September 10, 2010
By Gary Graff, For the Daily Tribune

Gene Simmons of KISS is no stranger to hyperbole and grandstanding.

But even he sounds humbled when he considers what the band that coined the term "Detroit Rock City" has accomplished. That includes more than 100 million records sold worldwide, its theatrically over-the-top concerts, a line of 3,000 officially licensed souvenir products or one of the largest and most dedicated fan clubs in the world, the KISS Army, since the 1974 release of its debut album.

"It's been a hoot," Simmons, 61, born Chiam Witz in Israel and moved to the United States when he was 8 years old, said with uncharacteristic understatement. "To imagine that 36 years after the first tour that we would still be here having the time of our lives and continue on and become even bigger ... it's not something we take lightly."

KISS is also something he and his bandmates - co-founder Paul Stanley, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer - want to see continue.

In a novel move for its amphitheater dates, the costumed quartet is giving free lawn tickets to up to four children with each paying adult. "It's time to give back," Simmons explained. KISS - which is also donating $1 per ticket to the Wounded Warrior foundation - hopes to show youth "that there's another world out there besides 'Hannah Montana' and the Jonas Brothers. It's important for them to see how the big boys do it.

"There's no tapes. There's no background singers backstage. There's no click tracks. It's important for the kids to see that whatever you see on stage is real. We want to spread this. I'm insulted by any act that goes up there with dancers and tapes. It's insulting, and ... these (kids) should know that it's insulting."

KISS hopes to snare the youth of the nation even more in the near future via an animated program that's being produced in partnership with E1 Entertainment and will feature the four KISS members as characters. Simmons said he hopes to have the program on air "in the next six months."

KISS is giving a new show this year after spending last year focused on its breakthrough "Alive!" album, which was recorded at Detroit's Cobo Arena and turns 35 this year. The repertoire includes three songs from last year's "Sonic Boom" album - "Modern Day Delilah," "Say Yeah" and "Animal" - as well as the seldom-performed "Crazy Nights."

And Singer, for the first time, will perform the Top 10 ballad "Beth," which was originally sung by founding KISS drummer Peter Criss.

"It's acoustic - there will be no tapes, just two acoustic guitars and bass and that's it," said Simmons, adding that KISS had previously kept the song out of the shows "out of deference to Peter," who has left the band three times, most recently in 2004. "We still have a tug of the heart ... Peter and Ace (Frehley, KISS' original guitarist) are beloved."

Simmons said KISS is anxious to work on a follow-up to "Sonic Boom," which was the group's first new studio album in 11 years, but he won't guess when that will be. "I think we'll do another one, but we need time," Simmons explained, noting the group's heavy touring schedule as well as his continuing "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" reality series on A&E and Stanley's burgeoning art career.

The next KISS project will likely be a fourth version of the popular "KISSology" DVD series, which Simmons said is coming "soon" and will feature "some new stuff but some stuff nobody's ever seen before, going all the way back to 1973." Also on the KISS docket is a third commercial for Dr. Pepper.

KISS and The Academy Is... and Envy perform at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of Interstate 75, Independence Township. Tickets are $78 and $48 pavilion, $28 lawn. Up to four children younger than 14 receive a free lawn ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket. Call (248) 377-0100