The big Kiss-off, until next time

Kiss may be in the 100-million-records-sold league but I’m sorry to report that not a single one has ever dropped onto my turntable. Rightly or wrongly, this is due to my aversion to ridiculous cartoonish exploiters who dress up their mediocre music behind silly gimmicks. And, unapologetically, neither will I be going to see Kiss when they limp into Budapest next year.

According to the PR guff that surrounds these things, the “Iconic glam rock band KISS is ready to say goodbye to their fans around the world: they start their last tour, entitled ‘End of the Road’ this November and will finish it next October”. Despite my narrow-mindedness, I did think I would have a looksie on the internet to find out what is going on in Kiss land these days (suspecting that it would probably be pretty bad and feed my terrible prejudice).

Number one, I discover that at least one of the band, founder and lead singer Paul Stanley, 69, has kept bang up to date with modern life by catching coronavirus. This happened just recently, in August, and Stanley has posted some photos of himself looking under the weather.

A few American dates on the “End of the Road” tour had to be cancelled but Stanley has been on the mend and back on his bike (25 miles in a day, he says!). Despite being a wild rocker, he proves also be a solid citizen because he touted vaccinations to his nearly 600,000 Twitter followers. Stanley suggested his illness and “flu-like symptoms” would have been far worse had he not taken the jabs. “My COVID symptoms were MILD compared to many others and let me tell you… It kicked my ass,” he wrote. “It’s over now. Some really rough days behind.”

Next, even though I know that Kiss don’t like doing things by half, in that sort of American way, I was surprised to see that fellow Kiss founder and frontman Gene Simmons later became the second member of the group to catch coronavirus. Two out of four: now, that’s careless. However, in a likewise boost for United States President Joe Biden in his battle against the anti-vaxxers, Simmons too credited the needle with helping him to stay out of hospital.

He called unvaccinated people “the enemy” and “delusional”, and told a fan: “Joe, vaccine protects you about 95%. However, you can still get Delta Covid variant. I did…But the effects are minimal, if you’ve been vaccinated twice. Without vaccine = hospital, pain and maybe death.” It must be said: the two Kiss men are laudably public-spirited in this regard.

And, for me, the discovery that at least this half of Kiss had tangled with coronavirus was accompanied by the realisation that both men had been original members when the band formed in New York in January 1973. This put paid to my cynical thoughts that perhaps the 2021 version might contain only one, or even none, of the first foursome. After all, think of the diluted versions of the Beach Boys/Queen/Foreigner/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Allman Brothers and other once-relevant acts that have been shamelessly cashing in on past glories and gullible fans on the nostalgia circuit.

What about the other two Kiss members in 2021? Here we come to their official website, which naturally highlights “The Final Tour Ever”. The itinerary begins with nine dates in Australia next March and April, then eight in South America in April and May, concluding with 17 European countries in June and July including Budapest on July 14.

Plenty of rest days are included, so the ageing rockers shouldn’t be too fagged by the time they reach Hungary, which is followed by only two more shows, in Romania and Holland, before the fellows can begin their peaceful retirements, perhaps.

The four original members of Kiss were Stanley (vocals and rhythm guitar), Simmons (vocals and bass), Ace Frehley (lead guitar and vocals) and Peter Criss (drums and vocals). With their over-the-top make-up and costumes they took on the personae of comic book-style characters: the Starchild (Stanley), the Demon (Simmons), the Spaceman or Space Ace (Frehley) and the Catman (Criss). Due to creative differences, both Criss and Frehley had departed by 1982.

In 1983, Kiss began performing without the makeup and costumes, thus marking the beginning of the band’s “unmasked” era that would last for more than a decade. Eric Carr, who had replaced Criss in 1980, died aged 41 in 1991 of heart cancer and was replaced by Eric Singer.

In response to a wave of Kiss nostalgia in the mid-1990s, the original lineup re-united in 1996, which also saw the return of its face paint and stage costumes. The resulting reunion tour was highly successful, grossing $143.7 million, making it the band’s most successful tour to date.

Criss and Frehley subsequently left again, and were replaced by Singer (on and off since 1991) and Tommy Thayer (since 2002), who are still there today. The band has continued with its original stage makeup, with Singer and Thayer adopting the Catman and Spaceman characters.

In September 2018, Kiss announced that after 45 years of recording and performing, they would be embarking on an ongoing final tour, the End of the Road World Tour, which started in January 2019 and would conclude in 2022.

An interesting aspect of the nostalgia circuit these days is the VIP ticket package, where rich people such as oligarchs and politicians can have what’s called a “meet and greet” with real live band members. These come in four categories on the Kiss website: the Ultimate VIP Package – Australia for $3500, the Ultimate Kiss Army VIP Experience for $4000, the End of the Road Gold VIP Package for $1500 and the End of the Road Silver VIP Package for $1000.

Privileges for the uber-fan include a group photo with the band, watching the whole show from the Ultimate VIP viewing platform inside the pit, front-row viewing of the Kiss pre-show acoustic set plus Q&A, a backstage tour with personal concierge and setting foot “on the holy ground that is the KISS stage”, access to the KISS Army Captains Lounge and to the Kiss memorabilia display, an autographed and numbered “End of the Road” framed lithograph (home-delivered) and exclusive merchandise offered in “crowd free shopping”.

What else is going on with Kiss? It seems that things might not wrap up in July 2022 after all because on October 30 the band had to cancel a 12-date Las Vegas residency, which would have been their second in the city, due either to a) soft ticket sales, or b) the pandemic. This is likely to be rescheduled.

The cancellation came a day after Rolling Stone magazine published a story in which a group of Kiss roadies suggested that the lack of coronavirus protocols enforced on the “End of the Road” tour had led to the death of longtime guitar tech Francis Stueber, 53, in his Detroit hotel room on October 17, two days after being quarantined. The crew alleged the tour did not take strict enough safety measures, including not testing everyone regularly and some members allegedly disguising their illness and/or faking vaccine cards.

And I learn on the internet that for 10 years there have been annual Kiss Kruises, week-long celebrations of rock’s most famous masked foursome. These voyages included nightly performances by Kiss and special guests, with Kiss Kruise XI set from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico, from October 29 to November 3, 2022.

When will it really be “farewell” for this oh-so-subtle band? Simmons (born Chaim Witz in Israel in 1949 to Jewish immigrants from Hungary) says that even if the concerts end, Kiss will continue to make music. Kiss staged its first “farewell” tour in 2000, the last to feature the original lineup. The fire-breathing, blood-spitting, smoking guitars, shooting rockets, levitating drum kits and pyrotechnics continue, but I have another commitment that night. That’s enough about them.


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