KISS vs. Muhammed in a Battle to the Bitch.
Even though KISS 2020 GOODBYE is one of the biggest single rock shows on planet Earth, there’s something much bigger at stake here: the future of live music. Overcoming the diabolical logistics of the covid pandemic to put on this mastodon show didn’t just prove how meticulous KISS and their crew are, it opened the festering wound of humanity’s isolation; if this is how we now experience the inscrutable visceral excitement of “live music” then the terrorists don’t have to worry any more about dismantling Western society – the virus has won their war. So come with me as I review not just this bombastic gig, but how it reveals religious idiocies, the venal side of capitalism and the death of rock and roll.
On Dec 31st, 2020, the year of living dangerously, KISS performs a one-off concert at the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai, on a 250-foot outdoor stage built just for this event, using record-breaking pyrotechnics. And with covid restrictions firmly in place, none of their live audience could get within 200 feet of the stage, with most viewing it from hotel balconies a football field away, so crowd noise was barely above a churchmouse whisper – because people were too spread out for effective ambient miking; and with fans around the world streaming it on Pay Per View, no matter the gargantuan virtual audience, the end result looks like KISS is playing – to an empty stadium; Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer look like they’re merely doing a light-sound-and-pyro production check. And with Paul’s once chest-beating male id stage banter reduced to half-chested non-sequiturs, this band that is usually so intent on OPTICS fail to realize how terrible this all looks from a civilian loungeroom point of view.
Now let’s understand something – the SHOW is eye-dazzling, the SOUND is ear-delicious, with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer riding fluidity and finesse; with Gene’s bass the closest it’s ever been to resurrecting Lemmy, and Paul giving it all he’s got, of what he has left. But this is not how live music should ever be presented or consumed – with the live audience not even breathing the same air as the live band. And that’s the point in these horrible times, isn’t it? To not share the same airspace as each other. And that’s EXACTLY the opposite philosophy to live music. Live rock and roll IS blood and sweat and piss and spit. It’s ferocious and loud and tactile; it’s being amongst a hive of like-minded homo sapiens swaying in unison and EXPERIENCING the air washing over you as sound waves. But now, as long as this “thing” is in the air, live music – that which needs the AIR to expand over us – is dead. Gene Simmons has said many times, “Rock and roll is dead” which is a different long discussion – but he never meant THIS. The REAL death of rock and roll.
So – with no crowd to experience the wash of decibels – what’s the point in this faraway show?
Pre-production started in July 2020 – 5 months to put this 10 million dollar show together; it took 4 weeks to build that stage, on the Royal Beach, facing inland toward the Atlantis hotel. 70 palm trees on the beach had to be removed, which, the production manager is quick to add, they replaced after the show. Of course you did – or you’d get your hands chopped off! Remember where we are, whiteboys! We’re in the United Arab Emirates. These people own Halliburton and the U.S. presidency. Even more than China. There are cranes and semi-trailers and earth-moving equipment; hundreds of elevated trusses and a massive lighting rig, all based around a 50 camera shoot. Not to mention all the meticulous covid precautions over and above the regular crewing schedules. The band directly faces the empty pool in the hotel courtyard; beyond that, the hotel’s towering rooms stretch up and away. And behind the stage, a massive lighted KISS logo for Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea.
From the hour-long pre-show junket, we get an appreciation for the massive undertaking. Yet, this junket opens up even more questions, like: what’s in it for KISS? Think about it: if the show cost 10 million dollars to produce, and the current Pay-Per-View record for a livestream rock concert is 10.4 million dollars (as the Guinness Records Man reports), even if KISS hits that record, would Simmons and Stanley be content to walk away with a mere $400K for 6 months of work? Nah, there’s something bigger and darker that no one will talk about – I’m thinking that Gene and Paul made a pretty oil-soaked penny for this glorified soundcheck, which they could have staged in the U.S. – but the United States would not have showered them as much as those Arab princes with wrath-of-god money purely to say they PWNED those dusty Israelites.
Oh, Dubai! I mean – DO BUY!
