Thursday, July 4, 2013

The KISS Of Life: Rockers Keep It Real Onstage | by Mike Devlin

There’s no excuse for not succeeding in life. So says the Demon himself.

“God, in his infinite wisdom, has created night and sleep,” says Kiss singer-bassist Gene Simmons. “By design, somebody — nature, God — created this idea where you get to rest and recharge. You don’t need more than that. So I work hard, play hard, and live hard.”

He also rocks hard.

Simmons, 63, continues to tour mightily with the group he co-founded in 1973. He has dabbled in acting and found success with his highly rated reality show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, but through it all, there has been one constant for the man born Chaim Witz: rock ’n’ roll.

The band begins the Canadian leg of its Monster tour Friday night in Victoria, its first-ever local date and the kickoff for 19 stops in Canada (it was formerly 20, but the July 13 date at Calgary’s Saddledome was cancelled this week due to flood damage).

That the group is staging one of its most in-depth tours of Canada 40 years after it was formed by Simmons and singer-guitarist Paul Stanley says something about their on-stage abilities.

More than that, Simmons said, it speaks directly to their survival instincts.

When the rest of the pop-music world is singing to a pre-recorded click-track, Kiss is slogging it out with real instruments.

“When you go see Rihanna, you’re probably getting about 30 per cent live music,” Simmons said. “It’s basically a karaoke show. That doesn’t mean it’s not good. Just be aware they are not advertising the truth.”

Simmons says the current Kiss lineup — which includes guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, who have been on-board for more than a decade each — has too much pride to offer anything inauthentic. There’s a reason why the group’s official refrain — “You wanted the best? You got the best!” — has opened nearly every one of its concerts to date, he added.

“What you see is what you get. Four guys sweating, no samples, no tapes. We blow a lot of stuff up and we change the Earth’s axis every once in a while. But what you see there is live. That’s what you’re paying a lot of money for, so you should get it live. How dare you step on that stage and not do it properly.”

Sacrifices need to be made to get the details right.

It takes each member nearly two hours to apply their own iconic greasepaint makeup, and the physical toll of trudging across stages in warrior garb every two or three days takes a considerable toll. Simmons adds to that tally breathing fire, spitting blood and flying high in the rafters during his signature song, Dr. Love.

To put it lightly, his dance card is incredibly full.

Simmons still finds time to accommodate interviews, personal appearances and business meetings, mostly for the sake of self-promotion. That’s a four-letter word to most, but for Simmons (who is reportedly worth upwards of $300 million), the sound of cash registers ringing isn’t something to be ashamed of.

“Either you take care of business or the business takes care of you. That’s why you can be Peter Frampton and be the biggest act of the world at the time, and be broke.”

Canada has been very good to Kiss over the years. Simmons says a 2011 concert by the group in Grand Falls, N.B., drew close to 50,000 people, while another appearance in Ottawa on that same trek attracted upwards of 95,000. His extensive knowledge of such matters makes him an exhausting person to come into contact with, but that is part of his charm.

People love to know how Kiss operates. Simmons isn’t telling, but he will pull back the curtain for a glimpse into the spider-like stage setup for the Monster tour.

“Paul [Stanley] came in and started scribbling and said, ‘What about this?’ We all said, ‘Wow, that’s great,’ and handed the piece of paper over to [Kiss manager] Doc McGhee and said, ‘Build this.’ ”

Simmons has made music his business, and he’s not about to let details slip away from him now that the group is on the home stretch. He is asked constantly to speak at business functions, and does so — if the price is right. What he learned along the way he learned on his own, the hard way. He didn’t blink when 2009’s Sonic Boom gave Kiss the highest chart debut of its career, nor was he surprised when its followup, 2012’s Monster, hit the top spot on the U.S. hard-rock charts.

Had the group behind Rock and Roll All Nite, Shout It Out Loud, Detroit Rock City and Beth failed to meet expectations, Simmons would have failed in his job as the caretaker of all things Kiss.

“If you approach this thing like a job, that’s good. Turn the TV off, turn the phones off, pick up your instrument and take out your notepad, and sit there. In other words, put in the time. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you.”

What: KISS, with Shinedown

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6:30)

Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre

Tickets: $66/$90/$126 at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre box office, or 250-220-7777