Thursday, November 7, 2013

A KISS For Calgary: Shock Rockers Going Strong After 40 Years | Photograph by: Jean Levac

Great White North is band’s heartland

Canadians have always embraced KISS.

In the shock rock band’s early days, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were playing rooms a far cry from the arenas and stadiums they are now known to fill with pyro and solid rock thunder.

“Canada has always been great to us,” Stanley told Postmedia News. “Our first tour included lunch rooms and cafeterias of schools in Edmonton and Calgary when nobody knew who we were. So we’ve always had a great time, whether it’s in Moncton, Sudbury, Lethbridge — places where people go, ‘What are you doing here?’ and we say, ‘You don’t decide where you’re born but we decide where we play.’”

Forty years later and with a 20th studio album in tow — the old school, Detroit-style rocker Monster — little has changed about KISS’s philosophy: Rock and roll all night, party every day.

Doing so, KISS continues to offer a fan-oriented experience like no other band can, a recipe that has generated millions of KISS Army members, and licensing and merchandising revenue like few acts on the planet boast.

“The whole idea with the KISS Army Depot (in Vancouver) was to let the fans run their own store,” Stanley said. “It’s a guerrilla store, so-to-speak. It circumvents the big business and it allows the fans to have the say of where it goes.”

A number of the pop-up stores have appeared across the country in some of the cities where the band will be stopping: Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary.

“Our sympathy goes to anybody who has to live through a natural disaster,” Stanley said of last summer’s Calgary cancellation. “Calgary is a great example of the resilience people have. (We will) try to cheer everybody up a bit.”

If in 1973 KISS’s brand of hyper-sexualized, overly macho rock draped in leather costumes and trademark symbolic characters makeup were made to shock — Stanley’s Starchild, Simmons’ Demon, Frehley’s Spaceman and Criss’ Cat Man — today the band is an instantly recognized and respected entity.

“The media said, ‘They are cannibals, they’re from outer space.’ We ignored all that stuff,” Simmons said. “That’s all kid’s stuff — do what you and don’t worry about what people think or say or anything. When we started out, we played our instruments, we wrote our songs — we got on stage and we were who we were.”

“It was shocking when we first started out because it was new,” Stanley said. “You had the magician pulling the rabbit out of the hat. Ultimately, you have to have content. Maybe the shock value is gone, but now it’s a monument, an institution. It’s something that’s lasted 40 years.”

Buoyed by its fan base, KISS was a modest shocker hit early on.

Albums like KISS (1973), Hotter Than Hell (1974) and Dressed To Kill (1975) contained more than a few songs now considered band classics (Strutter, Deuce, Rock and Roll All Nite), but it wasn’t until the band’s first live album Alive! that things really took off, thanks to a concert-styled compilation featuring KISS’s singular live energy and a raw, nerve-slicing edge courtesy of producer Eddie Kramer.

A slick re-invention thanks to Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd) with 1975’s Destroyer made them a band that would hit the top of the charts with Beth, a decidedly un-KISS piano ballad sung by Criss.

The ’80s and ’90s were not as glorious: The band removed the masks, faced upheaval and multiple lineup changes, and faltered.

It wasn’t until they put the makeup on again that KISS thrived once more, finding renewal via 1998’s Psycho Circus (which yielded the first concert experience incorporating 3-D visual elements) and continuing via the solid Sonic Boom (2009) and last year’s surprising Monster, the latter two produced by Stanley and Greg Collins.

Asked if he took some inspiration from Ezrin or Kramer to rejuvenate KISS’s sound, Stanley said: “Truth be told, there have been times when we had people who got producer credit who weren’t much more than engineers. Bob Ezrin was a producer. Certainly I think of him often when we’re in the studio — ‘What would he do?’

“But, you know, I’m fortunate enough to have seen some of the greatest bands play when I was a kid — Zeppelin, Humble Pie, the Stones, Derek and the Dominoes. Perhaps what we brought to the band now and in the last few albums is something that’s classic and timeless. I think the band sounds better than ever.”

Simmons heaped praise on Stanley’s design of the band’s latest live show, which features a spider-like stage construction that’s arguably the most advanced KISS fans have ever seen.

Stanley made it clear that even though the band’s current band members may one day call it quits (Eric Singer now sits behind the drums instead of Criss and Tommy Thayer plays Ace Frehley’s licks), he would like KISS to live on forever.

“I think I’m really great at what I do but I don’t think there isn’t someone else that can do it at least as well,” he said.

“There was a time when everybody said, ‘Oh, it’s gotta be the four original members.’ Well, those people are 50 per cent wrong now. I will be proud to be replaced at some point, because it only means KISS is everything that I hoped it would be. I’d like to sit in the audience and see the greatest band without me in it — but not any time soon.”

KISS plays the Scotiabank Saddledome Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket info: