Pop Kiss Madison Square Garden, New York

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The Independent Culture
Every country has its cultural signifiers: Japan has kabuki; Italy has opera; France has frogs' legs, and we have fish and chips and the Royal Family. America, on the other hand, has Kiss - the fire-breathing, blood-spitting comic super-heroes of rock. For the first time in 17 years, all four original members - Gene "The Demon, Primordial!" Simmons, Paul "The Starchild, Sensuous!" Stanley, Ace "The Space Ace, Not of this Earth!" Frehley and Peter "The Cat, Predator Unleashed!" Criss - have reunited in their famous cake make-up, skin-tight costumes and platform boots, and gone out on what is the most irresistibly dumb comeback tour of the year.

Four nights at Madison Square Garden in New York sold out in 47 minutes, front row seats changing hands for as much as $7,000. Kiss fans - mall- habituated, Bud-swilling, big-haired, merchandise purchasers - are the slow creatures that time forgot and tonight is their chance to relive the first time they fell for rock 'n' roll. Kiss, during the mid-Seventies, made a virtue out of being the least cool band in the world, the emperors of the lowest common denominator. And they still do.

What is so great about Kiss - the Sex Pistols could learn a thing or two here - is that they sell out comprehensively. In Kiss's view, the only criterion for greatness is commercial success. It is also a first principle with them that the audience who pays deserves the works. As a consequence, they have the highest recognition factor of any brand name in the US.

There is no pretence at musicality here. Kiss roll out their pop-metal smashes like a carpet: "Cold Gin", "Strutter", "Black Diamond", "Detroit Rock City", "Rock and Roll All Nite", a host of big beat, three-chord stompers too similar to distinguish from each other. Every high-kick is choreographed; every pyrotechnic flash and smoke bomb is triggered on the beat. The drum kit levitates, Ace Frehley's guitar catches fire and launches rockets after a 10-minute solo in the epic Seventies tradition.

What soon becomes clear is that Gene Simmons' enormous tongue holds the key to Kiss's fortune. It was once rumoured to be prosthetically supplemented with a cow's tongue that he had to exercise regularly to keep in shape. Clearly, it is the biggest tongue in rock and he lashes it about in every song, synchronised to violent thrusts of his silver codpiece. It drives the crowd wild.

At the end of the show, fans in Kiss drag mill around having their pictures taken. Some are crying, most are buying up the merchandise."It's all about tight jeans, cool hair, feeling good about yourself," says Luke, who plays in a Kiss tribute band in New Jersey. "I believe in rock 'n' roll. That's all that matters."