KISS ready to rock Lincoln again Tonight!

“Lincoln, Nebraska, right?,” Paul Stanley said as he came on the line.

That’s right. You’ve been here before and you’re on the way back soon.

“Much as it should be,” replied the KISS rhythm guitarist and singer. “We built our following playing places other bands ignored. The truth is most bands at the time thought the U.S. consisted of the East Coast and West Coast and the rest was places you flew over. We never believed that. … You don’t choose where you’re born and you don’t have to make excuses for it. The people always remember who is there for them.”

That’s why KISS is playing smaller cities in the Midwest, Plains, West and Canada on its 35-date “Freedom to Rock” tour, that, appropriately, began on July 4.

Lincoln unquestionably responded strongly to KISS’ return. The band’s Pinnacle Bank Arena concert set for Friday has sold better than any of its dates in surrounding cities, drawing far more fans than anticipated.

Some of those folks started following KISS early on -- the band came to be in the early '70s and had its first hit, a live version of “Rock and Roll All Nite,” in 1975 -- and are now in their 60s.

But unlike most bands of its era, the KISS Army continues to gain new enlistees with each new generation.

“I think we appeal to people on different levels,” Stanley said. “Young people can come because of what we look like and there’s a vibe, so to speak, of celebrating life. For people who are older, they might have seen us before. But it’s also what we sing about -- individuality, self respect, celebrating life, not hurting yourself and not hurting others.

"I guess that we’re kind of Superman crossed with Elvis Presley.”

The Presley comparison isn’t sonic. KISS’ brand of hard rock doesn’t sound much like Elvis’ rock ‘n’ roll. But KISS, over the decades, sold records like The King, selling more than 100 million albums in its career.

The Superman analogy comes from the trademark makeup that turns the quartet into masked rock heroes out to save the world with an over-the-top live show filled with spectacular lighting, pyro, blood spitting, fire breathing, rockets flying and music delivered at high volume.

“I think that very much we have been able to present a powerful and consistent image, pretty much for 40 years,” said Stanley, aka The Starchild. “Certainly that was by design. But I don’t think any of us knew it would be iconic and it now has a life of its own.”

While no one else wore full makeup, KISS had the bombastic show to itself in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But not so much these days.

“It’s no secret at this point that any band with money can do a KISS show,” Stanley said. “KISS is in every band and every band’s show at this point. But no other band can beat KISS -- a crappy band with a laser is still a crappy band.”

So KISS now creates a show designed to do the previous tour one better with a set list that’s aimed at giving the fans songs they want to hear and that the band wants to play.

“Everything we play are songs that I love,” Stanley said. "There isn’t a song we do I’m not proud of. When bands change songs that make them totally unrecognizable, it’s because they’re bored. The truth is, it’s an insult to the fans. ‘Love Gun,’ ‘Detroit Rock City’, ‘Rock and Roll All Night’. Those are great songs that have stood the test of time.”

So has KISS, which was formed in New York in 1971, broke through with its double live album “Alive!” in 1975 and has soldiered on for the last four decades, cranking out albums with some radio hits and playing arenas, large and small, around the world -- as it is doing this summer.

“Everything now is a victory lap,” Stanley said. “We won and continue to win. To go out there every night is a celebration. It’s a much deeper experience. We’ve got all this history and these connections and we’re out there celebrating and high-fiving the fans.”

That victory can be measured with KISS' 2014 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the made-up band finally overcoming the resistance of the music establishment, which took decades to vote in favor of its enshrinement.

“Ultimately, a private club like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and that’s what it is, had to bend to the public,” Stanley said. “They (hall of fame voters) aren’t a reflection of the public. The most important people you have are the fans. You can say all you want and try to color the truth. But the bottom line is, the people will speak.”

Stanley called a couple weeks before the tour began. The final set list hadn't been assembled. But the staging was nearly ready and rehearsals were to begin shortly thereafter, setting the tone for the months to come for the veteran road warriors.

“Everything exists for the show,” Stanley said. “That’s where we justify our existence and where we justify the other 22 hours of the day. The travel part is easier now. But in some ways, the performance itself is harder. But that’s part of the dedication, to go out there and work our asses off for ourselves and for the fans. Because we’re fans of KISS, too.”

Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons, aka The Demon, have been together for 43 years, having seen eight other members cycle through the band -- with Tommy Thayer now handling lead guitar duties as The Spaceman and Eric Singer as The Catman on drums.

Stanley’s now 64, a year short of retirement age. But he says he’s got no plans to stop being the Starman anytime soon. But he revealed the future of the band when asked how long he thought he’d continue.

“I’ll go until I’m done,” Stanley said. “I believe KISS should continue and will continue without me. Anybody who doesn’t believe that is already 50 percent wrong with the makeup of the band. Somebody can come into the band in place of me. He doesn’t have be a clone of me. I didn’t invent the wheel. I had a lot of musicians as influences and brought that in. If someone comes along with those same influences and adds me to it, he’ll fit fine in KISS.”
If you go

What: KISS with Caleb Johnson

Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena, 400 Pinnacle Arena Drive

When: 8 p.m. July 22

Tickets: $39.50, $59.50, $89.50, $125.00; available at the arena ticket office, Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com and by phone at 800-745-3000

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