Kiss review – rock's cartoon characters say final farewell, again

Not quite 20 years after Kiss performed their “farewell tour”, here they are donning their face paint to say goodbye again. The notoriously big-business American quartet have never been shy of making another buck. Their infamous merchandise range stretches from $1,000 meet-and-greet packages to “air guitar strings” – an empty bag bearing the Kiss logo, yours for $3.99. This definitely, probably, possibly final End of the Road tour has already grossed an approximate $50m (£40m).

However, they certainly don’t spare the cash when it comes to putting on a show. Forty-odd years after they trailblazed the idea of the rock gig as a huge, touring theatrical production, their current show has hydraulic stages, sparks-shooting guitars, lasers and so many pyrotechnics that the self-styled “hottest band in the world” tag could refer to the temperature on stage. Stack-heeled, body-armoured bassist Gene Simmons, 70 next month, breathes fire during War Machine, spits theatrical blood in God of Thunder and wiggles his infamous tongue during Lick It Up. Vocalist Paul Stanley, from the Mick Jagger/David Johansen school of strutting, pouting, camp heterosexual rock god, is an engaging if now occasionally slightly croaky presence.

The music hasn’t changed much since 1976. And not much changes during the two-hour set, which offers permutations of loud glam-metal, chanted inanities (“Get up! Get down!”) and lyrics about rock’n’roll and partying. There are certainly moments (notably Psycho Circus) when visual thrills can’t disguise the fact that Kiss can be a mundane, dated rock band. And yet, the “Kissarmy” of fans of all ages never stop grinning and air-punching.

Just as the show starts flagging, the bangers arrive like cavalry. Stanley flies on a zip wire to the centre of the audience for the sublime disco-rock I Was Made for Loving You. Drummer Eric Singer sings atypical ballad Beth at a silver piano. Crazy, Crazy Nights and the stupidly anthemic Rock & Roll All Nite see ticker tape, confetti cannons and even more fireworks as rock’s real-life cartoon characters go out with a bang.

At the O2 Arena, London, on 11 July. Then touring.

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