August 10, 2010
By Jeff Miers

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that when thousands of kids heard the 1975 Kiss concert double-disc "Alive!," they decided there and then that they wanted to be rock stars.

Such was the power of this dark mass of an album, so indelible its post-British Invasion guitar attack and pop-based hooks, so urgent and menacing its pace and attack.

To say nothing of the album cover itself. Here was a band of aliens, a garish collection of superheroes, each with his own fully developed persona: a tongue-curling demon wielding his bass guitar as if it were an extension of a rather threatening libido; a tripped-out spaceman tethered to the earthly plane only by the weight of the Gibson Les Paul strapped across his midriff; and a cat-like creature locked behind a massive drum kit, sticks raised above his head as if in some ancient, ritualistic gesture.

To the right of this motley collection there stood a sort of plumed peacock, an archetypal rock star in 10-inch heels with a pout aimed at every teenage girl who might happen to look his way, and whose coiffured head recalled the swirling ringlets of T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan.

Were these guys kidding?

No, as it turned out. Kiss represented the apotheosis of glam rock, the full consummation of Marvel comics, horror movies and teenage lust. That every song boasted a Rolling Stones-y guitar shuffle, a primitive but powerful guitar solo, and a killer chorus -- well, this did not hurt. "Alive!" became the New York City foursome's point of entry to world domination. Within a year of its release, Kiss owned most of the planet.

Thirty-five years later, as the band prepares to bring its "Hottest Show on Earth" tour to the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Friday, Kiss is still larger than life, still way over the top, still incredibly popular, and still cranking out fat-free arena rock classics.

The band's concerts now draw several generations of Kiss fanatics to gigs that offer no acknowledgment of the concert industry recession plaguing so many tours of late. Parents bring their kids, and share their love of Kiss as if passing along something of great value to their offspring. Original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are gone, but their replacements, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, are now full-fledged members of the band. More importantly, they've brought an unflagging solidity to the Kiss sound.

Last week, Kiss co-founder, rhythm guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and -- even still -- sex symbol Paul Stanley spoke to The News on the state of Kiss in 2010. Five minutes into a conversation with the man, it is glaringly apparent why Kiss remains so vital after all this time. Stanley is charming, intelligent, funny and incredibly confident, without being arrogant. He loves Kiss as much as his fans do.

Q: Though there are seasoned fans who still wish Ace and Peter were in the band, in many ways, Kiss has never sounded better. The band is incredibly tight, you've released your best studio album in decades with "Sonic Boom," and it seems that Tommy and Eric are a huge part of the sound now.

A: Really, we never have sounded better, and we've definitely never had more fun. For me, having the new material on "Sonic Boom" gives validity to what we're doing now. The way to experience what Kiss is about in 2010 is to listen to the new album and to go see the show, which is our biggest and best yet. It's important, I think, that we are a band in the present tense, that we're doing our best work right now. Tommy and Eric are a big part of that.

Q: I'm sure you have no desire to bad mouth Ace and Peter, but from the fans' perspective, there is a consistency in the playing now that was sometimes lacking in the past. Has this been a relief for you?

A: Absolutely, for both (bassist/vocalist) Gene (Simmons) and myself.

The thing is, Kiss could not have existed in the beginning without Ace and Peter. But it could not exist today with them. Being in this band is a privilege and an honor, a gift. If you disrespect that gift, you disrespect the fans, and you disrespect the legacy of the band. It doesn't matter who it is -- this applies to me, it applies to Gene, it applies to Tommy and Eric. If you don't respect this incredible gift that we've been given, then you lose it. It really is as simple as that.

Q: It must be hell trying to put together a set list these days, when you've got so much material to choose from, and so many different factions of the fan base eager to hear certain songs. What's your primary concern when getting the list together?

A: When it comes to set lists, the thing is, there's no sense of past members or present members -- it's just Kiss.

People come to the shows to hear Kiss do what Kiss does, and it's our job to deliver that. It's my belief that obscure songs are obscure songs for a reason! (laughs) If they stayed obscure, that's because fewer people liked them, and that means they probably just plain weren't as good.

For me, it's about this: We can now play "Modern Day Delilah" from the new album right next to something from "Love Gun" (1977), and it stands up. It's seamless.

Q: In 2008, you toured with your solo band, and for the first time, you were able to play songs from your original solo album [1978's "Paul Stanley," one of the four solo albums released by the members of Kiss simultaneously] like "Tonight You Belong to Me" and "Goodbye." Did the experience give you some new perspective on performing with Kiss?

A. That tour was so enjoyable for me. It reminded me of being a kid and going to the Fillmore East in New York City and seeing Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Humble Pie. These were no-frills shows, just people getting up there and blending their talent, their heart, their soul and their passion. That is always at the heart of whatever I'm doing. Kiss is all of that, plus. It's like the super-charged hot-red convertible version! (laughs) But underneath the hood, it's still all about the heart, the soul and the passion.

Q. Kiss has never been treated kindly by the press, and most writers wanted to dismiss the band as a joke without really addressing the music. You've never come across as anything but confident in the belief that your band was THE band, whatever anyone might suggest to the contrary. Surely, though, it must've bothered you a bit that the press never showed you any respect.

A. I've got kind of a big house. (laughs) I call it "the house that bad reviews built." Lately, we've started to get very positive reviews, for the first time ever. (Here, Stanley reads aloud from a review of a recent show.) So now, "the house that bad reviews built" has a whole new wing! (laughs)

It's nice to finally be acknowledged in reviews, but really, it has never made any difference to us. Why? Because Kiss is a band that plays for the Kiss tribe. These people are the barometer of our success, and they are very clear in their opinions. Their reviews always have been, and are still, the only reviews that matter to us.