like the End of the Road is finally in sight. And what a journey it’s been.

Watch highlights of this year's Kiss Kruise courtesy of YouTuber Pablo Guiroy below

Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.