TOKYO -- He still has all the old gimmicks - the bat wings, the leather everything, the fire breathing, the blood spitting. And, yes, his tongue is still usually found dangling somewhere down around the end of his chin.
Gene Simmons and the boys of Kiss - the poster band of 1970s glam rock - are back.
OK. Stop. That's not completely true.
Simmons is back. So is front-man Paul Stanley. But if you look closely, very closely, it's possible to notice that the cat guy playing the drums and the silvery spaceman guitarist aren't Kiss originals Peter Criss and Ace Frehley.
So, technically, Kiss is only kind of back. But never mind, says Stanley. Kiss is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
"What we have built over the past 30 years are four icons. They're bigger than any one of us," he told The Associated Press backstage before playing a not-quite sold-out performance at Tokyo's Budokan arena.
Led by Simmons and Stanley, and joined by guitarist Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer on drums, the revamped band is on a tour that has already taken them through Australia and Japan. Next up is San Antonio, Texas on June 10, where they will begin the "Rock the Nation" tour, an ambitious series of dates at arenas across the United States.
For those who remember the band circa 1978, it's a familiar show.
The pyrotechnics are as flashy as ever, and the set list is heavily laden with such Kiss classics as "Rock And Roll All Night," "Love Gun" and "I Was Made For Loving You." Stanley bares his chest, preens and sometimes flies. And Simmons, wrapped in his trademark bat wings, is still stuck in the oral stage of development.
To keep the vintage Kiss image intact, the two newcomers have been carefully coifed and grease-painted to fill the cat and spaceman roles of their predecessors. Completing the Kiss menagerie, Stanley is a starchild and Simmons a bat-demon.
"Kiss is these four images," Stanley said. "This is what we built. We're not going to change."
"We've never considered a change," agreed Singer.
Change, however, is what has kept Kiss going.
Two years ago, Stanley said, the band was sputtering. Ready to call it quits, they embarked on a farewell tour.
"We thought that we had done it," he said. "We thought that we were finished. But then we went home, and after 2 million people said, 'Don't go,' we decided that maybe what we needed to do was change some of what was going on inside the band."
Meaning replace Frehley and Criss - a decision that hasn't sat well with the two ousted musicians and many of their devoted fans.
But Simmons, 54, and Stanley, 52, don't entertain any second guessing.
"You start your band, and you can call the shots," Simmons said. "We've got it figured out. We've got 30 years of history."
"With Kiss we have a bench, like a sports team," Stanley added, noting that Thayer and Singer had been associated with the band for years. "We go, 'You, you're in."'
Thanks largely to Simmons' business savvy and outlandish antics, and Stanley's expertise as a spokesman-promoter, the band has compiled some pretty impressive stats over the past three decades.
According to their Web site, Kiss has played 3,500 concerts to a combined audience of 78 million. In the process, they've smashed 3,400 guitars, used up 4,362 gallons of fake blood and worn "enough platform boots stacked end to end to circle the globe."
In Tokyo, fans ranged from small children to near-retirement die-hards, dozens of whom came in full Kiss makeup and regalia.
"This is our world," Simmons said. "These are our people."
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