By Andrew Leahey
Friday night marks the official launch of Kiss' summer tour, a mammoth cross-country jaunt in support of the band's upcoming album, "Monster."
Talk to a local veteran, however, and he'll tell you that the real tour started on Thursday evening, when Kiss staged a private show for 1,600 members of the U.S. military.
"We owe so much to the brave men and women who voluntarily put on that uniform and go to places where people don't like them," Gene Simmons explained earlier this week, several hours before he and his three band mates — Paul Stanley, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer — paid a visit to patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"The vets that we've met never ask for praise, glory or money," he added. "They just want to re-enter society and get a job. We do these all-vet shows to show our appreciation, because what they do for us is beyond comprehension."
Kiss have a long history of paying tribute to vets on both sides of the Atlantic. Earlier this summer, the guys staged a small show in London to benefit the British troops, and their 2011 tour featured a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance during each concert.
"We used to stop every single show in the middle," Mr. Simmons remembered, "and hoist the Stars and Stripes before saying the Pledge of Allegiance, right there in the middle of the concert. Very cornball, very not cool, but I don't care. Sometimes, you gotta flush cool down the toilet and just arch your back and stand proudly, realizing that you're living in the greatest country on the face of the planet."
For the upcoming tour, the band has some additional tricks up its sleeve. For starters, Motley Crue will co-headline every show. The two groups have been friends since 1982, back when Kiss handpicked a relatively unknown Motley Crue as the opening act for the "Creatures of the Night" tour.
"They were loud, proud kids from the street, which was exactly what we wanted," Mr. Simmons recalled. "You want the opening act to come up there and challenge you. What's the use of being the world champion boxer if the guy who's in the ring with you isn't gonna give you a run for your money?"
"If they challenge you," he continued, "it makes you a better fighter, and it makes for a better fight. That's why we take great pride in the bands we've brought on tour with us. They're always able to stand on their own two legs ... and then we come out and crush them."
To crush Motley Crue's elaborate stage show, Kiss will fill their own performances with "more firepower than most Third World countries." Fans can also expect plenty of pyrotechnics and Kiss classics, as well as the new single "Hell or Hallelujah."
"With all due respect to everyone else," Mr. Simmons said, "when you see fireworks going off at a McCartney show, where do you think he got that from? Gerry and the Pacemakers? We are the masters of bells and whistles, and we are going to leave the audience exhausted at the end of every show."
Being a member of Kiss sounds a little exhausting in its own right. Before every performance, the guys spend an average of two hours in the dressing room, applying makeup and strapping 45 pounds of armored costumery onto their bodies. Once showtime hits, they move around the stage on 8-inch platform shoes.
"If that's not enough," added Mr. Simmons, "I fly up to the top of the light system at the speed of eight feet per second, Paul flies over to the soundboard over the heads of the audience, Tommy levitates up into the air, Eric's entire drum kit levitates up into the air, and that doesn't count the entire band's descent from the heavens before the first song even begins.
"It's physically exhausting, but I'll tell you, there's nothing as satisfying. Because when you see that you're not the only one who's drenched in sweat — that the audience is just as wiped out as you — there's something else happening beyond the usual, 'OK, this is my next song.' "