Monday, May 19, 2008

Kissing Off

Fair warning: this is going to be a blog heavy on Kiss: my well-earned opinions on the current lineup of the band and their seemingly never-ending nostalgia tour. It probably won't be for the faint of heart, so you may be better off finding a Buffy fanboard or knitting blog if this kind of geeky fan obsessiveness isn't your cup o'tea. (Smirks and winks to those who deserve them following that know who you are.)

Okay. So: Kiss is currently embroiled in a "world" tour, taking them first around Australia and Europe (so far only two U.S. shows are planned). They're playing some odd places, like Bulgaria, Greece and Russia...places they've never been before. They are drawing HUGE, record-setting crowds: selling out 20-30,000 seat arenas in under half an hour is not uncommon. The world outside the U.S. seems to be going through a mass Kissteria. (Har.) Which is, you know, good. I like that "my band" is popular, and that the music survives.

Thing is...Kiss is half of a tribute band now. See, things are complicated, because there are two ways to do the math (rather like counting delegates to the Democratic convention...). The first way is to say that Kiss, as a popular entity, consists of four original members who contributed equally to the sound and style of the group: Gene Simmons (bass), Paul Stanley (rhythm guitar), Peter Criss (drums) and Ace Frehley (lead guitar). The OTHER way to calculate the group is to give credit to the first two guys - Gene & Paul - as the "originators" of the group, born from the ashes of early-70s AM radio mishmash Wicked Lester. By this logic, Gene & Paul "hired" Criss and Frehley, and the "creative direction" of the band is theirs alone.

Personally, I think most fans didn't know diddley-squat about Wicked Lester when they fell in love with Kiss, and so the band was pretty well represented in the magazines as an "equal foursome." The heavy-handed rulership of Gene & Paul only became apparent when original members (some substitute the word "founding") Peter & Ace left in the early 80s, to be replaced by Eric Carr (drums) and a host of lead guitarists: Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, and Bruce Kulick. A sort of revisionist history of the band began, a retelling of the group as being Gene & Paul's "baby." And while the original Kiss was made of up four lead vocalists (with MOST of the work going to Gene & Paul), the newer versions of Kiss gave 100% of lead vocal work to those two alone, effectively cutting in half the amount of diversity on the group's albums. This 80s-era Kiss soldiered on, sounding not remarkably different from most of the other radio-friendly metal of the day. BUT: new music DID come out of the group, at a pretty regular rate. New tours followed new music, and songs from the new albums always found a place alongside classic hits in the live shows.

Eric Carr died in 1991 (on the same day as Freddie Mercury, pretty much guaranteeing that no one would know), and was replaced by the shockingly blond Eric Singer. The band that recorded 1992's Revenge album was arguably the most solid, musically talented group that Kiss had ever been. I LOVE this album. It's modern (for the time), heavy-hitting, and finally presented a non-makeup Kiss as a tough, leather-clad group of no-bullshit rockers, finally avoiding the heavy glitter and neon colors of most of the 80s. THIS was a band that could move forward musically, and the last album of this lineup (Carnival of Souls) proved this without a doubt.

Somehow, though, the ever-present fantasy of a "reunited" Kiss began to finally take shape, brought about ostensibly by their powerful showing on MTV Unplugged. Classic costumes were updated, clown white was ordered by the case, and by the summer of 1996 the fantasy was real: the "original" Kiss toured the world, playing ONLY the classics that those four particular men had played the first time around. Fans went APESHIT, myself included. I'd seen Kiss in makeup, but never the original group, and so for me, this was a sort of lifelong dream. I worried, though, what this meant for the FUTURE of the group. How long would the renion last? What happens to Eric & Bruce in the meantime? Most important to ME: what about new music?

Well, as it turned out, the contract signed by Ace & Peter (having long ago given up their 1/4-stake in Kiss Ltd.) was for five years. We got a new album out of the group - Psycho Circus - that was a solid effort. It was NOT their best, but then again, neither was Asylum or Dressed to Kill. But a solid CD nonetheless. There was a tour that followed, with updated versions of DIFFERENT costumes, and new songs worked in. And finally, in 2000-2001, the five years were up, Gene & Paul were pissed off at Ace & Peter again, and a "farewell" tour ensued, playing hits from the entire Kiss catalogue.

This is where things get dicey, because I genuinely believed that I was seeing Kiss live for the last time. When they started the reunion, Paul SPECIFICALLY mentioned that he did not want to see Kiss become one of those incessant "nostalgia" bands, who constantly tour playing only their hits. So when Ace was replaced by Tommy Thayer (a longtime employee of Gene's, and the guitarist from 80s band Black & Blue), and Eric Singer was brought BACK to replace Peter, I kind of thought: "WTF?" When Eric Carr came into the band in 1980, new makeup was created for him. Ditto Vinne Vincent in 1982. But now, Tommy & Eric are wearing Ace & Peter's makeup. And the story Paul gives has changed, first subtly but lately in a kind of desperate self-defense. Instead of denying that Kiss has become exactly what he once swore it wouldn't - a nostalgia act - he's being kind of a dick in reaction to fans who don't like that people other than Ace & Peter are effectively "playing" those characters. Likewise with his defense of a lack of new music. What follows are some of his answers to questions by interviewer Marko Syrjälä:

