September 24, 2009
Adam Graham / Detroit News Pop Music Writer

Kiss' love affair with Detroit -- and the city's relationship with the legendary costumed rock outfit -- has lasted longer than many marriages.

The group recorded the bulk of its "Alive" album here, kicked off its reunion tour at Tiger Stadium in 1996 and gave the city one of its most enduring anthems and monikers, "Detroit Rock City."

Friday and Saturday, Kiss rekindles its relationship with the Motor City when it returns to Cobo Arena, the site of its landmark 1975 "Alive" LP.

"It was clear from the beginning that Detroit just got us," says frontman Paul Stanley, on the phone earlier this month. "They understood us instinctively and intuitively. Before we were headlining anywhere, we were headlining in Detroit."

The band decided to open its latest tour, dubbed "Kiss Alive 35," at Cobo when they heard the arena might be in trouble. Tour dates for the trek were already booked, but they tacked on two shows at the front of the tour to return to the city -- and the arena -- that helped make them famous.

"We're saluting the place that gave us a shot," says Kiss bassist and figurehead Gene Simmons, who says the band will play "Alive" in its entirety during the Cobo shows. "Yes, it's a concert. But for us it means something more."

Kiss formed in 1972 in New York, and in its early years struggled to find its footing. The group -- Stanley, Simmons, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss -- released three albums in 1974 and '75, but failed to find much commercial success. At the same time, the band's live shows were gaining a reputation for over-the-top excesses, including fire, explosions, outrageous costumes and a little good old-fashioned blood-spitting, courtesy of Simmons.

In order to help re-create the excitement of its live show, and salvage its fledging career, the band decided to record a double live album. "Alive" -- recorded mostly at Cobo Arena, with a cover photo that was shot during rehearsals at the now-defunct Michigan Palace -- was released in September 1975, and quickly became a hit. It became the band's first gold-selling album, cemented its reputation as a live powerhouse and gave the group a new lease on life.

The next year, Kiss included "Detroit Rock City" on its "Destroyer" album. "I wanted to pay tribute to Detroit. There'd been a few songs written about different cities, and by far, I thought the city that should be at the front of that acclaim was Detroit," Stanley says.

Of the title, which has become as synonymous with the city as the nicknames Motown and the Motor City, Stanley says it just came to him. "It's what it is. It's something that Detroit wears very easily and naturally," he says. "I spit it out, the same way I spit out, 'Rock and roll all night and party every day.' It's organic and it's natural. Detroit is the rock city."

In addition to the tour, Kiss -- Frehley and Criss exited the band earlier this decade, and were replaced by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, respectively -- is also readying the release of "Sonic Boom," a three-disc package that will be released exclusively at Wal-Mart stores on Oct. 6. "Sonic Boom" marks the band's first studio effort since 1998's "Psycho Circus," and comes packaged with a greatest hits disc, re-recorded by the band's current lineup, and a DVD featuring a recent performance in Buenos Aires.

When Cobo's future was up in the air, there was talk the Kiss performance could be the last ever housed in the venue. "Whatever they're going to do to it, we want to be the last people in there," says Stanley.

Reminded that the famed Tiger Stadium -- where the band played to almost 40,000 fans in June 1996 -- is now a pile of rubble, he lets out a slight chuckle.

"Well," he says, "I guess that's our lot in life: to seek and destroy."

Kiss quips
Gene Simmons is rarely at a loss for words. Here are a few thoughts from the God of Thunder:

On the band's current lineup vs. the original lineup

"(People say) family is the most important thing. Actually, no, it's not. Love, respect and discipline is the most important thing; and if your father is a drunk and abuses the family and makes it dysfunctional, kick (him) out. Blood is thicker than water? No it's not. Self-respect, discipline and honesty is the most important thing. If your mother or father or brother or sister is a drug addict (kind of) loser, toss him out. It's called tough love.

"Love yourself and respect yourself enough to have pride in what you do. Love and respect and have pride for the band you're in. When we get up on stage, that's holy ground. This is electric church, and no one on that stage -- me or anyone else -- wears the makeup and platform heels by some kind of birthright. This ain't Europe; just 'cause your dad was king doesn't make you the king. You've got to earn it. And when you defile Kiss, you should be thrown out."

On the controversial Kiss casket

"They sold out, of course. You can't get another one anywhere. I don't even have one anymore. I sent the last one to the family of (deceased Pantera guitarist) Dimebag Darrell (Abbott). The last will and testament of his family is that he be buried in a Kiss casket. (I sent) the one I had right here in my museum."

On Kiss merchandising

"How cool is it to walk in and see Kiss Mr. Potato heads, or Kiss M&Ms? Come on. We love the Stones and we love U2 and Radiohead, but I don't want to see Thom Yorke's face on an M&M."

On Radiohead

"Love the songs. Live? I'm bored."

On Kiss' live philosophy

"If you bring your eyes to a concert, we want a visual boom, a visual overload. And you should get that, for (heaven's) sake. You're paying as much for a concert ticket as some down payments on cars. It's nuts."

On Kiss' tour with Aerosmith earlier this decade

"When we both decided to go out, (headliners were) going to be flip-flopped every other night, but we immediately stepped up and said, 'Don't worry about ego, we'll go on first every night, not a problem. And we promise you, people will forget you were there.' "

On a favorite Detroit memory

"We were backstage getting ready (at Cobo) and we were doing photo sessions, and I was in full makeup, and I had to go to the bathroom before we went out (on stage). And a really pretty girl walked in there, and I said, 'Sorry, miss, you're in the wrong bathroom.' She said, 'No no no, I wanted to give you a present before you get up on stage.' And I'm going, 'I love Detroit.' "

On being Gene Simmons

"It's good to be me. People say life is short and all that; still, you can live big, you can live a full life if you get off your (behind) and do something. I believe a lot of people go to their grave and on their headstones it might say, 'I woulda, I coulda, I shoulda.' On my tombstone it's going to say 'Thank you and good night.' I wanna go up in flames. That's Kiss."