January 11, 2010
By Matt Silk

THIS week SFTW goes to Minneapolis to meet rock legends Kiss. We hang out with God Of Thunder Gene Simmons and experience their Alive 35 tour, celebrating the three and a half decades since they first emerged - an explosive taster of what the UK can expect this spring.

"Go ahead, touch it - I won't tell anyone..." I'm in a Minneapolis hotel room with a true rock legend, the fire-breathing, bloodspitting demon bassist of Kiss - Gene Simmons. And the man they call the God Of Thunder, who claims to have slept with more than 5,000 women, is inviting me to squeeze his thigh.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the first to have heard that line.

No cause for concern though. Iron-thighed Gene, 60, is proudly demonstrating the condition he needs to be in for the gruelling extravaganza which is the Kiss live experience.

The Alive 35 tour celebrates three-and-a-half decades since this incredible outfit first emerged from New York city.

"We're gladiators in the arena. There's a physicality to what we do that nobody does," says Gene.

"When you hit that stage, the adrenalin hits your veins, you physically become bigger and thicker. I become stronger and less susceptible to pain. But I come off-stage and I'm black and blue from the armour I wear banging in to me."

The 16,000-odd fans who packed out the city's Target Arena the previous night -- many of them in their teens and early twenties and a fair few sporting make-up while tottering on 7-inch stack heels -- wouldn't be surprised by Gene's battle scars. They're probably still recovering themselves.

Kiss's show has always been the stuff of rock folklore - with ridiculous levels of fireworks, flame and confetti, set-pieces including vocalist/rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley gliding on a zip-wire from the stage into the middle of the arena, Gene flying up to the gantry and Tommy Thayer's rocketfiring guitar.

Despite a muddled post-Seventies history of line-up shuffles and direction changes, this is THE Kiss experience rock fans my age grew up dreaming of witnessing. Except... except it's probably even better than it was back then, even more of a spectacle -- and those classic songs have never sounded better. An extraordinary achievement after all these years.

Among all the rock 'n' roll fantasy on stage, there's a new element -- all four are clearly having a whale of a time up there. Gene says: "If God gives you the opportunity to be Gene Simmons -- what the f*** are you gonna do with that? Are you going to quit after ten years because you have all the money and chicks you could ever need? Or are you gonna ride that pony and see how fast it will go until it drops?"

Paul adds: "We do have fun and that's the difference. We also have a lot of pride when we're up there. We have a good time and really enjoy each other and that's, er, new!"

The singer is referring to bad times that came shortly after the 1996 reunion of the band's original line-up, marking the return of drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley after nigh on 16 years.

Paul says: "From there it was really downhill. There's magic in people seeing the original line-up but, outside that, if you listened to it objectively, it grew old quickly."

Paul and Gene were watching a re-run of the late Seventies, as drink, drugs and egos tore the band apart again, leading to their farewell tour in 2000.

"All of the b******t we had to go through with the drugs and booze and lack of self-esteem that Ace and Peter had just sucked the life out of us," says Gene.

"It's been a thorn in my side for a long time. Even the phrase sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll -- what a loser's phrase that is! Why isn't it just sex and rock 'n' roll? How did drugs become cool?

"You can't win a marathon high, you just can't. Don't get me started, it makes me furious."

Some old-school fans have a hard time accepting the line-up now, seeing it as Gene and Paul with two hired hands (despite drummer Eric Singer having been on board for 17 years and guitarist Tommy for nine). You only have to see the chemistry between the four, on and off-stage, to realise that is not the case.

Paul says: "Hired hands? Ridiculous. That does the band such a disservice. The truth is, when I have questions most of the time I go to Tommy, not Gene. When I want feedback I go to the others.

"And anybody who thinks we could have made (new album)Sonic Boom with another line-up is out of their mind."

Ah, Sonic Boom. A blistering and long, long overdue return to form for what, for a good few years in the Seventies, was the biggest rock band in the world.

The new album's success (it entered the US chart at No 2) will see more new tracks included in the live set by the time Kiss arrive in the UK for their spring tour.

Old Blighty holds a special place in the band's hearts and the feeling is mutual -- extra dates have been added after the initial Wembley and Glasgow shows sold out.

Paul says: "I'm an Anglophile and the roots of everything I do are there. Led Zeppelin came out of there -- what more do you need? That makes it the Holy Land!

"Whatever we did there in 2008, which was damned good, is dwarfed compared to what we're doing now. You ain't seen nothing yet. Not because the show is that much bigger but because WE'RE that much bigger. We're pretty lethal - and proudly so.

"We're that much surer in our boots - and these are big boots."

They certainly are.