And the Gene and Paul interviews on the junket confirm my speculations. Gene: “Dubai is a 22nd century city… all nationalities, creeds, religions, everybody just co-existing together… Nobody looks at you a different way, if you dress this way or that way, if you have religious insti–or not”– What the FUCK is he talking about? These Middle Eastern lands are tyrannized by the most extreme religious nutjobs on the planet: they will stone you to death for adultery; they will BEHEAD you for drawing a picture of their prophet! Notice how Gene swerved out of his religion misspeak – “religious insti–or not”? [LAFF] He told “The Oakland Press” that Dubai said, ‘You can do anything you want here, no restrictions.’ Yet at this very gig, KISS had to change lyrics so as not to offend the extreme religious nutjobs who have a stranglehold on the culture. Gene, I love you more than anyone, man, but – the hell?! For the first time in my life, I feel the sting of Gene Simmons being paid to do something completely at odds with his principles. All his merch and moneymaking deals and opinions on wars, women and politics are still within his principles – so I’m not recanting any of my reverence for him – but this! – Have they got his children or something?
Same goes for Paul: “I’ve already spoken with my wife and my kids and said, ‘We’re coming back to Dubai! You have to see this place! It’s absolutely amazing!’” Not mentioning they’ve already got his wife and kids – in a dungeon. I mean, that must be why he’s…
And Eric just puts his paw in his mouth: “We don’t go out of our rooms or anything. I mean, we follow testing and protocol, and basically we’re kind of – I don’t wanna say prisoner, but we’re kind of prisoners on our floor of a hotel and we only went downstairs to rehearse, and that’s it.” (Has Eric come back from Dubai yet?)
And KISS’s manager Doc McGhee doesn’t help. Of all his out-of-touch musings, here’s the most out-of-touch: “…you can feel that energy of a live musical performance. Can you do it with 2 cameras or 4 cameras? No. …Can you do it in a soundstage? No. Can you do it in a 250-foot stage with a million 200,000 dollars worth of pyro. Yeh… And hopefully this turns into the experience that other bands can start moving forward and saying, ‘Hey I’m gonna do this!’” Hey, I’m gonna do this! You mean, all I need for my band to start working again is 50 broadcast cameras and a million 200,000 dollars worth of pyro? Why didn’t anybody tell me this? But if you need all that stuff, then why is the coolest thing on the junket the KISS retrospective, where we see KISS onstage in 1973, at the infamous toilet pub called The Coventry in Queens NY? (see SIDEBAR video) Reportedly their 24th live gig, a couple of months before the first album was released: more compelling than any pyro that can blow a hole in the world, complete with that one drunk chick dancing. (We all know that chick, don’t we, bandguys?)
And now, 47 years and tens of thousands of gigs later, the KISS juggernaut perform this greatest show on Earth [record scratch] – to no one. Yes, there were the balconies and the virtual audience – but KISS might as well be back in Coventry. And the closest any drunk chick could get was 200 feet away, across the pool, with a mask. This is not how the gregarious human species is meant to rock and roll all night and party every day. Not that I’m anti-mask – I’m anti-virus. As long as it’s around – live entertainment is dead. OR whatever this is… So let’s look at some of these songs that offended allah, the sensitive bitch.
Detroit Rock City
I’m not covering all 22 songs in the full show, just hitting a few key points. (The full list is in the sidebar.) KISS tears into their classic opener, from the Destroyer album 1976, as they descend on those hexagonal pods, a staple of the End of The Road Tour. The height of technology, the pods double as lights and video screens and part of the roof design, but I’m not a fan of them – I dunno, they just look like Macy’s.
Detroit Rock City is in Cm, so Paul used to sing the high C5 in each verse, but the band is tuned down a semitone, so he’s now singing a B4, just under the C; still amazing for his age and vocal issues. His voice is alternately strong and weak. The strong lines, we hear the Starchild, but when he cracks, the illusion breaks. But let’s establish from the get-go that supervocalist Paul had surgery in 2011 for “vocal cord issues.” He was 59, and said it was “a complete success” – but it wasn’t. He said his voice was “cracking” – and it’s still happening. Then again – maybe he might have lost it completely if he didn’t have the surgery. On the other hand, Julie Andrews also had vocal cord surgery – lost her voice!! Lindsey Buckingham had heart surgery – and because of that tube they callously ram down your throat – damaged his vocal cords!! Whenever you bow to the knife, there’s no coming back. You are NEVER the same. All I know is, one of our rock gods has fallen.
And it just looks weird when he’s saying – in that “crowd” voice – “How ya doin’?!” seemingly to no one. Usually, at KISS live shows, we always see shots of the crowd intercut with the band on the big screens. But here – there are no cameras on any of the faraway people – it seems like the band is alone in some other dimension.
