KISS stopped by America’s Got Talent last September to perform the classic rock staple, ‘Detroit Rock City’. There’s no denying the band’s multi-generational appeal, but the performance wasn’t a ploy to lure in a new tween audience. They had a major announcement to make – after 45 years, the New York band are calling it a day.
KISS’ last hurrah, the End of the Road world tour, is already in full swing. The band – led by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons – spent the first five months of 2019 roaming North America and are now making their way around Europe. The schedule concludes with run of shows in Australia and New Zealand this November. However, the actual grand finale is yet to be confirmed.
“This tour feasibly could go for a year or two, maybe even more,” says lead guitarist Tommy Thayer. “With the way things have gone on this first leg in North America that we just finished, it’s been phenomenal. Not to sound like I’m hyping it, but the response has been amazing, the fans are loving it, we’ve never felt better about doing a tour. We’re really jacked up and excited because it’s been going so well.”
Thayer is ten years younger than Simmons and Stanley, who are KISS’ two remaining original members. He got to know the band in the mid-1980s while a member of glam metal act, Black ‘n Blue. After Black ‘n Blue supported KISS on tour, Simmons produced their 1986 LP, Nasty Nasty.
Thayer and Simmons then did some co-writing and Thayer played on KISS’ 1989 record, Hot in the Shade. But before officially joining the band, he was employed to work behind the scenes, notably in film production and helping Ace Frehley prepare for the 1996 reunion tour. He eventually became KISS’ lead guitarist in 2002.
“I was a fan to begin with. I got the first KISS album when it came out in 1974,” Thayer says. “I asked for it for Christmas. I remember putting it on and listening to it and thinking this is really great, but it sounds different than I thought it would. I was always intrigued when I saw pictures of the band in the magazine called Circus. Even before I got the album I thought, ‘this band looks amazing. I love the vibe, I love the whole presentation and theatrics.’”
One of Thayer’s first KISS gigs was at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome (now Marvel Stadium) accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The performance became the 2003 release, Symphony: Alive IV. Thayer remembers it as trial by fire.
“To be in the band as the guitar player and to come in and do a show like that was really over the top,” he says. “I have to say there was a little pressure in that because not only was it a big gig, but it was also being filmed for a DVD and recorded as a live album.
“I had done a couple of things the year prior, in 2002. I filled in a couple of gigs when Ace was not showing up. That’s kind of how it all started. Melbourne and the symphony concert was an amazing experience. I also was involved in the making of the KISS Symphony documentary DVD, because I’d done a lot of work with the band producing and putting videos together.”
The 70-piece MSO may seem indulgent, but the End of the Road shows epitomise arena rock. Not only are the band members wearing their original stage make-up – Stanley as the Star, Simmons as the Demon, Thayer as the Spaceman and drummer Eric Singer as the Catman – there are pyrotechnics, blood and flying equipment.
“We spent more time preparing and rehearsing for this tour than any tour I’ve ever been involved in or any tour I’ve ever seen a band be involved in,” Thayer says. “I think it’s because the size of the tour and how big of a deal it was going to be. We knew it was going to be a huge tour so that incentivised us to make sure that it’s everything and then some.”
KISS have released 20 studio albums since debuting in 1974, as well as the four KISS-aligned solo albums that came out in 1978. The band’s catalogue is vast, but there’s a selection of songs you’re guaranteed to hear at every show – ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’, ‘Detroit Rock City’, ‘Beth’, ‘Heaven’s On Fire’, ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ and ‘Black Diamond’.
“I know that sometimes the diehards think we’re not going deep enough with the setlist, but obviously we want to play the songs that are going to get the biggest response that the people really want to hear,” Thayer says. “We spent a lot of time looking at that when we were rehearsing. We talked a lot about what the setlist was going to be and how we wanted to approach that. The songs that we picked are really the ones that work best and make the show the most dynamic and get the response of the crowd going the best we can.”
KISS have made two albums since Thayer joined – 2009's Sonic Boom and their 2012 full-length Monster – but his role has primarily been as a live performer. He’s been a professional guitarist for nearly four decades and KISS’ Spaceman for 17 years. He’s no longer intimidated by the task, but he’s not immune to a bit of starry-eyed wonder either.
“I would air guitar to KISS in my parents’ living room when I came from junior high school before I even played guitar. So that’s a quite a journey for me,” Thayer says.
“Ace Frehley was obviously a real important part of the band when they started, very beloved. To replace somebody like that you’re filling big shoes, so it takes time for people to get used to me. At this point I don’t really feel nervous anymore. I actually embrace going out and kicking ass.”
KISS tour arenas around Australia this November. Their final Australian show has just been announced at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena on November 30. with tickets available via Ticketek.