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The End of the Road For KISS – This Time For Good

Gene Simmons (L) and Paul Stanley, members of the hard rock band "Kiss" perform during the Resurrection Fest music festival in Viveiro, northern Spain, on July 14, 2018. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP) (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)

Veterans Rockers Announce Second Farewell Tour, But This One Really Will Be It..Out Of Necessity

The year was 2000, and legendary hard rock band KISS was in the middle of what it deemed would be its Farewell Tour. Admittedly the timing seemed odd to me as the band was only 4 years removed from their highly successful 1996 Reunion Tour with original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, and sounded better than ever, but it also made some sense. Founding members, Guitarist and Lead Vocalist Paul Stanley and Bassist Gene Simmons, stated that the band wanted to “go out on top”, and not become caricatures of themselves, with Simmons stating, “You want to go out with dignity and grace and thank everybody who put you there”. I remember reading and watching various interviews with the band at the time with Stanley stating that there would not be another tour after this one. It would be the “End of The Road” for the Star Child, the Demon, The Space Ace and the Catman. No more makeup, no more platform boots, no more explosive, pyrotechnic laden shows, no more smoke billowing guitar solos, no more blood spitting theatrics, and yes, no more drum kits rising 20 feet in the air with sparks shooting out on either side to end a concert. This was it according to the band, and to be honest, I was fine with that. I had seen then twice on the reunion tour, which was a dream come true for me as a longtime fan that first discovered them during the non-make up era of the 1980’s. So when I saw them in concert at the Meadowlands Arena on June 27th of 2000, I expected it to be the last time I would ever see the “Hottest Band in the World”. And the band more than sent me home happy that night, as it was one of the best shows I had ever seen, and certainly the best out of the then 4 times I had seen them live. I even bought a key chain that night to commemorate the final tour for what was at the time, my favorite band in the world:

Fast forward 18 years later, and the band is still together. Still sporting their iconic make-up and platform boots, still performing explosive, pyrotechnic laden shows, with smoking guitar solos, and blood spitting theatrics, and they still have drum kits rising 20 feet in the air with sparks shooting out on either side to end their concerts. The only problem is, it’s not the same band anymore. Neither physically nor performance wise.

Let’s back up for a minute, and do a brief summary of what has happened in the past 18 years.

When the “Farewell Tour” ended in 2001 for KISS, it did not end with the band that started it. Original drummer Peter Criss had left in October of 2000 as he and the band could not come to terms on a contract, and was replaced by former drummer, Eric Singer who was made to look like the Catman, in both makeup and costume, so they could finish the tour. Then following the end of the tour, Ace Frehley allowed his contract to expire, left the band and resumed his solo career, feeling that a “Farewell Tour” was just that. However, the band decided to continue touring and replaced Frehley with guitarist, Tommy Thayer, who had previously served as the band’s road manager. Thayer was also made to look like a member of “classic” KISS, as he donned Ace’s signature make-up and costume. Criss would return to the lineup in 2002, but was gone again 2 years later, with Singer once again taking his place, this time for good. So the band that has been in place for the past 16 years has been Simmons, Stanley, Thayer and Singer which has provided KISS with a stability it hasn’t had since the mid 80’s and early 90’s, but has also angered a lot of longtime fans that view Thayer and Singer as impostors impersonating 2 beloved original members. But the fact remains, they have released 2 studio albums since then, and have toured steadily almost every year, and made millions of dollars in the process. So the fact that Simmons and Stanley are once again thinking of hanging it up as the approach their late-60’s makes complete sense as they recently announced a second Farewell Tour appropriately entitled, “The End of the Road”. But one also has to wonder if this really is the end for the iconic rock band considering that they went back on their word once before.

Classic KISS Circa 1976

My feeling is that this really is it for KISS, and I will give you one reason why: Paul Stanley’s voice.

I last saw KISS in concert in 2009 during the Alive 35 Tour, and Paul still sounded really good. And while I could definitely start to hear a little bit of strain in the Star Child’s voice, he was still hitting many of his trademark high notes, and still doing his typical on stage banter that he had become famous for. And even though I was not thrilled with Thayer and Singer sporting the look and likeness of Ace and Peter, they put on a great show. I was even thinking of possibly seeing them again on their next tour. And seeing a couple of clips from their European shows the following year kindled that interest even more as they still sounded good, and had even started adding songs from the new album to the set list, which I was definitely in favor of as I was a big fan of, “Sonic Boom”.

But then, sometime shortly after that, the bottom fell out.

It’s no secret that the Stanley has struggled to sing in concert since at least 2011, coincidentally after he had surgery on his vocal chords. Some say he never allowed his voice to fully recover from the surgery, others say age finally caught up with him. Either way, one only has to watch the readily available clips on YouTube of the hundreds of concerts the band has played in the ensuing years to hear the legendary front man’s once flawless voice crack frequently during many of their biggest hits like, “Detroit Rock City” and “Love Gun”, forcing the band to tune down, which in all honestly has done little to help. And the once high octane stage banter is also hard to listen to as many nights he sounds like a dying cat just trying to talk to the crowd.

This is why I truly believe this is the end for KISS. Unfortunately, it is about 8 years too late.

Before I continue, let me be clear that I love KISS, and love Paul Stanley both as a singer and as the front man for one of the great hard rock bands of all time. And while I understand that KISS is not everyone’s cup of tea, one can hardly argue the facts. The band has been a part of pop culture for almost 45 years, has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, and has become famous for their make-up, costumes and over the top, theatrical stage performances. Like them or not, everyone in the world knows who KISS is, and knows at least one KISS song, which is probably, “Rock N Roll All Nite”. The band was finally voted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame back in 2014 after years of eligibility, simply because their long time critics could no longer ignore them. On a personal level, I have been a fan of the band since the 80’s, and have a personal admiration for Paul Stanley as a performer. As I mentioned earlier, he once had a voice in concert capable of hitting ANY high note in any of KISS’ high energy songs. That long, extended whine at the beginning of “Heaven’s On Fire”? He would do that intro to the song live at EVERY concert, there was no pre-recorded track. That super high part in the middle of, “I Was Made for Loving You”, which is admittedly not my favorite song,  he would do live, and nail it…for years. Pretty much every Paul Stanley KISS song required maximum effort for him to pull off live, and he did it to perfection, FOR YEARS.

The point I’m trying to make here is it is not easy for me to say the negative things I am saying about one of the greatest live performers in the history of hard rock. But the facts are the man I once thought would never lose his voice, has lost it. And he has become what he said he never would: a caricature of what he once was. The band itself has become like that in some ways, still sounding good musically, but their once high energy performances have been reduced to them mostly lumbering around on stage. Stanley was also a big part of that, but can no longer do his high leaps and mid-air leg splits due to multiple hip surgeries. Add to that the fact that the show and set list have become boring and predictable, and it almost makes me wish they did hang it up after that 2000 “Farewell” Tour.

Regardless, 18 years later the end finally appears to be in sight for KISS, and as a longtime fan, I really hope it’s true. I have not yet decided whether I will go see them one last time. Part of me obviously wants to, and it would be the last time for me regardless of what the band does. But another part of me wants my final live experience with KISS to be that 2009 show when, even though it was not the original band, Paul Stanley was still the Star Child, and he gave me one last iconic, Star Child like performance. Maybe in the course of this final tour, he can reach down and find that for last go-around with “the Hottest Band in the World”.

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Written by Tony Grater

Radio Producer and Engineer for iHeartMedia in New York City. Lover of God, Family, Music and Sports..in THAT order. Married with 2 children, lives in New Jersey. Life verse is John 14:6

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