$1 million in pyro. $750,000 in Covid precautions. Rock’s gods of excess explain how and why they’re throwing the biggest party of the year when the live-music industry has shut down
Much of the world will be spending New Year’s Eve sequestered from one another in quarantine. Kiss, however, will be blowing up 2020 in 100 feet of flames in a lavish, decadent, record-breaking (and Covid-safe) rock & roll livestream in Dubai.
For their first show in an ongoing farewell tour — Kiss (and the rest of the live-music business) have been on pause for most of the year — they wanted to go bigger, even by their own notoriously grandiose standards. Deducing that it’d be the only way to properly scale their shows for an at-home audience, the group is plotting one of the highest production livestream experiences of the Covid-era, with a 250-foot stage, 50 surrounding 4k cameras, and what the band hopes will set the Guinness World Record for the biggest-ever pyro show. Kiss will be performing outdoors from Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel, and while a majority of fans will watch by stream, several thousand hotel attendees will be viewing from their balconies. You can also stream the show live on FITE.tv here.
“The best way to shut everybody up and get everybody to enjoy life right now is to make a big resounding noise and shake the heavens with some pyro,” bassist Gene Simmons tells Rolling Stone.
Livestreaming in the Covid era has mostly been defined by higher casualness and lower budgets. But intimate doesn’t exactly match Kiss’s over-the-top, blow-your-face-off aesthetic, so the band naturally went the total opposite direction.
“Frankly, I wasn’t interested in doing a stream on the level of Live at the Troubadour in L.A.,” frontman Paul Stanley says. “Not that those aren’t good, but they aren’t Kiss. Either we do this right, or we don’t do it. For us, size matters. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; we invented it and it runs real well. We’re just making sure it’s on a scale and a size that does justice not only to the situation we’re in, but that it makes the people watching at home feel like they’re a part of it.”
“We play big. There’s not a lot of subtlety in what we do,” adds Simmons. “It’s like the Fourth of July. You don’t want chaos. You can have the biggest, but it won’t be the baddest because just random explosions everywhere and 300-foot fireballs going off, you can’t tap your foot to that or sing along. You want to have something that has coordination. So everything that we’re naturally doing onstage is going to be amplified — 10-to-100-fold bigger, oh my God.”
Such an extravagant affair doesn’t come cheap. The whole setup will cost almost eight figures, according to show director Dan Catullo, whose company Landmarks Live is producing the concert. The pyrotechnics alone are nearly $1 million, and Covid compliancy expenses for the 400-some workers putting the show together total another $750,000. Without giving specifics on funding, Catullo says the stream has a few major sponsors significantly helping cover the costs and is selling tickets starting at $39, pricier than the $15 for most livestreams that have aired in recent months.
“The best way to … get everybody to enjoy life right now is to make a big resounding noise and shake the heavens with some pyro.” —Gene Simmons
The higher costs, however, give Kiss more options than their usual, still-ostentatious tour gigs. Hundreds of feet of showboating hellfire couldn’t be thrown out just anywhere, after all. While there were a few limitations for some facets of the show, such as stage size, the band got to run wild for its setup wish list. Stanley calls the New Year’s Eve gig “their end-of-the-road setup on steroids.” “We don’t really have a word for ‘no,'” says Doc McGhee, Kiss’s manager since 1995. “We know what the people want: They want the biggest thing out there. Our motto is, ‘If you’re gonna run with the big dogs, you can’t piss like a puppy.'”
Kiss will be the first — and largest — of 10 shows that Landmarks will put on in Dubai, Catullo says. This summer, Landmarks worked for two months to bring the series to Australia due to its low case count at the time, but the country’s status as a haven against the virus didn’t last and the plan was scrapped. Seeing that the United Arab Emirates had fewer cases relative to other countries, Catullo locked in the series for Dubai.
Setting up the show — due to both Covid precautions and the sheer scale of the event — is complicated. Dubai doesn’t have much of the tech or resources needed on-hand for the gig, so Catullo and his team shipped 37 containers of equipment on cargo ships. It’s difficult to get the parts to build a stage over current limitations, but the production team managed to get the scaffolding from the UFC’s recently completed Fight Island series.
“It was ridiculously complex because we had to get shipments out, and it turns out shipping several tons of pyrotechnics and explosives into the Middle East isn’t an easy thing to do,” Catullo quips. “Forget about a pandemic — we’re doing the biggest production in Kiss’s history, which alone is massive. Now you add in the pandemic, and trying to figure out how to do it safely and the logistics of getting 400 people and all the equipment and gear there safely, that adds another 15 layers.”
The most arduous task is developing a work system amid the pandemic to ensure no virus transmission among the crew. Catullo has divided his crew into teams of about 25, with no crew members allowed to break off beyond their own pod groups. Runners, for example, who will get exposed to more people heading to stores for supplies, won’t make any contact with the rest of the crew to keep contamination rates lower. The hotel’s ballrooms housing the teams’ production offices will be outfitted with plexiglass protection. Each crew worker will wear a microchipped wristband that helps with contact tracing, and Catullo can be notified if any crew members go beyond their pods.
If someone contracts the virus, the team should be able to easily trace who else has been in contact with that worker. The crew will essentially create a bubble for the show setup, particularly the few staffers who will be in direct contact with Kiss. Catullo says even with his daily Covid testing, he will quarantine for 24 hours before seeing the band. By Catullo’s count, the crew will take about 6,000 Covid tests over a 13-day period.
“We have to take beyond-extraordinary measures to keep people safe, and there’s just not going to be very much social interaction,” he says. “It’s great that we’re going to Dubai and everyone wants to have a good time, but we’re there to work. I have not slept in three months. I don’t go to bed till 3 a.m. and I wake up at 6 a.m., seven days a week, because we’re working on our time and Dubai’s. I don’t want to say I underestimated it, but when I say this is a monstrous undertaking, this is a behemoth. I’ve done 350 live concert specials. I’ve done some big shows, but this one is just over-the-top.”
Strict safety measures were a crucial selling point for Kiss, both for their own safety and the safety of the crew, not to mention the irredeemable optics behind not becoming a superspreader event. “The last thing we want to be known as is the band that infected the fucking world,” McGhee says.
“The last thing we want to be known as is the band that infected the fucking world.” —Kiss manager Doc McGhee
Simmons and Stanley have both spent most of the past eight months isolating with their families and have been vocal online about the importance of socially distancing and wearing masks. The band won’t see one another outside of the show and rehearsals, and everyone will be seated in their own separate cabin rooms when flying to Dubai.
“I’m going to put on my mask and goggles and put on a body condom and just cover myself,” Simmons says with a chuckle. “We can kid around about it, but this is deadly serious. It’s really sad that apparently there’s a large segment of the population who just don’t believe it. It’s difficult to believe until it happens to your family.”
“We’re taking all the protocols needed. It’s very easy for people to become desensitized and to normalize it, which is to put it mildly, ‘foolish,’ and to put it in true terms, ‘idiotic,'” Stanley says. “Obviously, the first thing we had to say was ‘Can we pull this off safely?’ and we’re making sure we’re doing that. I’m very concerned not just with my own well-being, but the well-being of everybody who’s involved. It’s ‘It takes a village,’ and this is of paramount importance. We’re also going to make sure that in light of the fact that it’s pretty much going on a year since anybody’s seen live entertainment of any size, we will burst the doors down. We’ll kick them down with eight-inch heels.
“We’re doing this safely — not about being selfish but about lifting everybody’s spirits. That’s what New Year’s Eve is supposed to be about, goddamn it. This is usually where strangers kiss strangers; you’re glad to be alive and to have made it to another year. What’s a better time now than New Year’s Eve to be putting on the greatest show on Earth, safely?”
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