The original monsters of rock bring an era to a close with fire breathing panthers, exploding UFOs and flying drumkits
They don’t make rockstars like they used to. While this year’s Download has proved the future is bright for hard rock, metal and punk, none of the up-and-comers on the smaller stages are ever likely to headline a festival by spitting blood on a floating UFO and zip-wiring onto a burning stage. Kiss might be retiring, but they’re going out safe in the knowledge that there will never be anything else quite like them.
They’ve called it quits before, of course. Half breaking up when lead guitarist Ace Frehley left the band in 1982, the band carried on until a full reunion came and went in the 90s, before officially announcing their finalEnd Of The Road World Tour in 2018 – hosting a leaving party that’s been running for more than four years already.
Now all over 70 (Gene Simmons looking slightly weighed down by 40lbs of armour on 8-inch platforms, Paul Stanley’s voice barely clinging on when he’s not screaming), it seems like Kiss might finally be ready to say goodbye. Headlining Download festival for the fifth time after their first Monsters Of Rock show in 1988, there’s no better place to for their final UK performance – literally chiselling themselves into the festival history on a stage flanked by four giant Kiss statues.
Coming out like they’re in one of their own brand pinball machines, the curtain drop sees a painted, costumed Simmons, Stanley and Tommy Thayer levitating down on burning platforms – Eric Singer suspended on a floating drumkit while panthers spit fire and cobras breath dry ice. It’s pure Spinal Tap, and it always has been, Kiss setting the original template for earnest rock show excess that now plays like an arcade throwback.
There’s a lot more to come too. Each member of the band gets their own hero moment on stage (while the other three take a moment to touch up their face paint). Singer gets a flying circus drum solo that raises his kit up to the ceiling again. Thayer shoots down giant UFOs with fireworks that spit from his guitar. Simmons floats up to the sky on another platform to spit blood over his battleaxe guitar. And Stanley, saving the best prop for last, mounts a zipwire to fly over the crowd and play ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ on top of the sound deck.
With 50 years of glam rock back catalogue to pick from, the farewell show runs like a greatest hits album without an ounce of fat to trim anywhere. ‘Detroit Rock City’, ‘War Machine’, ‘Lick It Up’, ‘Calling Dr. Love’ and ‘Black Diamond’ all sound electrifying – the geriatric juggalos lacking their youthful energy but none of their flair as they roll through their own jukebox musical like it’s still 1985.
Switching off the CGI dragons on the Jumbotrons for a couple of classic hits, the End Of The Road World Tour allows itself a brief moment of reflection as a montage of vintage footage leads the crowd back through the Kisstory. Waggling his massive tongue in Stanley’s face during one jam, even Simmons looks occasionally emotional at the idea that he won’t be able to do it again on another UK stage. Ending with ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ before disappearing behind a wall of confetti and fireworks, the emotion swells behind Stanley’s face paint as he looks into the camera one last time. “We love ya. We won’t forget ya,” he smiles, kissing his own guitar before a wall of fire sends the band off the way they’d always want to be remembered. Everyone else will forever have a hard act to follow.
Tickets for Download 2023 are on sale now, available here.