Still alive and licking

After 25 years, hard-rock dinosaurs Kiss continue to behave as if all the world were their stage. Perhaps it is.

"We're no more relevant or deep than a fireworks show. We have a back-beat, but we never comment on whales or rain forests, and we don't want to be your goodwill ambassadors to Bosnia-Herzegovina. As far as Kiss are concerned, we're just here to get laid." Backstage at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Gene Simmons reclines in a swivel-chair. He's just flown in by helicopter from the hotel in Stockholm where Kiss are based for this Scandinavian leg of their current world tour. His cowboy boot- clad feet are propped on the production office desk, and his unfeasibly black hair is tied back in a ponytail.

On stage, he stomps around in seven-inch heels, spurts blood, and breathes fire. Off-stage, he has a relaxed yet authoritative manner, and a penchant for long, trumpeting monologues rich in sound-bites. As he flits from American media imperialism to the meat-and-potatoes of bedroom conquests - he now claims to have slept with close to 4,000 women - one quickly realises that he's a smarter cookie than can be expected from the simple double entendres of "Calling Dr Love". "You know the media laugh at us," he continues, "but it's not the media, the intelligentsia, or the back- room politicians who determine what the people want. They want McDonald's, they want Coca-Cola and they damn well want Kiss."

It was the Israeli-born Simmons who formed the band with fellow New Yorker Paul Stanley back in 1972. By the middle of that decade, Kiss had become a paradigm of American adolescence. Their make-up defined personas - part super-hero, part rock star - were enchanting. Their shamelessly grandiose stage shows, and glam-rock influenced anthems struck a universal chord. When they released the Alive! double-album in 1975, their record sales began to eclipse those of Led Zeppelin, the rock gods of the day. In 1994, such eclectic talents as Stevie Wonder, the Lemonheads and Garth Brooks were among those who paid homage to Kiss on the tribute album Kiss My Ass, and more recently, a certain Mrs Love recounted how her daughter Courtney had shoplifted a Kiss T-shirt when she was 12. Kiss are loved, cherished even. They are the anti-fashion rock behemoth that will always put bums on seats. As Simmons himself puts it: "We're like Godzilla, and, believe me, Tokyo will get crushed."

The fans in Helsinki are as excited as anyone else at the prospect of seeing the classic Kiss line-up (reinstated since guitarist Ace Frehley and Peter Criss returned to the fold for an MTV "Unplugged" concert in 1994), back in full make-up and sorted for pyrotechnics. I met Pekka - a young Finn who works at Heathrow airport - on the flight over. He told me that, while his English girlfriend is really into drum 'n' bass, it's Kiss's Lick It Up that still hits the spot for him. At the venue itself, legions of fans arrive with their faces painted like their idols. One notices, too, that although the hard rock gig is supposedly the last bastion of the acne-ridden lad, there are vast numbers of highly attractive Finnish Lolitas in attendance. These are the same girls who will later wolf-whistle at the video-screen shots of 47-year-old Gene Simmons's pulsating crotch, the same girls who, as "I Was Made For Loving You" builds to a crescendo, Paul Stanley will remind: "Until you scream, I'm not finished."

Simmons says he thanks God for the girls whose Wonderbras are lifted and pointed in his general direction, but adds that the stage is a shrine and all are welcome at the electric church. He's the consummate interviewee, but then he's had plenty of practice. I'm grateful when he eases up on the verbal bombast and begins showering me with gifts instead. I get a copy of the Kiss magazine, Kiss sweets, and a Kiss baseball cap. I even get a Kisstory book, a weighty, personally-autographed tome which retails at $158.95. ("What did you do - blow him?" asks Doc McGhee, the band's manager, post-interview.) "I love these too," continues Simmons. He's now drawing my attention to an advertisement for Kiss action-figure toys on the magazine's back cover. "I'm so glad I'm not in REM," he says. "I mean, they're a band I respect, but don't try and tell me they have this much fun with their merchandising."

The stage-show - a truly flabbergasting sonic and visual tour de force - is a triumph of imagination over logistics. There's Frehley's rocket- launching guitar. There's the Krakatoa-like flash-pot explosions - so bright they burn a flaming-orange after-image on your retina. At one point, Paul Stanley flies out over the crowd while singing "Love Gun".

Stanley is a well-preserved character, engaging and articulate, and the metallic-silver Kangol beret atop his flowing locks lends him a slightly camp air. When I suggest that there's no point in poking fun at Kiss because there's such an obvious element of self-parody about what they do, he's not in the least offended. He does have a counter-argument, however. "Are we over the top? Of course we are. But we have a tremendous amount of pride in what we do; much more, in fact, than many of these so-called `credible', `progressive', or `sincere' bands. We have great fun doing what we're doing, but this is not a free-for-all and it's not a lark. That would be disrespectful to our bosses, the fans."

Kiss's professionalism is also evident in the way that both Simmons and Stanley field my interview questions. You can't ask them anything that they haven't heard before, and sometimes you feel that you're getting the party-line, rather than a spontaneous answer. The more you talk to them, though, the more you have to admire their savvy. Surely there must be moments when he catches himself in the mirror with the make-up on and feels ridiculous, I ask Simmons. He shakes his head quite slowly and deliberately. "Better ask Santa Claus or Superman the same thing. I'm enchanted by my stage persona, and the magic works on me every time. It's only ridiculous if you don't believe - the same is true of each and every religion."

I also ask them about the double entendres; about the plaster-casting groupie who wants "your love to last her" ("Plaster Caster"), about "Love Gun" (since 1977, Stanley has been claiming that you pulled his trigger). I want them to concede that they had a good old belly laugh when they wrote those lyrics back in the 1970s. They won't, of course.

"To me, there's nothing more pompous than a singer-songwriter who thinks that, with fame, comes an intellect transfusion," Stanley tells me later. "When I write a song I have no interest in showing you what my IQ is, because rock and roll is music of the crotch, not the cranium." Through the open door of the tiny room in which Stanley and I are sitting, I can see into the inner-sanctum of the dressing-room proper. Gene Simmons, still in full make-up, is holding court with a gaggle of Finnish nymphets.

So what can Kiss's British fans expect at Finsbury Park? "Basically, you're going to experience another Blitz, but this time, it will be from the ground up," Stanley says. "The fireworks will literally reach 1,000 feet into the air. We want to kick God in the butt".

Kiss headline the `Kaos in the Park' festival at Finsbury Park, London tomorrow. Booking: 0171-344 0044 / 0800 13 888 66; `Greatest Hits' are available on Polygram

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices