By PATRICK McDONALD / The Advertiser
If 1970s superhero band KISS wrote the handbook on rock’n’roll theatrics, then its 40th anniversary tour not only tears out the pages but sets fire to them, blows them up, shoots them with laser beams and sends them on a skyrocket to hell and back.
Its gigantic mechanical Spider, making its first appearance Down Under, descends from the ceiling with its legs arched across the stage, the band riding on its steel back while hammering out the unmistakeable opening riff of Detroit Rock City. .
Red spotlights scan the rabid crowd from its eyes and fireworks explode from its underbelly while balls — no, make that walls — of flame envelop the backdrop, sending forth waves of heat that threaten to barbecue the front rows of fans.
It was like an entire concert’s worth of effects crammed into one song.
This old rock dog might not have learned any new tricks — bassist Gene Simmons still breathes fire, spits blood and flies to the rafters to prove he’s the God of Thunder, singer Paul Stanley sails on a wire over the crowd to fire his Love Gun, Tommy Thayer shoots sparks from his guitar into the lighting rig and Eric Singer’s drum kit rises as he roars out Black Diamond — but like a great Cirque du Soleil show, the band has learned how to wrap the same stunts up in a shiny new package.
On top of this, the current line-up plays fast, furious and incredibly tight, injecting new-found energy into standards like Calling Dr Love or Lick it Up — which morphs into The Who’s Won’t Be Fooled Again — and dusting off such live gems as Cold Gin and the extended outro from She.
KISS are about to hit Australia on their 40th anniversary tour, and if there’s one thing you can rely on in music, it’s that KISS are going to put on a big, big show. But this time they’re bringing their biggest: their ‘Spider’ lighting rig is coming with them to tower over the band and be even more menacing than Gene Simmons’ famous blood-spewing bass solo. And on stage left you’ll find Tommy Thayer inhabiting the role of the Spaceman as he has done since 2002. In the 13 years since Tommy started donning the iconic makeup and costume he’s gradually added hints of his own character to the icon. You can hear it in a certain confidence to his own solos, and see it in his choice of guitars, which diverge from the three-pickup Les Pauls Ace Frehley used when he was the Spaceman.
So KISS is returning to Australia. Now, the show with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was one of your first KISS gigs, right?
It really was! It was my first official gig, in February 2003. I had done a couple of other gigs with the band prior to that but they were more really fill-in shows. It wasn’t quite defined who was playing guitar or not. (Laughs) So that was a transition period and we didn’t do too many appearances. So February 2003 I was officially in the band as the new KISS lead guitar player. It was a big gig, at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, and it was a big deal because it was being filmed for a DVD and live album. There was a lot going on and it was a little stressful but I took it all in and made it happen, and it turned out great.
Tell me about your latest Epiphone signature guitar.
It’s a striking guitar and everyone who sees it reacts the same way. It looks really flashy and it really pops. I’m really happy with it. I was thinking about a new Les Paul to play on the road with KISS last year and our drummer Eric Singer is a really big guitar collector so he suggested a white guitar. We came to the conclusion that a metallic white guitar would be great, a real Alpine White with a metallic flake in it. He also suggested chrome hardware. Originally the idea was to do a chrome binding as well but they had a hard time figuring out how to do a chrome binding. So we went back and forth and in the end I ended up doing a three-ply binding, the kind they mostly put on Customs. And I’m really happy with the way that looked.
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Thanks to Dave Schwartz for sharing the photo with us!
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