‘It's the biggest pyro show since Krakatoa’: Gene Simmons on the Kiss New Year’s Eve spectacular

Aided by 400 crew, 6,000 Covid tests and $1m worth of fireworks, Kiss will see off 2020 in Dubai with the livestream to end all livestreams

Gene Simmons and Tommy Thayer of KISS on stage in Los Angeles, March 2020
Gene Simmons and Tommy Thayer of KISS on stage in Los Angeles, March 2020 Credit: Getty

With the world in various states of lockdown and people hopefully practicing social-distancing while wearing a mask, there won’t be a whole lot of smooching this New Year’s Eve. There will be plenty of Kiss though, as the legendary glam-rock group are live-streaming a record-breaking concert from Dubai. With $1 million being spent on pyrotechnics alone, the band hope it’ll be the perfect way to Kiss 2020 Goodbye.

“We don’t want you to get sick so don't go out, get drunk and wind up being friendly with strangers whose names you haven’t bothered to learn,” warns bassist Gene Simmons, calling from his home in California. “Instead stay at home with your loved ones and you'll still get to go to the biggest party on the face of the planet.” 

For Kiss, size matters (“We're about spectacle and giving your eyes treats”) so when they say biggest, they absolutely mean it. Right now, there’s a team of 400 workers building the largest stage Simmons has ever seen in front of Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel, the show itself (a supersized version of their End Of The Road farewell tour) will be captured by over 50 cameras and broadcast around the world while their firework display is set to break a Guinness World Record with Simmons calling it “the biggest pyro show since Krakatoa.”

“Kiss is about celebration,” he tells me, believing they’re the perfect band to ring in a new year that’s hopefully better than the last. “We don't know the secret of life and we're not depressed about anything. Instead Kiss celebrates life. It may not mean a lot, but it sure makes you feel good.” 

Rather than scaling their stadium show down to fit into the local Roxy Theatre like the Foo Fighters did for their livestream, Kiss are going bigger than they’ve ever been before. “I don't like the word subtle; it's got a stupid b in the middle that doesn't belong there. Kiss has always been about more. For God's sakes,” he exclaims, “we've been kept indoors all year as well. We want to let off steam too.”  

Kiss 2020 Goodbye will be the first of 10 livestreamed concerts production company Landmarks Live host in Dubai, thanks to the relatively low number of Coronavirus cases the country has suffered. Kiss only agreed to play when they saw the safety measures being implemented, with $750,000 being spent on pandemic-proofing the event. The crew have to wear microchipped wristbands to make sure bubbles are being maintained and any outbreaks of coronavirus can be quickly isolated.

According to show director Dan Catullo, the crew will take over 6,000 Covid tests in the two weeks leading up to the show. There’s a small army of doctors on hand at all times and the onstage crew will be wearing the equivalent of hazmat suits for the duration of the show. On the flight between America and Dubai, the band travelled in individual sealed cabins with no contact with each other or the flight crew. Even after landing, Kiss stayed indoors until showtime. “It’s ultra, ultra safe,” promises Simmons who has spent most of the year at home with his family.

Despite his belief that “celebrities shouldn’t get on soapboxes” the 71 year-old has been a vocal critic of the anti-masker and anti-vaxxer movement. “What's the f______ problem with putting on a mask? ‘It's my right not to have a mask on’ but it's not about you. It's about the very real possibility that you're going to be infecting those around you. I don't understand the deniers but it is curious the politicians here in America who denied it as a hoax are the first in line to get the vaccine.”

KISS in 1975 Credit:  Michael Ochs Archives

2020 has been the year of the livestream and Simmons is promising a show “unlike anything anybody's ever seen,” this New Year’s Eve. He hasn’t been watching other virtual gigs to see where the bar has been set but he knows who’s been doing them. “We intend to shame them all with our event.” 

Despite the huge amount of cash being used to put on the show (as well as the £39 ticket price) Simmons doesn’t believe there’s much money in livestreaming or that these high production virtual concerts will ever replace the real thing. Instead, like Spotify, “livestreams are wonderful at reaching more people but there's nothing like actually being in a room, watching your favourite band and feeling the heat and the excitement of other people. We’re social animals. It's okay to have a party by yourself but it's so much more fun when there are other people to celebrate with.”

Kiss were in the midst of their ambitious End Of The Road Farewell tour when the pandemic put their plans on pause. If it’s safe to do so, the tour will restart next summer  in Europe alongside a headline performance at the iconic Download Festival and the 150 remaining dates will also include the largest show Kiss ever play. “We're thinking about playing in the coldest place on the planet because there are no barriers, no buildings, no anything,” teases Simmons. “You will hopefully see things from space, that's how big it's gonna be.”  

Simmons “can’t wait to return” to playing proper rock gigs to an audience but this enforced break hasn’t changed his decision about hanging up his dragon boots. “At some point, you have to get off the stage because of self-respect, pride and what the fans expect.” The band still walks onstage to the declaration ‘You wanted the best, you got the best - the hottest band in the world, Kiss’ and those words mean something to them. 

“Caring is an important word,” when it comes to having close to a 50-year career, according to Simmons. He has lost over 20 pounds for the farewell tour and thinks any doubters will be impressed by what they see on New Year’s Eve. “We've all seen bands that have stayed on stage too long. If you’re going to go out, you want to go out on top. Don't wait until you're a pale impression of who and what you used to be.” 

Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger have continued touring beyond Simmons’ age “but if you put any of those guys in my outfit  (each of his boots weighs 10 pounds with seven inch platforms on top of the 40 pounds of armor) they wouldn't last half an hour on that stage. Maybe I should have been smarter and been in a band like The Rolling Stones but I get to wear more makeup and higher heels than your mommy does and we have a ball. There are a lot of bands I admire but I wouldn't have as much fun being in them.”

But does Simmons consider himself a legend? “Who gives a f___? I believe in the here and now. Kiss have done some cool stuff but it’s not going to mean too much if we can't still deliver it now. I love BTS but I invite them to come onstage with us and we’ll show you how the big boys do it.” 

Kiss Goodbye 2020 takes place December 31. Tickets available from kiss2020goodbye.com