Say Yeah is from Sonic Boom in 2009, which Bruno Mars ripped off quite blatantly in 2010 with Grenade. I love Bruno Mars – he’s a monster talent, but don’t go turning Paul’s crowd anthems into simp anthems, Brunes!
Tears Are Falling
Oh yes! From 1985’s Asylum. But I wanna hear Tears Are Falling in Paul’s 1985 voice – at his vocal peak. Too much to ask of this shitty world where everything must grow old and die?
The diabolical outro song on 1982’s Creatures Of The Night, the last album before the makeup came off. Co-written by Bryan Adams – yes, THAT balladeer. There is YouTube footage of this complete song – from one of the balconies at the Atlantis. Which begs the question: who buys a ticket to a rock show and then watches it from a balcony? And someone at the back of a 20,000 seat arena will pipe up, “Yeh, but I’M a football field away – and having a good time.” Yes, but you’re part of the crowd, that stretches from you to the stage – there’s a euphoric transcendence in being a part of that hive-mind. And if we watch that show on TV, we’re connected to all you people connected to the stage.
For the KISS ticket holder who paid $999.00, yes it includes a ton of swag, but the event itself is dispiriting. How long can live music sustain this grift? Is the younger generation never going to experience anything as visceral, sensual and tactile as Woodstock, Rock Am Ring, Bonnaroo or Coachella ever again? Will there ever be another Live at Leeds, Farm Aid, or No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith? Whether you think it’s a hoax or not, whether it IS a hoax or not – this is where we are – no matter the power of those princes, the virus has made us all its bitch.
Calling Dr. Love
One of my favorite KISS songs, from 1976’s Rock and Roll Over. Artist Michael Doret designed that cover. (And 33 years later, designs Sonic Boom.) Hearing Gene’s voice sounding as strong and powerfully gravel as always, returns us to a warm safe place. It transports us back to wondering whether these beings were superheroes or spacemen. I think that’s what selfishly offends us about Paul’s voice. Those warm memories of floating in the KISS womb are cracked open when we hear he is only human.
(see SIDEBAR video) Gene opens 100,000 Years (from the first album, KISS, 1974) with a ferocious deadly gallop, before anyone ever heard of Iron Maiden; Tommy pulling off those Ace arpeggios like metallic clockwork. And then – Paul’s forced lyric swap. The lyrics: “It must have been a bitch while I was gone…” are changed to: “It must have been a trip while I was gone…” because – get this! – there is legislation in the United Arab Emirates against “disgracing the honour or the modesty of another person” – Article 373 of the Penal Code. Ironic, considering the UAE treat women like bitches.
So stopping Paul Satan-ley from saying ‘bitch’ here – Does allah forgive him for saying ‘bitch’ at those 10,000 other gigs? But Paul gets the last laugh – in the final verse, he drops in that ‘bitch’– (Has Paul come back from Dubai yet?)
God of Thunder
(see SIDEBAR video) Before God of Thunder, Gene usually spits blood – a horrifying journey into the frayed mind of a spasming bat-demon vomiting the entrails of its latest prey… Unless the very people that Gene claims are open-minded prohibit him from spitting blood. Because – allah. So after Gene tools around with his whale noises and contorted faces (and NO BLOOD), he rises to the rafters to growl into the heaviest tritone riff since the devil invented tritone riffs without checking with the arabs first.
Yes, Gene had to change “I was raised by the demons” to “I was born with the fever” (ha!) and “virgin soul” was changed to “sacred soul” (which sounds like sacred GOAL, for some reason) – but witness this fresh stupidity: every hex monitor shows him with a bloodied face during the song! And the bloodied faces are much more visible to the audience that his real tiny clean face. Do these censors not see the contradiction in what they’re censoring?— aw right, religious nutjobs, right… You know, Paul’s original demo for God of Thunder was a disco freakout – maybe they shoulda just done THAT version.
It weakens our respect when these guys who taught us never to take shit from anyone are rolling over like bitches. “I was raised by the demons” – when I listen closely, it does sound suspiciously like “I was bought by the Saudis.”
