The clock is winding down toward New Year’s Eve, and with most of the world ready to kick the most difficult year ever to the curb, the self-proclaimed “hottest band in the world” is ready to “KISS 2020 Goodbye” in grand fashion with a virtual concert live from Dubai.
“We have never been known for our subtlety and we’re not going to start now,” singer-guitarist Paul Stanley tells Variety. “This year has been an inconvenience for some and outright devastation for others. So who better to kick it in the butt than us? And we’ll do it in eight-inch heels.”
KISS began 2020 ready to celebrate its final “End of the Road” tour until Covid-19 shut down the world as well as the touring industry in March. By the time Dec. 31 hits, it will have been 296 days since the group took to a stage to perform. Stanley promises that what the group has planned for this Thursday will more than make up for lost time.
“This show that we’re doing is everything we’ve done on steroids. We’re planning on breaking Guinness world records,” he said. “We have, I think at last count, a million and a half dollars of pyro. We’ll be playing all the songs that people around the world expect to hear. And the band is in great, great shape. This will be a good way to welcome in the next year, which we’re all waiting for. We can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to all be aware that until we are all vaccinated, we’re not over this. People are celebrating a vaccine, but the vaccine means nothing until it’s applied to you. So, with that in mind, we’re going to kick off the new year and say goodbye to the old one in a fashion only we could do.”
To pull off this monumental event, KISS partnered with Landmarks Live, a company helmed by show director Dan Catullo. Landmarks presents concerts films in different locations, like Foo Fighters at the Acropolis in Greece, and has experience pulling off large scale events in exotic locales. Catullo and a team of 500 workers have been working diligently in Dubai, working with sponsors on what will eventually be a $10 million spectacular, including the construction of a massive 250-foot stage constructed at Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel.
“We ripped out 70 palm trees to do it. We are going to put them back, don’t worry, but we had them removed. We put this massive stage right up at the edge of the pool. And the pool itself is being incorporated as part of the set where we’re actually going to put flames in it and light it on fire,” he said. “And then Paul’s gonna fly to the other side of the stage, which is the other side of the pool. It’s pretty wild.”
The concert is just one piece of KISS’ journey to the United Arab Emirates and the long road Landmarks Live is taking to get the band there. In the works is a documentary slated for the big screen in 2021. A film crew has been working with Catullo for the past three months, and fans will be able to see the ins and outs of how the biggest show of 2020 came to be during the height of a pandemic.
“We’ve been documenting every single moment of it. We have a documentary crew of almost 50 people alone and we’re filming everything and that’s going to be a full movie that comes out in movie theaters and drive-in theaters in May,” he said.
The story actually began earlier in the year, as the group and Landmarks were already setting plans in motion for a big event timed with its farewell tour, which is now on hold.
“The ‘End of the Road’ show that we have, which is our final tour, is really the ultimate KISS show, just in terms of technology, we we’ve taken everything to a whole other level, and let’s be frank about this: when you go to see any other band or any other act, you’re seeing the KISS show because this DNA is in everything that’s done nowadays,” he said. “We wrote the book and now it was time for us on this end of the road to really, really put our stamp on everything we can.
“And we’re in this very fortunate position that we’re really at the top of our game. And yet we realize that we can’t stay here forever. You can play beat the clock, but the clock ultimately wins. If we were wearing T-shirts and jeans, we could play into our nineties, but we’re carrying around 40-plus pounds of gear and doing an Olympic marathon. So with that in mind, we announced this tour and it’s really been a blessing because so many times in life, when we lose someone or lose something, we are filled with a certain kind of regret about what we didn’t do or what we would have said. And in a sense, it’s a victory lap, and also a chance to validate why people have championed us for so long.”
That was the plan. But on March 6, everything came to a screeching halt.
“This year was shaping up to be good,” Catullo said. “We were going to launch like a rocket. We were moving to a bigger platform. It was going to be more ambitious than ever. And we were getting ready to hit the ground running in March. And I remember exactly the day when I found out how bad this was going to be, because I actually flew to Oakland on March 6 to meet with KISS, because I was talking to them at the time about doing the farewell tour and shoot the last show.
“I was actually in KISS’ dressing room when Paul came in and they started talking about how they should cancel the rest of the tour,” Catullo continued, “because it was getting bad. And that was the first time it really struck me how bad this was going to be. The very next week, the ‘Life Is Beautiful’ festival was cancelled.”
