Live Review: KISS @ Accor Stadium, Sydney

8 October 2023 | 4:13 pm | Mark Hebblewhite

"Even though KISS are now bonafide senior citizens, they retained a power and vitality that was truly jaw dropping."

KISS' crowd in Sydney

KISS' crowd in Sydney (Credit: Hayden Nixon)

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It may have been the death slot on a packed bill, and indeed many fans were still making their way into the venue when The Delta Riggs roared into life, but the Queensland natives must have been pinching themselves hard as they faced a literal sea of humanity. If they felt any pressure they didn’t show it as they strove to win over thousands of new fans with their infectious blend of jangling indie rock, traditional rock n roll machismo and hooks that would make a straight out pop act blush. Already a seasoned act with a growing fanbase this gig only added to the steady stream of converts already coming their way.

I must admit to not keeping up with the Regurgitator (aka the Gurg) in recent..well… decades. In fact the last time I saw them play was at a university bar in the mid 1990s. So I wasn’t really sure what to think when they strode onto the stage in nuns’ habits and proceeded to launch into I Sucked A Lot Of Cock to Get Where I Am and I Will Lick Your Arsehole, which to be honest, seem to confuse some elements of the crowd (those with kids in toe clearly had some explaining to do). But by the time the boys arrived at more sing-along favourites like Polyester Girl and I Like Your New Stuff Better Than Your Old Stuff things had turned around and people across the stadium were singing the lyrics. Ending with a final refrain of Kong Foo Sing, Fat Cop and '! (The Song Formerly Known As)' and bass player Ben Ely didn’t really need to thank the crowd for not throwing things at the band: they were never in any real danger of experiencing that.

If the first two acts were somewhat left field choices to support KISS, the main international support was a downright head scratcher. KISS are known for a lot of things but quirky experimentation isn’t one them (outside of the ill-fated The Elder LP of course). Turns out KISS fans aren’t as regimented as I thought with Weezer’s brand of slightly fuzzy indie pop meets nerd culture sensibility meets accessible melodies went down an absolute treat with the now much fuller arena. It’s impossible not to have fun at a Weezer show when the tunes are so immediate and memorable. Launching off with My Name Is Jonas before delivering the infectious Beverley Hills the boys went on to offer up a truncated greatest hits set which had the crowd eating out of their hands. Say It Ain’t So retained an ethereal feel in the last gasps of sunlight while Island In The Sun benefited from it’s hard/soft dynamic. Hash Pipe powered through the huge arena and the ever popular Pork and Beans even tempted Weezer neophytes to raises their hands. Weezer frontman and part time Wayne’s World stunt double Rivers Cuomo has never been shy about his love for KISS and the band’s decision to cover Strutter could have been seen as pandering of the worse type – but really it was the piece de resistance of a fantastic set. Closing with Buddy Holly the band left the stage to huge cheers – no mean feat when you are facing one of the most parochial crowds in rock n roll.        

Let’s face it, venues the size of Accor arena are very tricky propositions – especially when like tonight it was far from a full house. Trying to make rock n roll magic in a space that feels like a barren outdoor aircraft hanger takes a certain kind of act. Well, KISS is on a very short list of artists (The Stones and AC/DC also come to mind) that boast the incredible mystique necessary to make an audience feel they are no more than a few feet from the action. This is a band that is far bigger than any of its actual members, in fact by this stage in their career the band are more like their own universe that will somehow outlive our own quickly dying planet. Think this is hyperbole? Well, a quick look around the arena demonstrated KISS’ universal and enduring appeal. This was a multi generational affair - from those who could have purchased KISS Alive the day it came out in 1975 right through to those for whom COVID put a total downer on their primary school years. What’s more, unlike most other shows where you’ll see band merch from across the musical spectrum this audience rocked KISS gear and pretty much nothing else.

Of course KISS themselves were a well-oiled machine and sounded absolutely huge. Not surprisingly the bulk of the set came from the band’s vaunted ‘70s heyday in a very obvious case of ‘giving the people what they wanted’. Painted and non-painted faces alike came alive (sorry couldn’t help myself) for the turbo charged Detroit Rock City, the swaggering Cold Gin and bombastic anthems such as Shout It Out Loud, God Of Thunder and the ever catchy Love Gun. But the band made sure that on this, their final tour, that other parts of their career were celebrated as well. I Love It Loud and War Machine were very welcome representations of the Creatures Of The Night LP, Heaven’s On Fire held down the underrated Animalize album; Psycho Circus represented the surprisingly competent ‘reunion’ late period LP of the same name and finally Say Yeah was a living and breathing example that KISS have actually released new music in the last 15 years or so. Of course the encore was straight banger after straight banger with the tender strains of Beth leading straight into Shandi from Unmasked before the band unleashed the evergreen karaoke classics I Was Made For Loving You and Rock N Roll All Night to thunderous applause.

A KISS concert is more than the tunes and true to form the stage show was one for the age. More lasers than a planetarium, enough dry ice to bankrupt a small African nation and explosions up the wazoo – all were grist for the mill for rock n roll’s greatest showmen.      

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So, were there any complaints to be had? Well, given this is likely the band’s last tour it would have been nice if the band could have made peace with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss for at least some form of involvement. But to be fair Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are KISS veterans at this stage and they not only played their asses off  (Thayer in particular is a truly gifted musician) but also ‘played’ the characters like they themselves were the OG’s. I also could have done without the slightly cliched drum and bass solos but again they added to the atmosphere and the bass solo at least just seemed to be an excuse for Gene to spit blood (let’s face it people would have asked for their money back if that didn’t happen!). Perhaps the most egregious thing however, was Paul’s interminable stage banter, which took up time that could have been used for a few left of centre deep cuts to balance out the well-worn staples (the crushingly heavy Unholy anyone? Or maybe something off Hot In The Shade?)

Although KISS have been with me all my life (one of my earliest memories is KISS face-painting on offer at my infants school fete) I’ve never been a true devotee. But I’ve got to say this was an incredible experience and even though KISS are now bonafide senior citizens they retained a power and vitality that was truly jaw dropping. This band is a cult and if tonight’s effort was any indication it will go on being revered long after the members are dead and buried.