(When asked about the membership of the band, and whether or not Kiss could continue without Gene & himself):

I think Kiss is much more than a band...someone else's idea of what Kiss is, it doesn't necessarily speak for the majority. So somebody says "Oh, it has to be the four originals." and now they go "Oh, it's gotta be Gene and Paul.", I don't necessarily agree. I believe what Kiss stands for...goes far beyond the individuals in the band. It's just funny how you have some people who want Kiss to be their private band and to be exactly what they believe Kiss should be. Most of those people are in the minority. You know, fifty, sixty thousand people in Melbourne came to see Kiss, the shows in Helsinki sold out because they're there to see Kiss. The unhappy few will remain few.

(When asked about some fan outcry that Tommy is not only "posing" as Ace, playing all of Ace's solos note-for-note and copying his moves, but now also singing Ace's signature song):

Who cares! I mean, honestly, it's insane to think that we wouldn't play a Kiss song. From what I hear Ace is playing Kiss songs too. He's doing "Love Gun" and “I Want You” and it's fine, I have no problem with that. Again, fifty thousand people were happy to hear "Shock Me" again, you know, five people hated that, but you can't please everyone.

(Side note: Ace did in fact play several Kiss songs at his recent Mt. Pleasant show that were not written by him...the difference being, I think, that he didn't have a guy in Paul Stanley makeup onstage, pretending to BE Paul Stanley, singing them.)

(When asked about the necessity of this "Kiss Alive 35" tour and the lack of new music):

Well, I mean, obviously "Kiss Alive 35" is the 35th anniversary of the band and that's really all it is, you know. We're not at a point where every time we go on tour we need an album. Especially since it's really kind of a croc of shit, the idea that when you get down to it people talk about wanting a new album, but at the end of the day they don't really wanna hear a new album. Nobody does, nobody wants to hear The [Rolling] Stones' new album (ed. note: RIAA sales in US & UK of 1 million units for "A Bigger Bang" as of 12/31/07), nobody wants to hear [The] Who's new album. You don't go to a concert to hear new music...why go in the studio and do an album when understandably people wanna hear the classics? A new song is fresh but it has no connection, so you listen to it five times and then you say "That's really nice, now play 'Love Gun'."!

I don't know about YOU, but to ME that sounds REALLY defensive and, frankly, kind of bitchy. Hey, you wanna go onstage every night and play like it's 1977? Go for it...but DON'T pretend it's anything other than it is: a nostalgia show from a band that's half it's own tribute band by now. There are LOADS of Kiss tribute bands, with names taken from song titles like Strutter and Mr. Speed and Cold fact, Tommy Thayer PLAYED "Ace" in Cold Gin. Now, he's playing "Ace" in Kiss. How is this different than any of the other tribute bands, except with more money and a bigger stage show? I think that ultimately basic egoism - especially Gene's - will prevent a future Kiss made up entirely of replacements, but I can't rule out that it MIGHT happen. Think of it: various versions of Kiss, touring the country, personal names buried in favor of the "characters" of Kiss: Demon, Starchild, Space-Ace and the Cat. Like it's some fucking Broadway show, where you go to see Wicked at your local theatre and don't care that Kristen Chenoweth isn't playing Glinda.

On the one hand, Kiss IS the perfect band to pull this off, and maybe - MAYBE - this is exactly what Gene & Paul were thinking when they put the makeup back on: "live forever," in a certain way. You go to hear the Glenn Miller orchestra, nobody cares that Glenn hasn't been in the band for over 60 years. On the other hand...well, it's just a fucking BAND, mates. Y'know, the Beatles (arguably the greatest rock band in history) were always so down-to-earth about what they accomplished, claiming "Yeah, we were just a great little band." Uh-huh. RIGHT. That only influenced every OTHER fucking band SINCE then...Kiss being perhaps THE prime example. So, I for one am a little tired of this "no one wants to hear new music" attitude. I DO want to hear new music, and if that makes me the minority...well, this is one minority who's going to kiss off going to live shows. I'll still scrounge eBay for vintage merch, and I'll go see Ace in concert, and Peter if he ever DOES one. And I'll buy new solo material from ALL the Kiss members...with Bruce Kulick perhaps being the most recently prolific. But for me, the touring version of Kiss is done. I said "farewell" in 2001.


Blogger Steph said...

Hey. Slayage is not a fanboard. It's an academic journal. Please. Allow the shreds of my fangirl dignity this one small distinction.

You know, I did actually read this entry, despite being pretty Kiss-ignorant, and Paul Stanley totally sounds like he's making excuses for being too washed up to do anything new. What a whiner.

11:27 AM  
Blogger kat said...

It's sad when your heroes let you down. :(

Do you need a hug?

3:41 PM  
Blogger Strangeite said...

Ahem... have you seen this?

12:58 PM  

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