For a band whose show is all about the show, Kiss have some work to do. From a distance, Motley Crue’s demented, pyro-driven departure has Donington looking like a cross between the set of Mad Max: Fury Road and the burning oil fields of Iraq, but if anyone can cope with such a high bar, it’s Kiss.
After all, they’ve been doing this for long enough. The real beauty of the pancake and halloweenwear is that it allows the band to remain essentially ageless. A picture of Kiss taken in 1976 doesn’t differ too much from one shot in 1997, or from last February. The only real evidence of time’s cruel trudge is on Paul Stanley’s voice, which creaks alarmingly in places, but apart from that it’s show business as usual.
So they open with that intro, Detroit Rock City, and the telescopic drum riser. Check. Plenty of pyro? Check. Fire-eating, flaming swords and blood spitting? Check. Despite Stanley’s promise that “this will be one night you will never forget,” it’s exactly the same as every other night with Kiss.
And therein lies the beauty of the show. Every tongue thrust and explosion is choreographed for maximum dramatic effect. Gene understands that when he leers over the photographers during the first song, he’s giving them the precise shots they’re after, and Paul knows that when he screams about the “85,000 fans” watching the show, no-one’s going around counting heads. The band also appreciate that their audience is older and often wider — many of the thousands who used to pack the front are on collapsable chairs halfway up the hill — and so they perform for the cameras as much as the audience, every move and facial tic broadcast on the big screens. It’s relentlessly well-drilled.
You know what happens next: it’s Deuce, it’s Creatures Of The Night, it’s I Love It Loud, It’s War Machine, Black Diamond, Calling Dr. Love, Cold Gin, etcetera. An extended Lick It Up turns into The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. Paul flies on wires to a platform 50 metres from the stage, zipping along above everyone’s heads. Gene’s head twitches as his eyes flicker and he coughs up the claret. And it all climaxes with a dizzying I Was Made For Loving You and a delirious Rock And Roll All Nite, with Simmons and Tommy Thayer aloft on cherry pickers, the drums somewhere up in the lighting rig, and Stanley conducting the pyrotechnics as confetti canons fire. Same as it ever was: achingly predictable, but thrillingly daft and enormous, fiery fun.