As Kiss continues its farewell tour, lead singer and guitarist Paul Stanley knows what he’ll miss most about the band he co-founded with bassist/singer Gene Simmons in 1973 in New York City.
“There’s nothing really that can compete or come close to the combustive emotional nature of what we do on stage and the connection to the fans,” he said in a recent phone interview. “That’s something that’s irreplaceable. That’s something that there’s nothing to compare it to.”
But fans won’t have to worry that they’ll see a mopey or overly sentimental Stanley on stage Saturday at USANA Amphitheatre as he grapples with the reality that this is the final Kiss tour.
“I’m not one for missing things. I will have all of those memories. I’m not one who pines for the past or mourns the past. Better to appreciate it and know how damn lucky I’ve been,” he said. “That being said, the thing that can’t be replaced or replicated is that sacred time on stage. But I’ve lived it.”
In fact, Stanley, in typical fashion for a band that has never been short on bravado, said this last outing, billed as "The End of the Road" tour, will actually be a festive occasion.
“This is really a time of joy, and for us to be up there and celebrate what we’ve done together,” said Stanley, including fans as the key part of the experience. “It’s much better than finishing a tour, let’s say, and then a year later deciding you don’t want to go out and two years later you decide you don’t want to go out. In that sense, you’ve called it quits, but this is so much better for us and better for the fans to go out there with the highest of spirits and the greatest of shows.”
The show, indeed, will be bigger and bolder than any Kiss has taken on the road, Stanley said. That’s no small endeavor for a group that helped revolutionize the rock concert in the '70s by not only donning their famous makeup – Stanley as the starchild, Simmons as the demon, original guitarist Ace Frehley as the space ace and original drummer Peter Criss as the catman – but with state-of-the-art lights, enough pyrotechnics to light up a 4th of July and even a few flashy stunts, such as Simmons breathing fire, all while decked out in elaborate costumes and high-heeled platform boots.
“The show this time really is the ultimate Kiss show. It’s the victory lap,” Stanley said of the farewell tour stage production. “With that in mind, we wanted to put together something that really raised the bar, not just for us, but as happened over the years, raises the bar for every act out there. That’s a good thing because the fans win because of it. This show is more bombastic. There’s more pyro. The lights are stunning. The automation involved, the computer synchronization is unlike anything we’ve ever done, and yet it doesn’t lose, we don’t wind up with something that’s technical and sterile over something that’s passionate and gritty. So it’s a marvel, I’ve got to tell you. It left us speechless when we first saw the finished stage. And for us to be silent is a miracle in itself.”
The show also will offer more for fans on a musical level, with a longer set than Kiss has played on recent tours, all made up of crowd-pleasing selections.
“I believe we’re doing 22 songs, I think, somewhere around that,” Stanley said. “I think the average on the last tours has been about 16. It’s a diverse and really great overview of all the eras of the band.”
The wide-ranging set list means fans will get a final chance to see Kiss perform core songs from each of the band’s three primary lineups. That original edition of Kiss broke through with the 1975 concert release, the double LP, “Alive,” and notched four more platinum albums before Frehley and Criss were dismissed in the early 1980s, as the band’s popularity was waning.
Eric Carr then came on board to replace Criss, and after a brief stint with Vinnie Vincent on guitar, Bruce Kulick took over for Frehley. In an attempt to refresh the band, this 1980s edition of Kiss dispensed with the makeup and enjoyed a resurgence with a pair of platinum albums (1985’s “Asylum” and 1987’s “Crazy Nights”).
Frehley and Criss returned for a blockbuster reunion tour in 1996, followed by the release in 1998 of “Psycho Circus,” a reunion album that was a reunion in name only. Stanley has said Criss and Frehley made only minimal contributions to “Psycho Circus,” and the reunion ended not long after that. Guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer (who, after Carr passed away in 1991, joined and remained with Kiss until the 1996 reunion with Criss and Frehley) signed on, creating the third long-lasting lineup, which remains intact to this day.
This lineup bounced back from the “Psycho Circus” debacle to make two albums, “Sonic Boom” in 2009 and “Monster” in 2012, that were among Kiss’ strongest efforts since the 1970s.
In all, Kiss has sold more than 100 million albums and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
So why did Stanley and Simmons decide it was time to do a farewell tour and be done with life as a touring band? Simply put, they didn’t want to risk reaching an age or point with their health where they couldn’t deliver the kind of performance fans expect.
“We are not any other touring band. If we were wearing T-shirts and jeans and athletic shoes, we could do this into our 90s. There’s no reason to stop,” Stanley explained. “But take any one of those bands and put 40 pounds of gear on them and they wouldn’t make it through a tour. So it just has reached a point where we just felt, 'Let’s go out there and be at our best, knowing we can be at our best, and not look to the future. Let’s stop when we believe we can deliver the best Kiss ever.'
“It’s much better to make a conscious decision and celebrate that,” he said. “The band, I think we’re going on close to 20 years now with this lineup. And for us, we really enjoy each other and get along great. And if it’s at all possible, at this point knowing this is the last tour only makes us all closer. The beauty of this isn’t we’re stopping touring because we hate each other. We’re stopping touring because we get along great and we’re proud of what we are, who we are and our legacy.”
Stanley is open to the idea of former members, such as Frehley, Criss and Kulick, participating in the farewell tour in some fashion at some point. (“To not have various former members be a part of it at some point, in some way, if it didn’t happen, it wouldn’t be of my choosing,” he said.) He also isn’t closing the door on Kiss remaining active to some degree after the final tour – perhaps to do special concerts or even make more music. But he isn’t making promises, either.
“It’s difficult to see that far into the future,” he said. “So how things proceed after that is something that will become clearer to us as we get there. We’ll see, but in its own way, Kiss is invincible. I don’t foresee the band becoming non existent.”