THE lights dim, screens show four men in make-up walking from dressing room towards the stage; familiar voice shouts the legendary words: “All Right Helsinki, You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best, The Hottest Band In The World, KISS!” Curtain drops and spectacular looking stage device looking like a giant spider starts descending from the roof carrying the band. Explosions, smoke and lasers herald their arrival.
The Helsinki-show in the beginning of June last year, marked the second date of band’s European tour in support of 2012’s “Monster”-album. Yes another new Kiss-album! Surprisingly the band re-activated itself in the studio after the “Alive 35” live dates in 2008-2009 and has delivered two new studio records since then. “Sonic Boom” and “Monster” have not been masterpieces, but do contain few solid anthems and generally remain faithful to what most would call classic Kiss sound. The sound actually has very little to do with 1970’s era of the group, but more with mid-1980’s.
The last time I witnessed Kiss live was on the opening night of the “Psycho Circus” European tour in February 1999. And lo and behold, they started the show with exactly the same song as back then – what seemed like ages ago – the title track of “Psycho Circus.” There the similarities of two shows probably ended. Things for Kiss have changed a great deal since those 1990’s days. Not always for the worse, but tonight the balance wasn’t in their favour either. This is not the same band as it was in 1999, obviously with two different band members they play differently and carry a different spirit. Kiss with its various line-ups of course has always relied on Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, who have carried them forward and have been able to morph Kiss more or less successfully into each and every era. Drummer Eric Singer has earned his place in the band from the early 1990’s, but I’ve never felt quite right with him up there wearing Peter Criss’ make-up. And having him sing “Beth” few tours back, was bordering on humiliation. Then there’s guitarist Tommy Thayer, who used to play in a Kiss Tribute band. Nothing wrong with that of course, but why is he still playing, performing and writing like he’s a member of Dressed To Kiss instead of a rock’n’roll band who changed the world?
All these faults could somewhat be excused as long as Stanley and Simmons were there giving all they got – taking in consideration their age, stamina and weight of the costumes. Thus we come to the saddest and most tragic part of that night’s concert: Paul Stanley’s powerful and long enduring voice is now totally shot. I was prepared for this after seeing some clips from “Monster” tour’s previous dates from South America and later from Australia. Stanley went through a vocal cord surgery in late 2011 and this most likely explains the rapid deterioration. While you could definitely hear the strain, in 2008 Alive-dates his voice was still in very good shape. Then on “Sonic Boom” tour the problems started to appear and gradually got worse. By the end of that tour in 2010, he was still able to hit the notes for most of the time though his voice did crack more than ever before. So it’s understandable he felt the surgery was necessary.
Unfortunately the procedure either was not successful, or the man simply has not recuperated properly, because when he stepped on stage for “Monster” dates in late 2012, that classic Paul-wail had totally abandoned him. The fact that they went out on tour almost immediately after surgery, probably didn’t help at all. During the Australian shows when he tried to sing like before, his vocals would turn into a croak. To give him credit, he seemed to avoid the most difficult parts better in Helsinki thus for the first hour or so, it worked okay on some level. On the other hand, the band has started to down tune the songs and play them slower (even slower than before) to give the singer more space. On grinding Gene Simmons songs like “God Of Thunder,” War Machine” and even “Deuce” it actually works for their favour adding more heaviness to the proceedings. But on “Love Gun,” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” the power and drive are squeezed out, and you are left with something that is barely recognisable when compared to original recordings.
For a man well over 60, it’s not shameful to admit the time has come for retirement. And remember, it is not just Paul’s voice but also his stage movement. This is unfortunate, but the man set the standard for hyper energy frontmen carrying a guitar. In Helsinki I’m sure no one expected leaps and somersaults of 1980’s, but having seen some TV performances from last couple of years, you could at least expect him to rise to occasion on that particular level. Instead he settled for strolling around in considerably slow pace. Aside from few struts & poses and distant signs for the front row, he was a shadow of himself. I’m just speculating here, but maybe the realisation of losing a once legendary voice has dampened his spirits as well. I wouldn’t blame him, but then again they really shouldn’t be touring if that’s the case.