Eric sings Beth – which he does much better than Peter – while playing a glittery baby grand, which he plays as well as Peter – meaning, NOT AT ALL. What a snide way to ruin a great song! Y’know, I could just make the gag, “Nice miming, Eric” and move on – but I’m gonna PROVE this outlandish fraud. Exhibit A, Your Honor: if he truly was playing, there’d be camera angles on his hands – because it’s a cool novelty – but they’ve meticulously crafted 50 CAMERAS to avoid his hands. Exhibit B: fan video from Sweden in 2019 shows his hands – as he freezes them in position and clops them down on the keys in the exact same position for every chord change. Meaning: either it’s an unmiked piano, a non-functional piano, or that Eric is a GENIUS for changing to 15 different chords without changing his finger position on the keys! The only question remaining, Your Honor: How bad does this look to musicians?
Paul introduces Strutter by apologizing! “We haven’t rehearsed this but… I mean, this is live, so we get to make mistakes and everything.” What irks me is not the lie about rehearsal – they rehearsed the shit out of this! – it’s the apology. Man, what happened to the confident godking who strutted across the Animalize stage with his 5 foot love gun?
This is what the loss of his grand instrument has done to him psychologically – he feels the need to apologize, not for the song or the mistakes they might make – but for his very essence not being there for us! Paul used to say nothing important in his stage banter, but it was so entertaining to listen to – the simple rock poetry of sex on the hoof. But his confidence – gone, with his voice! The banter at this concert is like reading a phone book. Because he knows he doesn’t have the Walk to back up his Talk anymore! And if you think Paul is using backing tracks to bolster his vocals: Would anyone use backing tracks that cracked so much? Really?!
And in the song, he’s not pushing much air any more, as he pules those long notes at the end of each phrase like a drowning man gasping for air. Again, it’s all about the air, this time, from Paul’s lungs. It’s because his damaged throat can’t handle the amount of air it takes to power these songs like pistons. Now to be fair, Paul’s shot-to-hell voice is still better than most rock singers today. It’s just not the grandiose tyrannosaur it used to be. I feel for Paul the most – trapped in the vessel that USED TO BE Paul Stanley the vocal god; to know the acrobatic feats he once pulled off, and to realize he CAN. NOT. DO. THAT. THING. he was once best at doing! The physical and psychological struggle must be killing him. Paul was so good, he pulled off the lead in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1999. Yet now, The End Of The Road Tour is named after what he no doubt sees for himself, and the pandemic has robbed him of so many shows – so I don’t begrudge him going out with this weird bang. Fuck old age. Fuck operations. And fuck the pandemic.
Do You Love Me
After Strutter, before Do You Love Me – the worst stagecraft of all, as we see the band milling aimlessly as a Guinness Records rep walks onstage. Now at the end of every show, the band does mill aimlessly as they engage with the fans along the foot of the stage and come together gradually for the “KISS bow.” It looks fine in the context of a packed, screaming crowd, but in total silence, with no crowd? We ask ourselves what’s going on, as the Guinness man mumbles about records concerning the pyro and other stuff that he can’t confirm – OK man, juggle or something because you’re grinding this show to a standstill. Paul has to cut him off on mic because the year-end countdown has started and KISS almost miss it due to Mr. Excitement reading his clipboard.
KISS 2020 GOODBYE is a weird experiment that made a lot of people money, made a lot of people happy, and made a lot of seagulls toast. The show per se is excellent; if you were there, even with the forced physical distance, the spectacle would be dazzling. However, there’s no one to feed off – so when Paul says “How ya doin!” to a smattering of far-off cheers, it lacks that joyous spark of excitement due to no connection with anyone. How does the band even keep its energy? Well, let’s just keep our eyes on that prince’s paycheck.
Paul talks about the pandemic – a lot – more than he should. It’s depressing. And I understand the band is being responsible in promoting physical distance. But why do it at all? If you’re REALLY responsible, you’ll tell your fans to stay home. Right? And your 400-man crew were all tested like maniacs every day – but look at all this added expense to put on a show that wasn’t even an ideal live experience! This contradiction, this double-standard, this trying-to-do-it-halfway is not helping.
I saw KISS in 1992 on the Revenge Tour, 10 feet from Gene. And it’s next level connection when you experience the artist and his music amidst the maelstrom of a live crowd. And now we’ve come to THIS: a Washington State high school band with each kid in their own little tent playing their instrument; enclosing the very air that should be transmitting those sound waves to our ears! Of course it sounds like shit! Stop doing this and driving live music even further into the grave!
In the end, live music is not about pyro and pay-per-view and princes. It’s simply about BEING THERE, and if you’re not there, feeling CONNECTED to the crowd that IS there.