KISS TOUR HITS PENNSYLVANIA ON SUNDAY
By Alan Sculley
Earlier this year, Kiss received a big dose of vindication when the original edition of the band — singer-guitarist Paul Stanley, bassist-singer Gene Simmons, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss — were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Today's edition of Kiss — with guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer having replaced Frehley and Criss — is following up that event with a tour that marks the 40th anniversary of the group. The group will play Aug. 24 at First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown.
Obviously, Kiss has had a major impact on rock 'n' roll — in terms of albums sold (more than 100 million worldwide), stage shows (groundbreaking pyro-filled productions) and appearance (their iconic makeup gave a blueprint for any number of acts from Slipknot to Daft Punk to the Residents).
The makeup — with Stanley as the starchild, Simmons the demon, Frehley the space ace and Criss the catman — remains perhaps Kiss' greatest signature, and it helped create a mystique that was a big part of the band's appeal in the 1970s and early '80s — the group's peak years as hitmakers.
Looking at today's pervasive social media, Stanley doubts Kiss could have kept the secrecy that created a larger-than-life image for the band.
“I think that certainly, in all walks of life in terms of public figures, there is a certain mystique that is gone because everything is known,” Stanley says. “I think mystique is healthy. And I think to glamorize and fantasize is a good thing. I'm not sure that Kiss could have accomplished what we did initially in this time because (in the '70s and '80s) we could make sure that photos weren't available and the paparazzi didn't have photos of us out of makeup. We could create this mystique.”
When the band came on the scene in 1973, music fans hadn't seen anything like Kiss. The first three studio albums sold modestly, but the group managed to launch the early versions of what would become a continually more extravagant live show.
The commercial breakthrough came with the 1975 concert release, the double LP, “Alive.” Featuring the hit “Rock and Roll All Nite,” it opened the door to a string of hit studio albums that continued through 1979's “Dynasty.” Simmons says the group could sense that something was happening by the time of “Alive.”
“It wasn't about the albums,” Simmons says. “It was about the crowds getting bigger and bigger. And it was about the fervor, how crazy the fans were getting. So, we weren't looking at the charts or the numbers or anything like that because, remember, we're playing five and six shows a week. ... But we did realize that within a year and a half of our debuting, we were playing Anaheim Stadium, headlining.
“We knew something was up,” he says. “We don't have any hit singles, and here we are (in Anaheim) headlining over all sorts of bands who have been around for decades.”
Since then, there have been albums that bombed (“Music From ‘The Elder' ”), others that have been hits (“Crazy Nights”), lineup changes, an unmasking that lasted from 1983 to 1996, a reunion of the original lineup and a return of the makeup and several recent arena-filling tours with the current lineup.
So, with induction into the hall in the rear-view mirror, Stanley, Simmons, Thayer and Singer are doing what they consider far more important than awards — playing live. Stanley promises this summer's 40th anniversary tour (with Def Leppard) will more than live up to past live extravaganzas.
“I believe that this is the greatest and really the best stage that we've ever had,” Stanley says. “The band is firing on all cylinders, so between that and the fact that we're psyched up for this and we're celebrating our 40th year, we're out there to do a victory lap, although the race isn't over yet. There will be more races. But this is a celebration of everything we've done until today.”