July 12, 2011
KISS opens Mountain Laurel Center Wednesday

By Josh McAuliffe (Staff Writer)

After a four-year hiatus, live music will return to the Mountain Laurel Pocono Mountains Performing Arts Center this week. And what better band to rechristen the place than the kings of rock music showmanship, the one and only KISS.

Wednesday night, Gene Simmons and his fellow face-painted icons will play the first show at the Bushkill amphitheater since 2007. From there, the venue will host comic Larry the Cable Guy, ZZ Top, the Beach Boys with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Monkees.

Those in attendance will be among the last fans to see KISS for some time, as the band is finishing up the final leg of a two-and-a-half-year world tour, one that made a stop at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain last summer.

"When KISS comes to town, it's like the circus is coming to town. It's a must-see," said the band's lead guitarist, Tommy Thayer, during a recent phone interview. "It's something you have to see at least once in your life."

While the tour might be wrapping up, the band is as busy as ever these days. They're recording tracks for their next studio album, the first since 2009's "Sonic Boom," putting the final touches on the fourth volume of their DVD history, "Kissology," and gearing up for the first KISS Kruise, in which the band will spend a week sailing the Caribbean with their most devoted fans.

"We're going to turn the KISS Army into the KISS Navy. We're going to turn that cruise ship into a battleship," cracked Mr. Thayer, who joined the band in 2002, when original lead guitarist Ace Frehley departed for the second time.

Mr. Thayer was in his teens when KISS mania was at its zenith in the mid-1970s. Like most of his peers, he couldn't get enough of the band's makeup and pyro-laden theatrics.

A decade or so later, Mr. Thayer was playing guitar with the hard rock band Black 'N Blue when it was invited to open for KISS. "That was a thrill," he said.

During that period, Mr. Thayer built up a good rapport with Mr. Simmons and fellow KISS co-founder Paul Stanley. Following Black 'N Blue's breakup in the late '80s, KISS hired him to take on a number of tasks, from editing videos to playing guitar at rehearsals.

When Mr. Frehley and original drummer Peter Criss returned to the band in 1996, it was up to Mr. Thayer to help Mr. Frehley re-learn his guitar parts.

Six years later, Mr. Frehley departed, which opened the door for Mr. Thayer to take over the band's signature "Spaceman" role.

"It was a little bit of a mind blower," he said. "I felt very gratified and fortunate to be in that position. But at the same time, I had to put my nose to the grindstone."

"Being in KISS elevates you to a whole other level of performance," he continued. "What's great about this band is that the four members all love what they do. ... There's a fire burning every night, literally and figuratively. We want to put on the most fiery and bombastic show possible."

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If you go

What: KISS

Where: Mountain Laurel Pocono Mountains Performing Arts Center, Bushkill

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

Details: Tickets are $39 to $115 and can be purchased online at, or by calling 800-745-3000.