July 07, 2011
Frontman Paul Stanley chats about tour, iconic band image

By TIM BUCKLAND / New Hampshire Union Leader

A band that made its career rocking live shows in makeup and futuristic, demonic costumes is coming to Manchester.

KISS never soared to the top of music charts — it only had two songs, “Beth” and “Forever,” reach the top 10 in the U.S. singles chart. But the band made the most of its legendary stage show, and the Starchild, Demon, Spaceman and Catman, also known as Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, respectively, will bring that show to the Verizon Wireless Arena on Tuesday, July 12.

“We built our reputation as a live animal,” Stanley said during a phone interview while he was at a tour stop in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. “The beast is prowling and ready to pounce.”

The band’s lineup has shifted considerably since it was founded by Stanley and Simmons, who began as the group Wicked Lester in New York City in 1971. Stanley and Simmons have been the band’s only constant members.

According to the band’s biography on its website at, Stanley and Simmons saw an ad posted by drummer Peter Criss saying he’d be willing to do anything to be in a rock band. The three got together in late 1972 and then auditioned guitarist Ace Frehley. In January 1973, the band dropped the name Wicked Lester in favor of KISS, with Stanley coining the name and Frehley coming up with the band’s famous logo.

The band also played its first show that month at a nightclub called Popcorn, in Queens, N.Y.

Thirteen months later, the band’s eponymous debut album was released. It was the first of almost 40 records the prolific band released.

Despite lackluster sales of the band’s first few albums, KISS enjoyed successful tours as the group’s reputation for putting on exciting live shows featuring deafening music and fireballs — including one that burned Simmons’ hair — led to larger concerts and increased ticket sales.

And Stanley said the Manchester show would be no different.

“There will be lots of bombs and lots of bombast,” he said. “I can’t imagine that anybody is going to be disappointed.”

In 1976, KISS released “Destroyer,” the band’s most successful studio album.

He said the band enjoys playing its biggest hits and never believed it should only play its new or obscure works.

“We can’t disappoint fans and not play” big hits, such as “Shout It Out Loud,” “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Calling Doctor Love,” Stanley said. “As a band, we can’t always concern ourselves by pleasing only our diehard, hardcore fans. Some songs are obscure for a reason.”

KISS’s original band members, who enjoyed the band’s most successful run of album sales and concerts during the 1970s, stayed together until 1980, when Criss left the band and was replaced by drummer Eric Carr.

In 1982, Frehley left the band to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Vinnie Vincent, who was a member of the band when it “shocked the world” by appearing without makeup in 1983. Vincent lasted just two years before being replaced by Bruce Kulick in 1984. Seven years later, Carr died of cancer and was replaced by Singer.

In 1996, the band’s four original members reunited for a tour donning full costumes and makeup for the first time in 13 years.

Stanley said the band’s reunion was the perfect time for it to resurrect its iconic images.

“You can go anywhere in the world, show someone a picture of us and they know it’s KISS, even if they don’t know our music,” he said. “KISS is too recognizable and we’ve spent too much time building what we have to start messing with these iconic images.”

That doesn’t mean band members don’t have their own projects. Simmons tried his hand at acting, notably as the lead villain in two films: “Runaway” opposite Tom Selleck and “Wanted: Dead or Alive” opposite Rutger Hauer.

He also stars in an A&E reality TV show with Shannon Tweed and their children called “Gene Simmons: Family Jewels.”

Stanley, for his part, has become a successful artist, and unveiled his paintings at a show in 2006 to positive reviews.

His original works sell for as high as $70,000, according to a review at

“I have to say that I’m pretty stunned by the embracing of the work,” he said of his art.

Since the original lineup got back together, Criss and Frehley again left the band and were replaced by Singer and Thayer.

The lineup has stayed the same since 2004 and the band has kept on rocking.

Indeed, even with Stanley at age 59 and Simmons at 61, the band continues to sell out large venues holding 10,000 fans or more.

“This juggernaut continues at full speed,” Stanley said. “There’s no end in sight, nor should there be.”

Tickets to the Queen City show, to be opened by The Envy and Bad City, range from $31.50 to $79.50.

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