IN HOUSTON FRIDAY
September 14, 2010
KISS fans looking forward to Friday's concert

By Brad Meyer

The original shock rockers of heavy metal music will be painting their faces, strapping on their platform boots and taking the stage at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Friday.

KISS, the iconic hard rock band, brings their high energy show to The Woodlands this weekend as part of their "Hottest Show on Earth" tour. The band, known for their elaborate live performances, has a legion of dedicated fans across the country and around the world.

"This will be the ninth time I've seen them live," said Mark Sheffield of Magnolia. "They are an amazing band."

Founded in New York in 1973, KISS burst on the music scene with a hard metal sound and a flamboyant look that included painted faces, exotic costumes and elaborate onstage antics like blood spitting, fire breathing, smoking guitars and levitating drum kits.

But it was the costumes and painted faces that separated KISS from other heavy metal bands of the era. So widespread was the popularity of the KISS characters that they appeared on the 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special - featuring Margret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch from the "Wizard of Oz." The appearance generated awareness and interest in young people across the country.

"That was the first time I ever saw them," said Sheffield. "I thought they were awesome."

The interest in KISS continued as he grew older - seeing them at the Cajundome in Layfayette, La., during their Asylum Tour. Like a lot of fans, Sheffield has painted his face like the band when attending live concerts. And he's certainly not alone.

Among the group's top hits is the song "Rock and Roll All Nite" - an anthem for youthful rebellion that spans several generations. It's a crowd favorite at every live performance.

Looking like comic book characters and playing hard driving rock music may have established KISS as a major force in the music world, but by 1980, interest in the group was declining. Before long, the group had changes in band personnel, stopped painting their faces and, for a time, revived their popularity.

"The makeup served them well for a while," said Sheffield. "but it was a gimmick so they eventually took it off."

In the 90s, interest in KISS again rose and the band was restored to a top touring band - and the popular makeup returned. In addition to selling albums and filling concerts, the band members discovered merchandising was an important and profitable sideline to their music business.

Over the years, KISS has licensed their image for use on clothing, posters, action figures and hundreds of different types of collectibles. The group appeals to former hard rockers and a new generation of kids.

The group is featured in a pair of Dr. Pepper commercials on television, including one with a KISS tribute band comprised of little people.

Bassist and vocalist Gene Simmons has been featured for four seasons on his own long-running reality show, "Family Jewels" along with his family, former Playboy playmate Shannon Tweed and their children, Nick and Sophie.

"Gene Simmons will make a dollar off anything he can," said Sheffield. "The guy is a genius."

Critics may dismiss KISS as comic book characters playing unremarkable music at loud volume, but it's hard to argue with the group's success. They have been performing for 37 years, sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and been named one of rock's 10 most important bands by television's VH1.

While band members are approaching official retirement age, KISS continues to defy the odds, logic and the passage of time - attracting huge audiences on their recent and current concert tour. It's a case where the make up may help keep the illusions of youth alive for fans who themselves are growing older.

While Sheffield looks forward to Friday's concert, he's a little disappointed in the change in personnel in the group. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons remain from the original group, but Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have been replaced by Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer.

"Going to the concert is like going back in time - it's a lot of fun," said Sheffield. "I'd love to meet them."

For more information on KISS, visit their website at www.kissonline.com. For tickets to the group's performance at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Friday, visit www.woodlandscenter.org or call (281) 363-3300.