By John Katsilometes/Las Vegas Sun
KISS, indefatigable glam/rock pioneers who spawned a billion Halloween costumes and its own teenage army, returns to Las Vegas on Saturday night for a show at Pearl Theater at the Palms. This fall, the band, powered still by founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, released its first studio album in 11 years, "Sonic Boom.
"This week the Las Vegas Sun corralled the 57-year-old KISS vocalist and guitarist as the band prepared for a show in Anaheim, Calif., this week. Following is the conversation as our BlackBerry chimed with Stanley's eagerly awaited call:
"Hello, this is Paul Stanley."
"Excellent. Where are you calling from?"
"Anaheim, getting ready for a show here."
"Anaheim! The home of Disneyland and No Doubt!"
"Right! Gwen (Stefani) has played the Pearl Theater, hasn't she?"
"She opened the place, yes.
Speaking of that, I want to ask about this concert. How are you going to be able to scale down your live show, which is built for arenas and stadiums, for a small theater like the Pearl?"
"We have special shoehorn where we take our size 12 foot and jam it into a size 9 shoe. But rather than go back to a big arena, we wanted to play the Pearl again (KISS performed at the theater in August 2008). Every seat is unobstructed, which you don't get often, but we're not going to do the lounge thing. We're going to test how much volume this place can handle.""Palms owner George Maloof likes to bring in bands he's a fan of. Is that how KISS came to play the Pearl?"
"Yeah, he is a fan. I've known George for about 15 years now. It's funny, I was there when the Pearl Theater was just rebar, talking with him about the day KISS would come to town. We were envisioning it even then."
"It's really interesting to be talking to someone on the phone you've known mostly from album covers, in concerts, on TV, almost like a fictional character. When you got to be famous, was there ever anyone you met and hung out with where you were saying, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm talking to this person?' "
"Of course, the first time I met Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney. Hopefully none of us get beyond that feeling. It keeps it exciting. You always have to have heroes, people you look up to, and it's amazing to have them as peers. I think that idolatry, hero inspiration, is something we shouldn't lose."
"What was it like to meet Jimmy Page? Can you describe that experience?""Oh yeah. Led Zep was mixing 'The Song Remains the Same' soundtrack, and we were coming into the studio after them. We were in the lobby, and Jimmy came up and he knew who I was, and who the band was. It was stunning. Not five years earlier, I was in the audience, watching Led Zeppelin with my mouth open, just not believing it.""There is a sense that KISS has a Led Zep-like influence on on rock music.""Maybe, but I leave it to others to determine where I belong in terms of stature. I like to keep those people I admire on a higher level.""The other day I was looking back at the 'Alive' album cover, the back..."
"Excuse me for interrupting, but everyone was at that show.""Hah, well I wasn't at that show (most of the album was recorded during a concert at Cobo Hall in Detroit). But I'm looking at that audience. All those people, and a bunch of fans seem to be stoned, or getting stoned, smoking joints right there in the arena and waiting for you to go on. There were no children around, it was a young-adult crowd, but today you've got all these children in makeup being brought by there parents to KISS shows."
"Yes, yes, they want to share the KISS experience with their kids, and it's cool. It's cool to experience the magic that they had when they first saw us. I love seeing the wonderment on young kid's faces. It's really, very, very gratifying, humbling and exhilarating. We're breaking down barriers. Don't have a set audience. We have a multigenerational audience."
"But originally, KISS was not something you shared with your parents. It was the naughty place, where you went to misbehave and disobey authority. I never thought to listen to 'Hotter Than Hell' or 'Love Gun' with my parents."
"No, no, no, you wouldn't. But there was not yet a precedent for a band lasting that long. For a long time they were disposable, pop idols, seen as a commodity and pre-manufactured. You had Fabian and Frankie Avalon being thrown at you, but once bands started writing their own material and transcending time, you saw them evolve over generations. Before, parents didn't have any connection to rock 'n' roll, because it was disposable."
"You've set a standard for production that really changed how concerts are staged, and now a lot of bands are using pyrotechnics and costumes onstage. How do you continue to stay ahead of the curve in your live show?""We've inspired a lot of bands, sure. Everybody is borrowing from us, but they will never be us. It only takes money to have a KISS-type show, but you will never have KISS. I'm flattered by all the mimicry, the bands who have borrowed from us. To me, we just have to keep doing what we've been doing and continue to be musically great."
"You've said many times that this is the best version of KISS (with co-founder Gene Simmons on bass, Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer on drums) ever.""Totally. A night doesn't go by that we are not consistently in top form. We've now got four people who are all saying, 'How can we make the band more famous?' Instead of, "How can I make me more famous?' "
"You've talked before, during the 'Monster Circus' reunion project with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, that it was difficult to work in the studio with attorneys instead of musicians.""Yeah, if only attorneys could sing and play instruments, we'd have been a better band. But Eric has been with us for 18 years now, Tommy has been in the band for seven years and around us forever (as a onetime member of the band Black 'n Blue and a KISS tribute band who became an assistant to the band and helped Frehley's re-learn some of his solos for the 'Monster Circus' reunion tour). We're a great band."
"Your new album, 'Sonic Boom,' is getting good reviews, and so is this tour. What's going on?""(Laughs), I am suspicious of this. It's either that all of the old-guard critics have died off, or KISS fans have taken over the office.""Maybe both.""Maybe, yeah. But the reviews have been unanimously over-the-top for 'Sonic Boom.' It's gotten reviews I couldn't write better. But it is great to have an album out that is undeniably good, like we've reclaimed what is rightfully ours."
"I want to ask you a couple more Vegas-centric questions. You have a place at Palms Place, right?"
"I've had a place there since it was under construction, before it was completed, yep."
"And there reports last year that you might be in Las Vegas, as a resident, playing the Phantom in "Phantom - Las Vegas Spectacular" at The Venetian. Any truth to that?""Yeah, I had been in Las Vegas, having meetings, and we'd discussed that. I'd played the role before (in the Toronto production), but for a lot of reason it wasn't to be. I think it's a great show. Terrific. I still intend on doing it on Broadway, but there are only so many hours in the day, you know?"
"We have The Beatles-Cirque du Soleil show, 'Love,' at The Mirage and an Elvis-themed Cirque show at Aria called 'Viva Elvis.' You've seen 'Love,' right?""I did and it was absolutely terrific.""Would you be interested in a Cirque-produced show with a KISS theme?"
"Sure, we've been in talks with different people with possibilities... not Cirque people, but we'll see what develops over time... Anything is possible with KISS."
"I would be remiss not to ask you about wearing makeup. After 35 years, hasn't it become an inconvenience to still have to wear that when you perform?"
"I liken it to putting on my war paint. When you go to fight, you want to be in your best possible form. ... It would be like going into the Super Bowl without the right equipment or the World Series. ... I don't know - I'm stammering here, because this is a big part of what makes us who we are. The idea of it being an inconvenience doesn't play into this. At the very least I would say, if you win the lottery, you don't complain about the taxes. When you've been as lucky as we are, there's not much to complain about."