KISS Kicks off Summer Tour July 4, Ready to Rock Huntington Sept. 10

By CHRIS DICKERSON / www.herald-dispatch.com

"You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band in the world ... KISS!"

For more than 40 years, those words have echoed through arenas and amphitheaters around the globe when the curtain drops at the beginning of each KISS show. For the audience, it means four larger than life heroes are about to unleash a rock-and-roll spectacle full of smoke, explosions, fire, flying demons and even more bombast.

But for the members of the band, it's a call to arms and a challenge to live up to those words.

"We are America's number one band in terms of gold records," founding member Gene Simmons said in a recent interview. "We're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We've done all of these things that I like to pull out of my hat to talk about when I go to a party and try to impress people.

"But, the bottom line is that it's all about the fans. If not for them, I'm well aware that I just as easily could be asking those fans, 'Do you want fries with that?' Because if we don't care about the fans and care about giving them the best show we can . Well, forget it. If we didn't take care of our fans, we wouldn't deserve any of it.

"You have to care about what you do. And we do."

And for this summer's Freedom To Rock tour, KISS is taking their show to places they haven't visited for decades. That includes a Sept. 10 show at Huntington's Big Sandy Superstore Arena to conclude the 40-city tour.

"The way I look at it, you've got to take stock sometimes and look back to where you started," said Simmons, who plays bass and shares lead vocal duties in the band with fellow founding member Paul Stanley. "I mean, I still visit my mom's house. You need to go back to the beginning sometimes.

"When we first started, we went to places like Mankato (Minnesota), Ypsilanti (Michigan), Fort Wayne (Indiana) and Huntington. Guess what? Cool people live in all kinds of places. And when we first started, we took our cause to the people. We were out there on the road in all of these places before we could get to them on MTV and on the internet before of all that. So, we asked ourselves why don't we go out and play some of the cities we don't normally play."

The Freedom To Rock tour starts, appropriately, on July 4 in Tucson, Arizona. Simmons was quick to note the band has teamed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to make sure U.S. military veterans have roadie jobs at each show and provide their families with reduced tickets because "it's the least we can do to thank them."

The band had a few rehearsals before the first show, and Simmons said they were working on a set list to include all of the KISS staples such as "Detroit Rock City" and "Love Gun" as well as a few surprises.

"Let's face it, you want to mix it up each tour," he said of the set list. "But we also know our fans want to hear certain songs. So that means even though we've played 'Rock And Roll All Nite' 5,000 times, you can be sure we'll be playing it again. Because the fans want it.

"If you went to a Rolling Stones show and they didn't play 'Satisfaction,' you'd be really pissed off, right? The fans pay their hard-earned money to see and hear us, and there are certain things they expect. That's our challenge. So we'll be tossing around a few ideas, a few different songs.

"We have times when we can play those lesser known songs, like on our KISS Kruise (an annual Caribbean cruise where the band and fans connect). This year, we're playing the Creatures of the Night album from beginning to end. You can do that type of thing there. But we have to understand that for a tour like this one, there are going to be lots of people - including a lot of kids - who never have seen the band before live in concert. And they want to hear their favorite songs."

In recent months, some popular rock bands have hung up their guitars. Motley Crue stopped touring, and Aerosmith recently announced plans for its final tour. Yet, KISS is still going strong.

After listing more of his band's accolades (such as appearances at the Olympics and the Super Bowl), Simmons said all of those take a backseat to the fans.

"I really appreciate all of those things, but honestly, when you get up on stage and the fans are standing on their seats, that's really all there is," he said. "That's when you're in the here and now."

He said there is room for all kinds of bands, and he's proud of the legacy KISS has made for itself.

"Listen, Aerosmith is great. Motley is great. KISS is great," Simmons said. "But how fun would it be to be in the middle of a great party, and someone wants to have a discussion about how it stacks up to all of the other parties.

"A lot of bands out there stayed as long as they could. Some decided it was time to stop. (Paul) McCartney is still going strong. So are the Stones. The Beatles only lasted, what, seven years or so."

Of all the things Simmons and his band have done in 43 years, he said the biggest accomplishment is simple.

"It's just being around," he said. "Being here. You can't overstate the fact that what happens on stage is like electric church. We make people forget about the traffic jam they were in or the argument you had with your girlfriend. When we get on stage, it's magic time.

And, that's the best part of all of it. Awards and accolades are nice, sure. But if we believe in notion that we are the band of the people, by the people and for the people, then we will be fine. We want to make sure every one of the fans who come to our show expect the best and that they get it. That's the best award.

"Awards are nice. I put the awards up on a shelf, too. And they're fun to look at. I sometimes do that and say, 'Wow, that's impressive.' But none of the awards scream and clap like the fans do."

Right now, Simmons said he and his bandmates are having "the time of our lives." But, he also said they'll know when it's time to stop.

"One thing I can promise you is that we will not stay on that stage one day longer than when it stops feeling real," he said. "We have commitment. We have our pride. And, we have our legacy. And, we always want to live up to that legacy.

"That's why before every show, when we all have the makeup and costumes on, we get together in a quiet room together. We look at each and say, 'Wow, we are KISS. This is great. Now, let's go out there and kick them in the n***."

If you go

WHAT: The KISS Freedom to Rock Tour with special guests The Dead Daisies

WHERE: Big Sandy Superstore Arena

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 10

GET TIX: Tickets are $125 and $89.50 at the arena's box office and on Ticketmaster.

ON THE WEB: www.bigsandyarena.com

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