By the encores, whatever strength he had before had completely gone out. On “Detroit Rock City,” Paul sounded awful and eventually gave up on last verse simply talking it through. He was aware of this and signalled Tommy and backstage for some monitor problems more than couple of times during DRC and following “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” The higher sung bridge on “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” was completely dropped and last choruses were handed to Eric Singer. Also notable was Paul dropping out of choruses on “Lick It Up” and “Love Gun” plus Eric Singer doing the high vocal on “God Of Thunder’s” chorus. The final “Black Diamond” saved a lot and it was a good version, filled with lights, fire and blasts of smoke.
Aside from Paul, Tommy Thayer seemed disinterested and while he did his usual Ace Frehley-copying down to last note, it seemed to excite neither audience nor the man himself. So it was left to Simmons and Singer to save the day. To give them credit, both played well. Singer has a good drum style, with power and just enough flash to supplement the songs. The fact that he’s also a great vocalist probably has saved the whole tour. Simmons was his usual demonic self – by usual I mean the way he has been for the last 10 years or so. It’s no longer even slightest believable character, spitting blood and breathing fire in almost self-parodying mode. But he was engaged and his voice remained pretty solid throughout the show.
Set-list was good, nothing much to complain. Heard for the first time since 2007, “Heaven’s On Fire” with its flames and crowd participation was great to hear and see, although Paul was struggling a lot on that one as well. The new songs from “Sonic Boom” and “Monster” blended nicely into the set. “Hell Or Hallelujah” is a stomping anthem right out of “Lick It Up” or “Animalize” songbook and “Say Yeah” has that calculated sing-along arrangement (although single “Modern Day Delilah” would have been a better choice here), but having Thayer sing “Outta This World” – hands down worst song on “Monster” – was a bizarre move. They began it by playing two verses of “Shock Me”, which I certainly don’t want to hear without Ace and followed it with a pointless guitar/drum jam. Thayer shot rockets from his guitar (not original) and Eric had a bigger rocket launcher (to be fair, this was actually his trick from the “Revenge”-days).
No doubt this interlude offered much needed resting time for Gene and Paul. The audience reception on new songs was quite lame, despite the fact that whatever voice Paul had left, came out best in these numbers. Well, except Paul insisting on doing a vocal showcase at the end of “Hell Or Hallelujah.” It was totally unnecessary and painful to hear. Otherwise highlights were great slow versions of aforementioned Simmons-standards “War Machine,” “God Of Thunder” and “Deuce,” which all had an excellent groove.
The live show of course was spectacular. Explosions, flames and constantly moving spider-legs were obviously there partly to disguise the slow strolling of various band members. However, as an experience a full blown Kiss show remains hard to beat. There were a lot more explosions and stuff going on at the three video screens compared to somewhat lame 3D-effects witnessed on the “Psycho Circus”-tour. Naturally with today’s technology, this was to be expected. So despite some serious misgivings, it was still great to be in the audience for this one final time.
Unless there is some miracle recovery, I seriously doubt the band will play any more tours after the lenghty “Monster” trek has run its course – at least not with Paul Stanley fronting them. Maybe they do go down the route already suggested by Gene Simmons and actually recruit new Kiss members from some type of Idols-contest show. I’ve said this before, but in many ways Kiss should have called it a day like they originally planned after the original Farewell-tour with Ace and Peter over ten years ago. The physicality of Kiss’ show can only take them so far and now it seems the scale is just about to tip over. Regardless of whether there will be another Kiss tour or not, the tipping over isn’t something I particularly want to witness.
So almost certainly this will remain as my final Kiss show and I want to thank the band for 40 years of giving the best hard rock songs ever recorded. This cannot be erased by anything they do live on stage and in the studio great songs kept coming until the very end. Even in its current state their show is still probably the greatest on earth and now it really looks like ”Monster” needs to be the final epitaph for them.
– Psycho Circus
– Shout It Out Loud
– Let Me Go Rock’n’Roll
– I Love It Loud
– Hell Or Hallelujah
– War Machine
– Heaven’s On Fire
– Say Yeah
– Outta This World
– God Of Thunder
– Lick It Up
– Love Gun
– Rock And Roll All Nite
– Detroit Rock City
– I Was Made For Lovin’ You
– Black Diamond