BEFORE PORTLAND SHOW, GENE SIMMONS SAYS PLAYING WITH KISS IS STILL ‘MORE FUN THAN ANYTHING I CAN THINK OF’
Written by: Ray Routhier / mainetoday.com
Gene Simmons, after more than 40 years in the rock concert business, has a couple important rules about putting on a show.
“We like to bring in more fire power than most Third World countries, have the excitement of Fourth of July and look God-like,” said Simmons, 67, bassist and co-founder of KISS. “If we’re guilty of anything, it’s making a complete spectacle of ourselves. We stand by that, proudly, unapologetically and unabashedly.”
Anyone who has seen Simmons and his band, KISS, knows this to be true. On stage, Simmons and his mates make themselves up like characters from a comic book, fly from the rafters with the aid of wires, blow stuff up and have towers of flames burning behind them. Simmons himself is a spectacle, sticking out his 7-inch tongue often, and sometimes even breathing fire or spitting blood. Simmons and KISS will bring their over-the-top show to the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Sunday.
The band’s 40-year career has been spectacle-like as well. Simmons and singer/guitarist Paul Stanley began playing together in the early 1970s in New York City, under the name Wicked Lester. They formed KISS in 1973 by adding veteran drummer Peter Criss, who had advertised his services in Rolling Stone, and guitarist Ace Frehley.
The band started experimenting with outrageous costumes and cartoonish black and white makeup, creating a character for each musician. Simmons’ character is a demon.
By the mid- to late’70s, the band was well known for its theatrical shows and had string of hard-rocking hits, including “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” “Calling Dr. Love” and “Christine Sixteen.” The band’s biggest hit of the period, the ballad “Beth,” went to No. 7 on the singles chart in 1976.
Simmons said he wanted KISS shows to be explosive and theatrical because he remembers being disappointed as a teenager when he’d see the rock stars of the day live.
“I was always disappointed, no matter who I saw. I didn’t want to see guys standing around playing guitars; I wanted to see a show,” Simmons said.
KISS cashed in on marketing opportunities, lending its name and the band members’ images to comic books, games, lunch boxes and dolls. This came in handy later. The original band broke up in the early ’80s, with Simmons and Stanley adding new members. In 1983, the band even abandoned its legendary makeup. But when the original members reunited in the mid-’90s, with makeup, they played big arenas packed with all those kids who had bought KISS lunch boxes and dolls in the ’70s. The band’s 1996 tour was the biggest grossing concert tour of the year, bringing in $43 million.
But the original members squabbled over contracts, musicianship and other things, so the reunion didn’t last. KISS continued on in the early 2000s, with Simmons and Stanley joined by Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer.
When KISS was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, Stanley publicly criticized the hall for not including current KISS members Singer and Thayer. Criss and Frehley haven’t been permanent members of the band since the early ’80s. Stanley said it wasn’t fair, since other bands have had later-joining members inducted.
Asked about the original members during an interview for this story, Simmons said he had no intention of reuniting with them. He said it would be like reuniting with your first girlfriend 40 years later.
As for why the band keeps on rocking, Simmons said he’s never considered doing anything else.
“Retire and do what? Sit on your thumbs all day and watch ‘I Love Lucy?’ ” said Simmons. “What we do is magic, and it’s more fun than anything I can think of.”
But he and Stanley do have their hands in other ventures, including the Rock & Brews restaurant chain, located mostly in the western part of the country. They are also owners of an arena football team, the Los Angeles KISS.
Simmons said the band’s current “Freedom to Rock Tour” is intended to bring Kiss to smaller towns and cities, so there’s nowhere like Boston or Los Angeles on the itinerary. Instead, the 35-plus dates include venues in Bozeman, Montana; Minot, North Dakota, and Duluth, Minnesota, as well as Portland. But Portland is big enough to have been included on other Kiss tours. The band played here in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2003.
“We want to bring music to the heartland. Politicians still have to visit places like Mankato (Minnesota) and Saginaw (Michigan), so we felt like we should, too,” said Simmons.
On the subject of politics, namely the presidential election, Simmons was non-committal. Though he was definite about one aspect of the campaigning.
“I know people on both sides. I’ve met the Clintons, and I know Trump well enough, and I believe Americans can make up their own minds without finding out what celebrities think or what Gene Simmons thinks,” he said. “I think celebrities should shut up and not bully people into thinking one way or another.”
But KISS and the political candidates do have something in common: They sure can create a spectacle.
Here’s KISS performing “Shout It Out Loud”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Cross Insurance Arena, 1 Civic Center Square, Portland
HOW MUCH: $36.50 to $122