Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are preparing to kick off their 40th year as business partners with a 42-city tour with fellow aging rockers Def Leppard. Billed as the “Heroes 2014″ tour, Stanley and Simmons will again be joined onstage with contractors Tommy Thayer in the Spaceman role and Eric Singer performing as the Catman rather than original band mates Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, respectively. Granted, I would probably see the show if they were to come to New Orleans (which they’re not) because the live Kiss experience is akin to going to the circus: you know they’ll bring out trapeze artists, then the monkeys, then the tigers jumping through flaming hoops, and even the little friggin’ dog in a top hat and tutu walking around on a beach ball, then they’ll finish with the grand finale of an elephant train and hideous, evil clowns. You know what you’re going to get going into “The Greatest Show on Earth” before you ever step foot under the big top.
It’s the same with Kiss. You know the Demon will spit blood and breathe fire. You know the Spaceman’s guitar will smoke while he’s kicking out a solo. You know the Catman’s drums will rise a few stories in the air amid columns of fire and clouds of smoke. And you know Paul Stanley will mince around like a famished fräulein at a sausage festival.
And you will love every second of it.
But you will love every second of it not because it’s something new and exciting. No. You will love it because it harkens back to the days when Kiss and its four original members (Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Stanley and Simmons) ruled the world. Once that lineup began to disintegrate by the end of the ’70s/early ’80s, Kiss was never the same despite making hundreds of millions of dollars by selling lots of albums and essentially anything not nailed down (including, among other things, the Kiss Kondom, Kiss Kasket, Kiss Kremation Urn, and lots o’ Kiss Fine Art apparently suitable to hang alongside the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris) .
Without the four original painted freaks, Kiss is just another heavy metal band that would have likely died out in the ’90s. New Kiss just can’t compare with Old Kiss. Despite protestations from Simmons and Stanley, most people really don’t care about new Kiss anymore than they cared about New Coke. They’d drink the New Coke if they absolutely had to get a sugar rush, but it just wasn’t the same as a satisfying swig of the original.
Need proof? Here’s five reasons why Kiss isn’t Kiss without the original lineup:
1. Criss and Frehley made Kiss relevant again
Simmons and Stanley made the business decision to take the makeup off and become another run-of-the-mill pop metal act following the departure of Criss and Frehley in the early ’80s. There was waning interest in the group once the originals were gone and the new personas of Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent fizzled. Fortunately for them, there was an appetite for pop metal in the ’80s with acts like Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella, and other hair bands crowding the landscape. Unmasked Kiss, now with new guitarist Mark St. John, slogged along with albums ranging from mediocre to mind-boggling awful. They rode the coat tails of newer metal bands who could pull off the androgynous glam shtick much better. Not only was the music sub-par, but it also came with the horrifying images of Simmons, Stanley, and the rest wearing tight spandex and headbands looking like they’re about to start a Jazzercise class.
Kiss no longer stood out. They continued to sell albums, but at a much slower pace. Instead of hitting platinum status in a few weeks, albums now took years to get to gold. They were on the verge of oblivion when MTV threw them a lifeline by having them on the successful ’90s series Unplugged with one caveat: the show would only go on if Criss and Frehley were a part of it. No original Kiss, no spot on the wildly successful music show. Simmons and Stanley swallowed their pride and brought the two cast-aside members on the show following a set by their current lineup at the time.
People freaked out. Fan reaction to Criss and Frehley at the Unplugged show was so positive that, in 1996, the original lineup of Kiss reunited, with all four original members together for the first time since 1980. Excitement reached fever pitch with the original lineup appeared with Tupac Shakur at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards:
What followed was the top grossing tour for 1996-1997, and audiences larger than back in their ’70s heyday. This was only accomplished when the original four put the makeup back on and hit the road. Thanks to Criss and Frehley, Kiss was relevant again.
2. Use of the original makeup designs
If latter-day Kiss is new and improved, why are they wearing the classic makeup? Simply because the personas after the departure of Frehley and Criss just didn’t bring the same draw. The two less-than-successful roll outs of new makeup, Eric Carr’s “Fox” and Vinnie Vincent’s “Ankh Warrior” (what the hell is that supposed to mean?), are largely forgettable and somewhat laughable.
Stanley and Simmons loved Eric Carr, whose untimely death in 1991 of heart cancer and brain hemorrhaging was a tragedy. Despite how much they loved Carr over Criss, the fans don’t quite reciprocate, which is why Kiss will never bring back Carr’s Fox makeup. Vincent’s makeup, like his tenure with the band, is just too weird to take seriously.
3. ’70s Kiss was a completely different act from ’80s Kiss
The original Kiss were superheroes inspiring millions of rebellious teens to pick up guitars. Subsequent Kiss in the 1980s were super funny inspiring lots of comedians to zing one-liners. Judge for yourself:
4. Play That Funky Music, Painted White Boys
During the most recent tour in 2013, the songs Kiss played the most were:
Notice something? Six of the ten songs are from the original days, and one had three of the four originals. Only three of the songs are from the post-Simmons/Stanley/Criss/Frehley years. If New Kiss is better as Simmons and Stanley contend, why are they performing 60 to 70 percent of their top ten songs from the Old Kiss era? Because Kiss has become a cover band of its former glory days.
5. The Darren Factor
You know an impostor when you see one. Need we say more?