KISS And Tell

From: The Province via Steve Araki

by: Tom Harrison, Music Critic The Province

A witch sits bored and cross-legged in the shade, smoking a cigarette and watching as a fur-covered Viking doffs his horns and crosses the parking lot in search of relief from the afternoon heat.

Not far from the witch is a trapeze artist in black tights, a dancer with hair dyed redder than her dress, a ghoul and a zombie. Someone with a two-way radio and a headset is trying to find the bride of Frankenstein.

Usually, it's assumed that these creatures only come out at night but today they are massed at The Rage nightclub on the Plaza of Nations as extras in the shooting of an episode of Millennium in which the guest stars are the members of KISS.

This also explains the small dispatch from the KISS army that has gathered at the side entrance to The Rage, records and other memorabilia to be autographed in hand, who add that little extra soupcon of surrealism to the scene.

For Paul Stanley, one fourth of KISS, this is as it should be.

"Doing Millennium was a natural for us," he says. "It's a show that bridges the boundaries of fantasy and reality, which is what we do."

Stanley says this while wearing his full KISS kit: The black-and-silver platform boots, spangled tights, studded belt (which he quickly hands off to an assistant), coal-chute hair and white greasepaint with the black starred eye and red, Kewpie doll lip gloss.

As he paces up and down the narrow alley between a row of production trailers, the platform boots let him tower over a stream of extras, Millennium crew and the band's aides.

"We find it boring to be confined to the limitations of other rock bands," he states the KISS company line as drummer Peter Criss walks past him, still wearing his catman's makeup but decidedly cutting a less majestic profile in a dressing gown and myth-reducing sensible shoes.

"We believe in pushing the envelope that much further at every opportunity," Stanley continues as a pair of blood-spattered security guards, one with his throat slit, stride by.

"Our biggest rival is ourselves, our history. The limitations of being a rock band aren't our limitations."

This is just another expression of the Psycho Circus, the new KISS album that marks the reunion in the studio of the four key members of the band: Stanley, Criss, Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley.

Not only is it the inevitable next step from KISS's triumphant reunion tour, the top grossing roadshow by a single act of 1996-97, but it is also the perfect opportunity for the band to explore its own mythology and relationship to its KISS army, the fans, which the band does with the album's title track and songs such as You Wanted the Best, Raise Your Glasses and others.

The Millennium episode fits the Psycho Circus theme and the band's own marketing strategy almost symbiotically.

The plot involves Halloween night on the set of a low-budget horror movie and the search for a serial killer by Millennium's Frank Black (Lance Henriksen).

The show, which airs Friday, Oct. 30, likewise neatly sets up the launch of the Psycho Circus tour Halloween night at L.A.'s Dodger Stadium.

As Stanley acknowledges, the TV exposure is an ideal opportunity for the four members of the band to restate their characters in the band prior to the tour.

Psycho Circus was released Sept. 22nd and entered the Canadian sales chart at No.1. Produced in L.A. by Vancouver's Bruce Fairbairn, it shows off aspects of the band's songwriting that haven't been heard since the Bob Ezrin-produced fan favourite Destroyer of 22 years ago.

"That was the beauty of Destroyer, another album produced by a Canuck," Stanley figures.

"The idea of being a 'hard rock' band could be terribly stifling. It's easy to write songs but it's hard to write great ones. I wanted the writing to pick up where we left off with Destroyer."

With all four members having a different perspective on what constitutes a KISS album, Fairbairn's job became one of filtering these different, headstrong opinions into a cohesive whole.

Having made 30 albums in its 25-year history, Stanley and Simmons, with Criss and Frehley now back in the ring, were not looking for a go-fer but an equal when they went to Fairbairn.

"We've sold 80 million records so we must be doing something right," says Stanley.

"When you're in a band that has sold as many records as we have and has made as many records as we have, you're not looking for a Svengali.

"Before we give in to someone, we have to present our point of view and they have to prove their point of view."


The KISS Psycho Circus evidently has a board room.

In addition to its guest spot on Millennium the day before the group kicks off its latest tour at Dodger Stadium, KISS can be seen on Mad TV in a comedy segment that, holy love guns, will air on the Fox Network only minutes before the band hits the stage in L.A.

- Next year, the foursome also will be the central figures in a coming-of-age movie that KISS is co-producing, Detroit Rock City.

Set in 1978 and titled after one of the best-known songs from the Destroyer album, the film chronicles the attempt of four teenagers to get into a sold-out KISS concert.

The date is appropriate, as KISS starred in its first movie that year: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

- The latest first, however, is another example of the group's marketing genius. The band has signed on with Brilliant Digital Entertainment and Intel to be the first rock act to star in the first interactive multipath music video.

When a soldier in the KISS army listens to the audio, he'll also be able to manipulate the plot line and the action on his video monitor.