Recently KISS co-founder and bassist Gene Simmons and former KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley have been reconnecting at some of Gene Simmons' Vault Experiences. Before that they reunited onstage for the first time in 16 years during a charity concert in St. Paul, MN. This came about a year after the band's other co-founder Paul Stanley made an appearance on Frehley's last solo album (an album of cover songs....more on that later) along with a music video in support of that song. So once again the rumor mill has started talking about Frehley returning to KISS...again. Interestingly enough, Frehley is also fueling these rumors by saying that he would be up for another run with the band but that nothing has been discussed yet.
Please God, make it stop!
Here are my three reasons to oppose what I know is probably the inevitable:
1) KISS is NOT a Cover Band!
I saw the current KISS line up perform in Phoenix during the Sonic Boom tour and they were awesome! It was one of the best KISS shows I ever saw and since then I have given a nod to current lead guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer who perform every night knowing that many fans in the KISS Army despise them taking Frehley and original drummer Peter Criss' spot both musically and in terms of their characters. No pressure at all, right? Such an idea is ridiculous because no one called KISS a cover band when they took off their make up and had the late Eric Carr on drums as Criss' first replacement and a string of replacements for Frehley in the 80's. Yet, somehow having replacement members wear the make up and costumes designed by two original members make KISS a cover band even though the two founding members are still leading the group (keep in mind that their set lists features songs mostly written by Stanley and Simmons so again, how is this a cover band when you're playing your own material?). That and of course the fact that both Frehley and Criss had signed away the rights to their trademarked makeup to Stanley and Simmons who are the current owners of the KISS brand regardless of what Frehley says about leasing his makeup to the band. First of all, one simply has to look up the register of trademarks to see who is telling the truth in terms of who owns Frehley's makeup. Further, if Frehley is so disgusted by Thayer performing in his makeup why would he have given KISS permission to do this in the first place? And let's not forget that Frehley is also scheduled to be on KISS Kruise VIII later this year, which means that he'll be on the same boat as Thayer while he performs in Frehley's makeup. Come on people, this isn't complicated.
If any performing act is a cover band it's Ace Frehley's solo band. Take a look at his set list the night before he reunited with Gene Simmons: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/ace-frehley/2017/the-ardmore-music-hall-ardmore-pa-53e217b1.html About half of the songs are KISS songs along with cover songs from other bands with the best KISS songs on the set being ones he didn't sing or write. Wow, I thought Ace left KISS both times because the success of his 1978 solo album showed him how much the band was holding him back in terms of what he could do musically. But this is nothing new because in so many ways Ace has had a cover band for years. In Criss' biography he talked about touring with Ace in 1995 and actually criticized Frehley for performing 80 percent KISS songs in his set while Criss focused on performing his most recent solo material. (p. 270 of Makeup to Break Up: My Life In and Out of KISS). Again, where was the break out solo musician that was now free to show the world what he was made of? Mind you, his two biggest solo hits were written by Russ Ballard with the biggest hit of all being, you guessed it, a cover song (New York Groove)!
Of course it's not just hardcore KISS fans who accuse the current lineup of being a cover band. Dee Snider and Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister also accused them of such but many don't know a dirty little secret: Twisted Sister actually opened for this same cover band at a gig in Mexico: http://bravewords.com/news/kiss-twisted-sister-and-lamb-of-god-to-headline-corona-northside-rock-park-meeting-fest-in-november-2016 It sure is funny how people reevaluate their view of this cover band when they have a shot at a good gig with a good payday. Then again, that might be why Twisted Sister called it a career because it must not feel too good when your band was once in high rotation on MTV and then are reduced to open for a cover band in Mexico.
2) The Full Original Lineup?