By summer, Catullo was in survival mode. With the live event space on pause — except for the onslaught of virtual, lo-fi living room concerts and pre-taped fare on social media — he spent the summer trying to figure out how to stay afloat. He even explored doing a series of 10 shows in Australia, where the cases were seemingly on the decline. That idea was scrapped when Australia went back into lock down. It was then that Catullo was told to look into Dubai, which had fewer cases.
“I immediately flew to Dubai. I met with people out here. They were wonderful. tourism worked with me, and everybody said let’s bring the show here. Into my first call was to (KISS manager Doc McGhee), and I asked him, ‘How about ending the year with the biggest show?’”
What started out as being a big, loud farewell to KISS’ touring life has morphed into something else: the biggest show in the history of the band and a big symbol of hope for an industry in crisis. If all goes well — Catullo says pre-sales have been steady and estimates about 250,000 viewers will be tuned in — there will be more to come in 2021. Catullo says he is already in talks with other artists eager to perform in Dubai, and says there will be 10 more shows on the way.
“We need to pull this off to bring hope to our industry,” he said. “Outside of my work, I’m a big concert fan, and I have been missing shows, and I love him to death, but I don’t need to see John Legend in his living room again. We need big productions, and I miss the big stage and the big light shows and getting more bang for your buck.”
To do this, Landmarks has employed an army — a KISS Army, if you will — of workers, and has partnered with UAE’s American Hospital to make sure all Covid-19 guidelines are in place to keep the staff safe. The crew is divided into groups of 25, with color-coordinated, microchipped wristbands to help with contact tracing. Additionally, there will be over 6,000 COVID tests administered. Catullo originally estimated about $750,000 of the budget will be allocated to safety measures alone.
“We have a COVID safety manual, and there’s online training before people come here. We test everybody every day, and everybody has to wear a mask at all times and social distance,” he said. “All the crew members have different colored, coded passes. So if you have a blue pass, you have to stay near the blue people. It’s probably the most complex production I’ve ever had.”
According to Stanley, he and bassist Gene Simmons, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer are taking the virus seriously, and prior to arriving in Dubai on Emirates Airlines — where each member were sequestered in separate cabins on planes with hospital level air filtration — rehearsals were just as strict.
“We’re coping, and tested almost daily. The room that we’re rehearsing in is cleaned and sterilized every day, and nobody else is allowed into the facility. We have between two and three people working with us and that’s it,” the singer said. “Nobody’s allowed in. We take this very seriously, all the way to the 500 crew members who were putting this together. Everybody has to be tested. And not only are we trying to lead by example, but we’re making it known that this is really the protocol for right now. This is not a time for anybody to let up.”
Those measures included tests before the group flew to Dubai this past weekend to being tested immediately upon landing.
“We’ve certainly done everything possible, and in terms of family gatherings or anything of that sort around the holidays, that was a no-go this year,” he said.
As for the safety of the audience, guests will be viewing the show from their hotel balconies or from a comfortable distance from the stage.
“It will be 3000 people there, although they will be quite distant from us at Atlantis, which is just a staggering resort where we’ll be performing,” Stanley said. “But that said, I’ve always thought as a performer that the camera or the microphone is just a way to get close to people. So whether they’re there in actuality or there in spirit, I will make sure that everybody’s sitting on their sofa feels that I’m there for them.”
So far, the protocols are working. Catullo maintains that so far there has not been one case of Covid on staff.
“KISS has been so great, and not only are they taking this virus seriously, but they wanted to do this. Like they’re really looking forward to bringing people the biggest show of the year,” he said. ” I do believe that we all think that this is like bigger than KISS and bigger than Landmarks at this point. There’s nothing big. There’s nothing of this size, anywhere in the world right now. So all eyes will be on us. This is where the party’s going to be at.”
He continued: “Everybody’s willing to put in the extra effort. And that’s, what’s really great about this. Everybody was on board with it — KISS, the crew, everybody, because everybody knows what this means. We needed to do something like this for the industry to give some hope or ending the year with hope. And we’re trying to send a message that this is coming back. We’re going to be okay.”
Adds Stanley, “In the midst of what so many people have gone through, and in the midst of hopefully seeing this come to an end, I think there’s cause for celebration. There isn’t going to be much else that’s televised on New Years Eve. And quite frankly, if you have something you’d rather do than watching KISS kick ass and blow up a whole lot of stuff playing music, I wish I was you.”