KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

Prepare For A Great Big KISS

(Interview, October 1996)

The Times Leader
October 6, 1996

By Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

click to enlargeBigger is still better for the rock 'n' roll supergroup KISS.

Despite changes in musical trends that have seen stage stage shows get smaller and live performances weaker, KISS' current reunion tour featuring all four original members is a loud, visually stunning extravaganza.

It's so big that bassist Gene Simmons refers to the band's now legendary '70s shows as "kids' stuff."

The reunited lineup of original members - featuring Simmons, guitarist Paul Stanley, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss - will roll into the new CoreStates Center in Philadelphia this week, fulfilling a 17-year wish for many fans of the group once billed as "The Hottest Band In The World."

And while Simmons and Stanley carried the KISS torch well throughout the '80s and into the early '90s - continuing to earn gold records and sell lots of concert tickets - it's the reunion of the original four that has been ordained as the biggest tour of the year, selling out arenas and stadiums across the country.

Voted the most popular rock band in the world in a 1977 Gallup Poll, the original lineup's demise began with Criss' departure in 1980. Frehley left in 1982, and ever since, all four have been consistently asked if they'd ever slap on the greasepaint and play together again. The four reunited last year - sans makeup and costume - for the taping of an "MTV Unplugged," and people immediately began speculating that the reunion was coming.

Simmons, in an interview with The Times Leader, says it wasn't so much the overwhelming positive reception to the unplugged special that spurred the reunion tour, but the fact that Frehley and Criss had finally cleaned up their lives. Drugs and alcohol abuse on the part of Frehley and Criss, he says, is what caused the original lineup to crumble.

Now, KISS is back with a vengeance.

"I'm very proud to be on stage with Ace and Peter," says Simmons, 47, calling from Los Angeles. "They're healthy and alive and hungry. They want it.

"I have to hand it to them. They've been working with personal trainers - it's really like nothing I've ever seen. They're way beyond what they were in the past as musicians and as human beings."

Simmons didn't always feel that way. There was lots of mud-slinging and finger-pointing over the past decade between KISS members. Simmons, who has no tolerance for anyone not working on all cylinders at all times, isn't backing off his prior statements.

"A moron is somebody who's stupid enough not to know that they're hurting themselves," he says. "You're a moron if you keep getting high and getting drunk. I wouldn't take that kind of behavior from my mother and my father, and I damn sure am not going to take that kind of behavior from Ace or Peter. I love them too much to settle for second best."

"I shouldn't demand more from you than you demand yourself. If you don't have enough self-respect to keep yourself straight for yourself, for your band, for your fans, what good are you? I have too much respect for the legend of the band to get up there half-assed."

Simmons says that he, Stanley, 44, Criss, 48, and Frehley, 45, stayed at the same New York hotel last August for the MTV taping. After sharing a few meals together and talking, the four began to again find some common ground, both musically and personally. Frehley and Criss, he finally believed, were clean.

"The conversations were lucid," he says. "They were clear. There were no defense mechanisms. There were some apologies. There was some clearing out of some old wounds."

Last fall, talks finally began among the band, lawyers, managers and agents about taking the show on the road. Speculation was that the tour would be huge.

It is.

Opening night at Detroit's Tiger Stadium sold out in 47 minutes. New York's Madison Square Garden sold out four straight nights. A third show had to be added in Philadelphia this week.

Simmons says the take at the gate was not a motive for the reunion.

"It's true, it's a good living," he says. "On the other hand, I refused to go on stage with those guys until they straightened out, especially because I didn't need the money. In the patois of the street, I'm loaded. I don't need the cash. I would not go up there on stage and ruin the memory people have of this band."

Simmons needn't worry. KISS' current tour is offering more bang for the buck than any previous tour. The stage is huge, the set list is long and the crowds - many turning out in full-makeup - are loving it.

Simmons says that the fun - often missing in many group's live shows this decade - is back.

"We're going to make complete spectacles out of ourselves," he says. "I am really sick and tired of seeing bands get up there looking like delivery boys. It's over. I now declare that dead. I want a reason to feel uplifted. I want my spirits to soar. I want a Fourth of July fireworks show. I want my face blown off my body. I want a reason to go to a concert and say 'Wow.'"

Audiences in Philadelphia this week will see state-of-the-art video technology. Simmons will fly to the top of the light truss, as he did in Madison Square Garden, to sing "God of Thunder," Frehley's guitar will shoot rockets, Stanley will smash his to pieces and Criss' drums will rise higher than ever before. The band, near show's end, will levitate on hydraulic lifts 50 feet out over the crowd.

And of course, the most amazing special effect is the most obvious of all. The four are together again.

"Were going to play anything and everything people want to hear," says Simmons. "The material will be restricted to the Ace and Peter era. We will literally blow you off the face off the map. This is the Godzilla of stages.

"Everything you've heard about the legend of KISS is true."