AND MAKEUP, NOW AND FOREVER
July 29, 2013
By Al Kratina, Special to The Gazette

MONTREAL — KISS will never die.

Perhaps that’s because Starchild — a.k.a. singer/guitarist Paul Stanley — has his atoms continually renewed by decaying suns. Or maybe singer/bassist Gene Simmons’s Demon persona really did sell his soul in exchange for immortality and the ability to wear the makeup of a dead circus clown.

Whatever the case, the mammoth hard-rock band has been big business for decades, with a seemingly unstoppable momentum to its music, its merchandise, its branding — like a snowball rolling down a hill until it crushes and absorbs a Walmart.

To Stanley — who, along with Simmons, has been in the band since its formation 40 years ago in New York — that commercial success comes from relating to fans through spectacle and positivity.

“We’re timeless in a way a lot of other bands aren’t,” says Stanley. “(There’s a) simplicity to just celebrating life and preaching self-empowerment.”

Though their fist-pumping party anthems and pyrotechnics may initially suggest otherwise, Kiss is more than an arena rock band. The group is emblematic of eternal success, an infinity symbol made from a Möbius strip of twisted $100 bills, selling albums and tickets in the kind of numbers that require new branches of math to calculate. And when they take over the Bell Centre Monday night — supporting their latest album, 2012’s Monster — they’ll bring their tried and true blend of pyrotechnics, testosterone and primal guitar riffs.

But though the format may be the same, Stanley promises the concert won’t be too familiar, even to longtime fans.

“This new show is easily the best thing we’ve ever done,” he says. “We’ve spent years in the past upgrading or embellishing previous shows. (But) this time, we threw everything away and started from scratch.”

Of course, fans shouldn’t expect too much of a departure. Stanley promises explosions, a moving, tentacled lighting rig that kind of sounds like an underworld god playing Tron, and, of course, fire. “You’ll be able to bake bread from your seat,” he promises. “It’s really taking the whole Kiss experience to another level.”

That’s going to be critical to fans, because Kiss’s success has historically been driven by the live show. The band’s first three studio albums — Kiss, Hotter than Hell and Dressed to Kill — didn’t make much of an impact on the charts. But when their 1975 concert album Alive! truly captured the band’s unique energy, they were launched to superstardom.

Which, according to Stanley, was an inevitability. Asked if he ever doubted whether the band would succeed, his response is blunt: “Never.” He attributes this not to destiny, but hard work. “Whether it’s stupidity or belief, I think that (if) you assess a situation and are realistic about it, and if you believe (you) can succeed, then you give it its due, you give it your all.”

Of course, not even Stanley could predict the years of steady success. “Nobody could ever imagine that,” he says. “What did the Beatles last, seven years? ... I was hoping for five.

“There was no precedent for a band lasting 40 years,” Stanley adds. “It defies a lot of the rules of rock ’n’ roll. As well it should, because rock ’n’ roll is not supposed to have rules.”

Nevertheless, there were challenges along the way. In the early ’80s, original drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley left the band, creating lineup instability for a number of years. In fact, troubles with band members led to Kiss’s near retirement in 2000, shortly after a reunion of its founding members.

“When we brought back Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, it became so unbearable that we decided to do a farewell tour,” Stanley says. But the farewell turned out to be more like the casual “later” of a teenager. “I realized that I was going to say farewell to Kiss because of two people,” Stanley explains. “(But) the fans didn’t want Kiss to go away.”

Those fans continue to turn out in droves. And despite the band’s mileage, their audience has a wide demographic spread.

“One of the things that people who don’t follow the band are stunned by is how diverse and young the audience skews,” Stanley says. “I’ve gone to see some other bands that people might consider ‘classic’ rock bands; the audience looks like a bunch of old schoolteachers.”

The occasional staffing issue aside, Stanley says keeping Kiss going is easy, even when it seems to involve playing the band’s most identifiable hit, Rock and Roll All Nite, until entropy and heat death dissolve the entire concept of music into thermal noise.

“Every night is a new night. Every night is an audience that wasn’t there the night before,” Stanley says. “I’m so blessed to have this arsenal of songs, and I can’t imagine being tired of them.”

And those songs, he says, are completely inviolate. “I’m always surprised when I see bands rearranging songs, or being tired of songs that they’ve been playing for years,” he explains. “Those songs have made you what you are. You owe them the respect to do them properly.”

That, says Stanley, is what the band will proudly continue to do, with no end in sight.

“I love this band, and the only one who’s going to tell me when it’s over is me.”