People seem to forget that Singer first donned Criss' cat make up when he helped the band finish the Farewell Tour while Frehley was still a member of KISS. Of course many people (most notably Frehley's good buddy Eddie Trunk who is the most notable of persons calling today's KISS a cover band while now politicking to get Frehley back in the band since Frehley seems to talk about it more and more) point to the fact that Ace continued with the tour because he was still under contract (Trunk is consistent with that assumption because he has said it on his radio show and gave me the same answer via email). Fair enough, but then when Criss returned to the fold a couple of years later it was when Thayer officially replaced Frehley as the spaceman with Criss not having a problem sharing the stage with this so called imposter who now wore his buddy's make up and stage outfit. Of course Criss didn't make such claims at that time since he had another shot at being in the band while most importantly, making that KISS money. And when I challenged Eddie Trunk on this issue that was the one email that never got answered. Hmmmmm......Then again, Criss did say in his book that he returned to the band the first time because he wanted to make enough money to retire (p. 274). I guess another round of KISS money doesn't hurt since he recently said that he and his wife are building a new home on the water as we speak. Perhaps this why Frehley wants another run with the band because he is living in San Diego now and perhaps would like to do the same thing Criss is doing in terms of building a home on the water. Of course, such facts mean nothing to those hardcore KISS fans who swear that only Simmons and Stanley are about the money.
The reason why I bring this up is because Criss has retired from touring with many saying that he is done performing for good. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7833992/peter-criss-founding-drummer-with-kiss-is-retiring-from-touring So if Frehley does return to KISS who is going to play drums? Is it going to be Singer in Criss' makeup? Even if he wore say Carr's makeup is he still not an imposter since he would be wearing the make up design and stage outfit of a character that he did not create? Or, he could always wear Vinnie Vincent's make up because that was in fact designed by Stanley. But still, it's not the original lineup so I am guessing that the hardcore fans who can't let the 70's go would still insist that it's not the real KISS! But what if they performed without makeup or costumes? Would that make a difference? Maybe because the makeup seems to be the only thing that matters to such fans. On a funny note, it they didn't perform with makeup maybe Singer can go back to being a blond. But still, it's not the original lineup so is it in fact the real KISS?
3) It's More Than Frehley's Sobriety
The original KISS had a magic that cannot be duplicated. No one denies that and I am a still a big fan of that time period as well as other time periods and lineups. But most people who are fans of the original lineup have also never played in a band before and don't know what it's like to be in such a relationship. Even though Frehley's contract required him not to abuse substances during the Reunion Tour Criss has spoken openly about knowing that Frehley was bombed many times with him calling Frehley out on his irresponsible behavior. This was cited in Criss' biography (p. 293 & 316) as well as in Gene Simmons' book KISS and Makeup (p. 248 ). For some reason (probably money) Stanley and Simmons put up with that for 5 years and then Frehley decided to leave the band again. Aside from dealing with what appears to be Frehley's past sobriety issues (he claims to be sober now and if that is true then that is indeed great news) there are other issues that can be just as annoying for those working in a band together. There was Frehely's frequent tardiness to everything from rehearsals to performances, his crazy demands, him accusing Simmons and Stanley of lying about concert attendance because he doesn't know that an arena's capacity is X thousand but loses X thousand seats when a stage is set up....I mean, how does a business (yes, a rock band is a business) put up with such unprofessional and annoying behavior?
Being in a band is tough and being a pro musician myself I know how there are times when a member leaving the band is a good thing. It's not something that fans understand but until you're in that situation you just don't understand what I'm talking about. Trunk, the biggest critic of the current KISS lineup has worked in the music business for many years but to my knowledge has not been in a pro band before or even plays an instrument with any type of proficiency. If I am correct in my observation then I can safely say that even someone that close to our favorite rock stars, like many die hard fans who hate the current KISS lineup, does not know what it's like to be in a band when a member who causes problems is no longer there. There is a sense of freedom that one doesn't want to give up. Of course KISS isn't the only band that is willing to go through the struggle of bringing back such members for the money but I do know this much, if you can't trust the people you're in a band with then it is just not fun, regardless of how much money you make. Meanwhile, Simmons and Stanley have had a run of over 15 years of problem free touring with Singer and Thayer so again, what would anyone else do if they were in this position? And, it's not like the KISS brand isn't making any money these days.
Now let's address something that no one wants to talk about. Frehey's playing is not as good as he claims. It's obvious that his past substance abuse has done great harm to his body so that along with his age doesn't give him the ability to do the gig better than Thayer. I listened to his previous solo album Space Invader and it was absolutely horrible (Anomaly was slightly better only because I liked the song Space Bear)! I read the "stellar review" of the album given by Metal Sucks that was on the sticker placed on each CD and couldn't help but laugh. So, I decided to contact them in order to challenge them on such nonsense and did receive a reply where they admitted that the album was in fact horrible and that the review wasn't accurate (sounds like someone in the Frehley camp called in a favor). Is this why his latest album is a collection of cover songs and re-records of KISS classics that he wrote with him saying that there is another CD of more covers and re-records on the way? And if you listen to his solos on Space Invader they are nothing more than a rehash of the same old licks we have heard for years with a lot of them not sounding as good as they did in the past. For me this was sad because I love the work he did on the first Frehley's Comet album as well as Trouble Walkin' but I guess this is another example of what happens when you are busy partying your life away.
