August 13, 2010
Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain

JOSEPH HUDAK For The Times Leader

If you thought this summer has been hot, just wait until Sunday night, when the self-proclaimed "hottest band in the land," KISS, brings its "Hottest Show on Earth" tour to the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain.

Lead guitarist Tommy Thayer says that moniker isn't just lip service. A KISS concert involves more pyro than a firefighters training school.

"If you watch a show at the soundboard, 100 feet out, you can feel that heat. But if you are on stage, you really feel it," says Thayer, who, for eight years, has gotten up close and personal nightly with the flames, flashpots and explosives that have become hallmarks of the KISS experience.

In 2002, the Oregon-born guitarist inhabited the band's Spaceman persona full time, after the departure of original guitarist Ace Frehley. They're big platform shoes to fill, but Thayer wears them proudly, especially when playing and singing Frehley's signature tune, "Shock Me," from the 1977 album "Love Gun."

"The reason I'm performing that still is because people know the song. And it's a good number for me to do as the Spaceman," Thayer says, acknowledging the fact that some of the KISS Army might consider the number sacred ground. "People say, 'Well, that's an Ace song!' And we remind them, 'No, it's a KISS song.' Everybody needs to remember that. So I proudly play 'Shock Me.' "

And therein lies the superpower of KISS, made up now of original members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, Thayer and drummer Eric Singer (who permanently replaced original skinsman Peter Criss in 2003): The whole has become greater than its parts. Regardless of who is underneath the iconic makeup of the Demon, the Starchild, the Spaceman and the Catman, the KISS machine rolls on.

"KISS is a timeless entity. Strangely and uniquely that is so. There is no other band like it," Thayer says. "The appeal of KISS is that you can see that it still works the way that it always did. New fans come in, and they see this band with this makeup, this incredible stage show and these incredible outfits that kicks butt on stage. That's undeniable."

As is the band's influence in crafting what has become the modern-day concert spectacle. Without KISS, arguably, there would be no Lady Gaga. From Simmons breathing fire to Stanley flying over the crowd, or Thayer and Singer's fiery musical face-off, the show is driven by many jaw-dropping set pieces.

" 'Shock Me' segues into my guitar solo, which is this kind of on-stage duel with Eric, our drummer," Thayer says. "We do some playing back and forth, and we end up blasting each other with rockets. It's a new shtick that we're quite proud of."

Thayer and the rest of the group also are thrilled by the reception for "Sonic Boom," KISS's first studio album since 1998's "Psycho Circus."

"The response to the album has been really phenomenal. Even the critics liked it, and they can be tough on KISS sometimes. But in this case, it's been great reviews, which has kind of stunned Gene and Paul," Thayer says. "It's great to get that kind of positive feedback. And the fans love it, which is most important."

Sonic Boom also is the first KISS record to fully showcase Thayer's talents. He contributed some guitar to "Psycho Circus," but Sonic Boom marks his studio debut as a full-fledged member.

"It was really my first opportunity to shine. I was able to interject a little bit more Tommy Thayer into it and make it a little bit more mine, which is a big step," he says. "But at the same time, we wanted to make a KISS record that sounded like a classic KISS record. Not in a retro way, but in a true-to-form way of what KISS really is. I think we accomplished that."

Thayer says three "Boom" tunes are in the current set list, and one even has the coveted spot of opening the show. Still, he reveals his favorite "oldie" to play is "100,000 Years," from the bandís 1974 self-titled debut.

"It's a great song that features the lead guitar a lot. It's almost a jam song."

And Thayer admits he is conscious of how Frehley originally played the tune when he's performing it on stage.

"When I play a classic KISS song, I want to play it as true to form as I can. I'm a big believer that when a band plays live, it's really important to play the song the way it was originally written and recorded," he says. "I don't like it when guys come out and start throwing their whole new twist on things. It's not what people really want to hear. They want to hear it the way it's supposed to be."

For some concertgoers, however, the way they'll hear it Sunday will be the way "it's supposed to be," simply because they have nothing else to compare it to.

"There's a huge resurgence right now with all these new fans coming out - young kids and teenagers," Thayer says. "It's a whole new generation."

In other words, fans who are about to experience their very first KISS.