Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Seasons Of The KISS

Arts reporter Stephen Cooke was only nine when Destroyer came out. Now, he charts the changes and looks ahead to the next show.

In my days as a young private in the Kiss Army, my favourite commanding officer had to be Ace Frehley, the mysterious Space Ace guitarist of the greasepaint-covered rock act.

For one thing, there was this childhood obsession with astronauts. For another, his image was less likely to cause nightmares compared to demonic, blood-spitting bandmate Gene Simmons. (Cut me some slack, I was nine when Destroyer came out.)

Plus there were some great songs credited to the silver lame-clad rock alien, like Shock Me, Rocket Ride and, the only hit from those ill-fated 1978 Kiss solo albums, New York Groove.

Cut to 30 years after Frehley’s initial departure from the band and Kiss remains a worldwide phenomenon.

Taking its theme park approach to rock ’n’ roll around the globe and bringing its new high-tech Spider stage to the Halifax Metro Centre on Thursday night, Simmons and the band’s Starchild, singer-guitarist Paul Stanley, remain the only constants since they first put on the makeup four decades ago.

There’s still a Spaceman in the band, though, with guitarist Tommy Thayer wearing the shiny moonboots since becoming a full-time member in 2002.

Kiss fans will remember he did stellar work throughout their 2009 show on the Halifax Commons, tearing off the kind of meaty solos required for Detroit Rock City and Shout It Out Loud, with an extended showcase during She, where he even included a bit of Beethoven before sending his guitar strings screaming into the stratosphere.

Thayer’s tenure in Kiss came after a reunion tour of the original lineup. While there may have been mixed feelings about the decision to have him carry on as the Spaceman, he says there was never any talk about adopting a different persona.

“If it was 20 or 30 years ago, it might have happened, because that’s what happened when Peter Criss left, and Eric Carr came in and they came up with the Fox for him,” says Thayer.

“Then Ace Frehley left, and Vinnie Vincent came in, and he was an Egyptian warrior, with the ankh. Which, by the way, didn’t work, because a year-and-a-half later the makeup was gone.”

Thayer says he understood the concerns of longtime fans when he suited up. But he figures the Kiss trademark wins out in the end.

“So for the people who think it would make sense to come up with new makeup and character designs, if it didn’t work 10 years into the band, do you think it would be a good idea 40 years in? I don’t think so.”

Raised in the suburbs of Portland, Ore., the son of a retired brigadier-general and a classical violinist, the 52-year-old guitarist’s association with Kiss goes back to the mid-’80s, when his band Black ’N Blue opened dates on its Asylum tour.

A few years later, Thayer was co-writing with the band for its 1989 album Hot in the Shade and worked as a tour manager, even helping to ease Frehley and Criss back into the band for the 1996 Alive Worldwide Tour.

So Thayer was a natural to take over when Frehley and the band parted ways a second time, even if some fans didn’t see it that way.

“Coming into the band 10 or 11 years ago, there was a certain contingency of people who were real critics,” he sighs. “I’m talking about people on the Internet, who’d say things like, ‘How come when you came into the band you didn’t show more personality?’ and all this stuff.

“I had to explain to people that our priority at the time was for me to come in and grasp what made Kiss great and powerful in the first place, and be true to that, in terms of what I’m playing guitar-wise, in solos and with everyone else.

“That was an important thing, and with the evolution of the band over the last 10 years, releasing Sonic Boom and then Monster last year, it’s given me an opportunity to get more creative and spread my wings a bit, which has been great in terms of the new songs and how we play as a band.”

Over a decade into his tenure in Kiss, Thayer has earned his spot in the band that first thrilled him back in junior high, one that’s carved out a unique niche in rock-pop culture, with the distinctive logo and images plastered across pinball games, comic books, action figures and, of course, the ’70s TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

“I never got too heavy into collecting all the memorabilia as much as some other people,” says Thayer.

“But it’s funny, a couple of years ago they came out with Kiss M&Ms, and I realized that not many people can say they’ve got their face on a package of M&Ms or a Slurpee cup at 7-11.

“How many people have been on a Pez dispenser? It was fun to give those out for Christmas last year, people go crazy for those, and what a cool, classic piece of American culture to be part of.

“It’s just so colourful, vibrant and fun. I’m really enjoying it.”

Tickets for Kiss at the Halifax Metro Centre are $88.25, $103.25 and $113.25 depending on seating. They’re available at the Ticket Atlantic box office (451-1221 or 1-877-451-1221), and Atlantic Superstores.