Also, the current KISS lineup performs songs from all eras and let's face it, Frehley doesn't have and never had the ability to play solos done by his replacements as they used techniques that were common for their musical eras. Why do you think the band only played songs like Lick It Up, Heaven's on Fire and I Love it Loud on the Farewell Tour? Those songs don't have any real solos! Then when Stanley did an excerpt of I Still Love You he did it on his own even though it has a blues based solo. Why? Because Frehley can't play it! Aside from that, imagine Frehley trying to play the solo to Crazy, Crazy Nights, Unholy, Tears are Falling, etc. with each of these songs being featured on recent KISS tours. Sorry folks, it's not happening and Frehley needs to be honest with himself because the truth is, he can't blow Thayer off the stage http://ultimateclassicrock.com/ace-frehley-tommy-thayer/ because his "guitar tutor" prior to the Reunion Tour plays leads from every era of KISStory...and plays them very well! But he will never admit that because as even Criss admits in his book that Frehley has an ego comparable to Simmons (Criss p. 293). So if Frehley does return to KISS it will be a set list of old songs like they did on the Reunion Tour.
The word on the street is that KISS is going to retire soon http://tonedeaf.com.au/kiss-going-retire-soon-gene-simmons-planning-farewell-party/and that they have a big surprise for the fans. Some speculate that this surprise might include bringing Frehley back for the fans. I'm not so sure of that because I can't see Simmons and Stanley pushing Thayer aside for one member. Perhaps both Thayer and Singer if they could get Criss to come along as well but that's doubtful as Criss' age more or less tells us that he can't handle the demands of a full production KISS show along with the schedule that KISS demands. After all, he had physical issues during the Reunion Tour and that was over 20 years ago. Now that he's in his 70's....
If I am wrong then it is because bringing in a lesser than Thayer guitarist will work financially speaking because as Stanley has said on more than one occasion, "People listen with their eyes." If that's the case then I say this to those who choose to attend such performances to enjoy it and that there will be an extra seat because I won't be there. Make sure you're caught up in the emotion of the moment because that will be the thing that carries you through the performance because even during the Reunion Tour, there were many moments when Frehley showed that he wasn't the guitarist he was back in the day. Why do you think the band put out a chronicle of the tour when they released the Second Coming home video instead of a complete concert? Well, for those who dare to know, watch the concert footage of the original lineup on the KISS Anthology III DVD set, which came out many years after Second Coming and that will give you the answer. You will see a distinct difference between the musicianship of some members at that time compared to their abilities on KISS Anthology I, which featured footage from the 70's. A big difference!
I am not saying all of this out of malice towards Frehley because I love many of the KISS songs he wrote as well as many of his solo songs from the 80's. But the proof is in the pudding and he is just not what he used to be. What I find most interesting about KISS fans when it comes to Frehley's playing is that he is the one member that they are the least honest about. For example, no one has a problem stating that Criss in his 50's wasn't the same drummer during the Reunion Tour and onward that he was back when he was still in his 30's during the early days of the band. Not to say that he played bad but he didn't have the same power and drive that he had when he was younger. These same fans certainly hear and comment on the condition of Stanley's voice now with Stanley himself addressing the issue more than once publicly. When will Frehley do the same about his playing and just as important, when will KISS fans do the same when it comes to what they see and hear in Frehley's playing?
In other words, at least on a musical, professional and personal level it just doesn't make sense to bring Frehley back. But when it comes to KISS, it's all about the money so I guess it's likely that we'll see Frehley back in the band real soon. If it were up to me the surprise on a final tour would be to bring back Frehley, Criss, Vincent and Kulick and celebrate the history of the entire band by giving them all spots during each show. After all, the real fans are the ones who didn't jump ship just because the band looked and sounded a bit different from the early days.