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Arts: Pop: Time to kiss and make-up again

OLDER MEN have been known to do funny things to attract the attention of young women. Some parade their greying hair as signifiers of experience and wisdom. Others squeeze themselves into undersized jeans and lurid sweaters to recapture lost youth. But Kiss hero Gene Simmons, notorious seducer of more than 4,000 women, has found the answer. It seems that young girls cannot resist a 52-year-old man in 6-inch platform boots, make-up and a massive, glittering codpiece.

In 1977, the heavily painted Kiss were considered the most popular rock group in America. They suffered a dip during the Eighties after sacking two members and adopting a disturbingly "natural" look. But now the classic Kiss line-up has returned, complete with original guitarist, Ace Frehley, and drummer Peter Criss, together with a whole department store's worth of greasepaint.

In accordance with the Seventies nostalgia, the band have also reverted to the days of the out-and-out stadium show. Last Thursday, we witnessed levitating stages, 3D video screens, rocket-launching guitars and a eyebrow- singeing pyrotechnic show, not to mention the obligatory smoke machines, fireworks and rallying cries of "You wanna rock?". With titles like "Love Gun" and "Calling Dr Love", Kiss's music may be ludicrously overblown schlock-rock, but this band know how to give fans their money's worth.

For all their macho posturing, Kiss also unveiled a curiously homo-erotic disposition. Not only do these behemoths of soft rock provide legions of grown men with the opportunity to play dress-up, but singer Paul Stanley came across like a seasoned drag queen, mincing about the stage with his buttocks clenched, his lips pursed and tossing his hair from side to side. As he ripped off his shirt, hundreds in the audience gleefully ripped off theirs, and when he threatened to climb into the crowd, you feared for his safety in the sea of excitable, semi-naked men. Instead, he took a trapeze to a platform in the middle of the crowd where fans could only stroke his boots.

There was no doubt about Gene Simmons' manhood. He arrived on stage like an aged warlock in thick armour plating, thigh-high boots and glistening war-paint. His eyes gleamed and notoriously long tongue flicked as he lumbered about like a randy Stegosaurus. His big moment came when he was hoisted into the air spewing bucketfuls of blood -who could resist?

The years have not been so kind to Frehley, whose heavy metal grimaces seemedprompted by his gasping for breath. After his second solo, his inch-thick slap took on the appearance of a death mask.

But since Kiss have remained unsurpassed in the realms of stadium rock, it makes no odds that they sometimes look knackered. It is their unwavering belief in their rock'n'roll supremacy that has ensured success, and you imagine that even from the grave they will find ways to rock.

Fiona Sturges