Expect serious firepower when KISS take to the stage in SA, says singer Gene Simmons

The End of the Road World Tour marks the last hurrah for the legendary rock band — and they're going to make every show count

12 January 2020 - 00:00 By
Gene Simmons on stage last year in Norway.
Gene Simmons on stage last year in Norway.
Image: Rune Hellestad/Getty Images

It's an unusual day in Beverly Hills when Gene Simmons answers the phone to talk about KISS's final tour and their first and probably only visit to South Africa.

"It hardly ever rains here — in fact there was a song, It Never Rains in Southern California, a big, big number-one song, long before you were born — but today it's raining," says the bassist and singer and only permanent member, together with childhood friend and lead singer Paul Stanley of the band who for almost five decades have travelled the world and played their signature mix of hard, foot-stomping, guitar-heavy, party-anthem rock to millions of devoted members of the notoriously loyal KISS Army. 

You have to imagine that thousands of miles away in California, the 70-year-old Simmons is not dressed in his trademark superhero-style armour, black and white demon face paint or spitting blood and sticking out his preternaturally long tongue. But that's only because he's enjoying a hiatus during what he assures me will be the band's very last, definitely end of the road tour.

As Simmons points out in his velvety drawl, this is, "The longest tour we've ever done - it'll be three years by the time we're done. We've also been out there doing 100 cities around the world and we've just added 150 to 200 cities but we will be done touring for all time in July of 2021."

While KISS have played a number of tours they've claimed were their final hurrah, this time Simmons promises it's for real.

"You've gotta remember," he says, "for almost five decades we've been introducing ourselves with: 'You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world — KISS!' On the day we think those words aren't going to be true — get off the goddam stage."

Before they do, though, KISS are heading to South Africa, a country that Simmons says he's ashamed to say he hasn't visited. However, he points out that he and the band have always been great fans of the multiculturalism: "And of course Mr Mandela and the wonderful and amazing story of how a country decided on its own what their future should be — it's really very inspirational.

"And you have the largest goddam Great Whites off your coast, so that's something."

KISS have built their fan base and their reputation on their live act, a spectacle borne out of Simmons' and Stanley's feeling that when they went to see their musical heroes in the flesh in the 1960s there was always something lacking.

"When we'd go to see them live there were no screens, there was no light show, and the farther back in the audience you were the more like stick figures they were on the stage.

"So from the first show we did — New Year's eve 1973 in New York City — I spit fire and people couldn't believe what they were seeing. And that's really the point. When you go to see a show you're paying much more for a live show that lasts two or three hours than you do for a download or an album ... if you're charging so much more for a concert why not give them bang for their buck?"

We have more firepower on that stage than most Third World countries. We shake the heavens when we play outdoors
Gene Simmons

Bang is very much part of the KISS experience, Simmons gleefully assures me.

"We have more firepower on that stage than most Third World countries. We shake the heavens when we play outdoors, where there are no restrictions on our pyrotechnics and how big our show effects can be. We warn local airports not to send low-flying planes over the stadiums because we can literally knock them out of the sky. In South Africa, as much as the fire department will allow us, we intend to jam-pack as much firepower as possible."

For Simmons, the over-the-topness that music fans take for granted as part of the live experience in the modern era are all the result of KISS pioneering of these elements.

"Our legacy — if I can verbalise it — is that we spoiled the fans because once you see KISS you're not going to be thrilled with the next band that comes up and strums a guitar — it's not enough. We've raised the stakes and we've raised the expectations."

Famous for his sexual conquests during the height of KISS' success, Simmons has never been a drinker or drug user.

"I believe that unless they were going to make your schmekel bigger or make you smarter or be able to run the mile faster or say clever things there's no point."

He still remembers almost every moment of his decades-long career and says he has no regrets about the past.

"I made good decisions and I know what it will say on my tombstone. It'll simply say: 'Thank you and good night'."

• KISS will play one night only at The TicketPro Dome in Joburg on July 25 as part of their End of the Road World Tour. Tickets from Big Concerts.