Goodbye Kiss

His days of wearing cherry-red lipstick, clown-white face paint and a single black star around the right eye are numbered.

Paul Stanley, the guitar-smashing romantic icon of Kiss, is packing away the 7-inch platform boots and the glitter-and rhinestone-studded leotards. So are his three cohorts -- Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss -- as rock's best-known theatrical band is taking its last bows after 28 years. The group's farewell tour began this month in Phoenix and comes to Target Center in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

Amid smoke, fire and levitating stage platforms, the group hit the top in the '70s; the members splintered, stripped the makeup and carried on in the '80s; reunited and relived the glory days with fans -- the Kiss Army -- in the '90s. In the '00s, Kiss is leaving the road, but Stanley is far from wistful about the occasion.

"There is nothing in my life that is bittersweet," he said from Phoenix. "It's all good, all incredible and all gratifying."

While the likes of the Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Elton John have cried "retirement" only to return to the stage before your souvenir "Farewell Tour" T-shirt has worn out, Stanley is adamant that his band's current trek truly is a goodbye kiss.

"We're very clear that this is the end for us because we're much more than a rock band," said Stanley, 50. "In the truest sense, we're athletes, superheroes and a rock 'n' roll band all rolled into one. The incredible endurance level that it takes to do the show can only be done for so long.

"I would rather have people wonder why we're calling it quits now than at some point wondering why we don't," he said with a chuckle.

Headed to Hall of Fame?

Stanley does promise the eventual release of a box set chronicling the band's musical history. Kiss is second only to the Beatles among gold records awarded to rock bands -- credential enough, it would seem, to earn the group a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But Stanley is ambivalent about the idea of enshrinement. After all, critics largely dismissed Kiss early on; the band inexorably spoke of seeking approval only from the fans (most of whom pledged their allegiance as kids).

"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a big mystery to me," he said. "It's basically my idea of smoke-filled, backroom politics. As far as I'm concerned, 30 albums at the local music store is the only Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I need to be in."

The original foursome formed in New York City in 1972, with the aim of blending the archetypal rock band format of the Beatles with the monster-movie theatrics of Alice Cooper.

In concert, pyrotechnics and elaborate stages became as integral to the group's image as the songs -- simple pop-minded nuggets that meld glam, hard rock and heavy metal. By 1977, the Gallup Poll pronounced Kiss the most popular rock act among young Americans.

But friction grew between the business-minded pair of Stanley and Simmons and their partners, the less-dedicated, hard-partying Criss and Frehley. Criss left the band in 1980, followed by Frehley in 1982. Starting in 1983, with various hired hands filling the empty slots, Stanley and Simmons kept Kiss alive without makeup, and with a relatively stripped-down stage show.

A reunion finally materialized at a 1995 taping of "MTV Unplugged," and the original lineup soon took to the road -- in makeup and costumes -- for a tour that beat all other acts at the box office in 1996-97.

One more road trip

For 1998, Kiss released "Psycho Circus," the first studio album by the original lineup in nearly 20 years. The tour that followed failed to match the success of the reunion tour.

Stanley likes to philosophize, especially about his band. "Kiss is about celebrating life," he said. "Life can be such a positive. It has the potential to take us so far beyond where we start. That's the basis of what Kiss is and what we sing about.

"We're four average guys from New York City who never believed that we were the greatest musicians, but we played honestly and sang honestly, and have never thought of the word entertainment as a slur or a curse."

Given that outlook, Stanley's foray into musical theater isn't entirely out of character. He starred last year in the Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." Much like his work with Kiss, he underwent lengthy makeup application and sang big, bombastic songs. He's been offered roles on Broadway, including "Phantom," and says that's where he'll be once he steps out of his platform boots for the last time.

"I can't think too much of the last show because the party's still in full swing," Stanley said. "If you spend too much time thinking about the future, it means you're not enjoying the present.

"And I'm going to suck in and savor every moment."