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Gene Simmons on Kiss’ New Las Vegas Residency, How to Tour During a Pandemic

Kiss are returning to Las Vegas. The grease-painted, high-heeled rock band announced 12 shows at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino’s Zappos Theater beginning December 29th. Along with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day performances, the Kiss residency will run into February.

“You do have to take a moment to breathe, but somewhere in there we’re going to do a bunch of shows,” Gene Simmons, the band’s 71-year-old co-founder and bassist, tells Rolling Stone.

This marks Kiss’ first Vegas showroom residency since a 2014 engagement at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Tickets for the 12 concerts go on sale to the general public on August 20th, with a Kiss Army fan club presale set for August 17th.

Along with the residency announcement, Kiss are gearing up to resume their End of the Road World Tour this Wednesday in Mansfield, Massachusetts. We talked to Simmons about how Las Vegas could figure into the band’s future, what the pandemic means for Kiss’ VIP meet-and-greets, and why he’s encouraging fans to get Covid-19 vaccinations.

Rolling Stone: So what brought Kiss back to Las Vegas for another residency?
Gene Simmons: There are matters of the heart and then there are matters of the pocket and it’s nice when they both converge. So it’s a very nice payday. They pay well and that’s reason enough. But it’s also easier for the band because you don’t have the wear and tear of traveling.

What kind of production will the residency have? Is it scaled down or is it on par with the touring show?
The answer is yes to both, because when we play stadiums around the world, those shows are like Transformers. You can make them as big as you want. Kiss’s shows have been talked about for longer than you’ve been alive. Anything that’s got a roof on it, we have to scale back the pyro or we’ll blow the roof off, literally. But we are planning lots of surprises for Vegas, which nobody’s seen yet. We’re in the middle of putting that together.

After playing Dubai on New Year’s Eve and New York City in June for the Tribeca Film Festival, Kiss makes its official return to the road this week. How do you navigate touring during a pandemic?
I would highly recommend for everybody to get two Pfizer or Moderna shots, please — for the rest of us. Even if you believe the Earth is flat, it’s not. The former president… I knew the man before he ran for office. It was a crime for him to rip the mask off and take that stance and create that negative culture of distrust when he himself was vaccinated. The least he could do is say, “Hey, guys, I’ve been vaccinated because I don’t want to die. You may want to think about doing the same thing.” Nope, never talked about it. I think that’s highly unethical. So what do we do? The entire road crew must be vaccinated twice. Nobody gets backstage or onstage without wearing masks, and everybody stays at a safe distance and you’ve got to wash your hands and do everything else the CDC says. Don’t listen to politicians. They’re not qualified. Listen to scientists.

Speaking of keeping a safe distance, one of the hallmarks of the Kiss experience is the backstage VIP meet-and-greet. How do you continue to do that now?
Well, we’re not going to do it backstage. You can’t get near the stage or backstage without being fully vaccinated and wearing masks. We were thinking about Plexiglas enclosures and all that stuff and the closest we came to it that’s safe for the fans and the band is, we do soundchecks before the show. So why not invite the fans to be in the audience and answer questions, play tunes, just kind of hang out together, but at a safe distance. The closest they’re going to get to us is, oh, maybe 100 feet. So maybe it’s a new experience for the fans who can sort of see the reality, and see the stage for what it is without the lights doing tricks. And we can have the back and forth of, “Hey, why don’t you do ‘Hard Luck Woman’?” “OK, guys, remember the song? Let’s do it.”

So you’ll take requests?
Yeah, but you don’t want to do that [for the] whole [meet-and-greet]. Or they may have us doing “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies.

Some artists are requiring proof of vaccination for their audiences. Is that something that’s been discussed?
We have, and because the different states and different cities have different mandates, we can’t impose that. We’ve been thinking long and hard about that. There are folks in America who keep saying, “I’ve got my rights,” and we’re hoping that smart decisions on their end are going to lead to safer environments. But it bears noting about people who scream about rights: You do not have the right to go through a red light, even if you want to. You must stop, because it’s not about you, pal. It’s about the other cars that are coming the other way. You don’t want to endanger them. You don’t have the right to stand up in a movie theater and yell, “Fire!” You won’t get in trouble for saying, “Hey, fire!” in a movie theater if there’s a fire. But if you’re lying, that’s called incitement to riot. And that’s when you become an asshole.

Before the pandemic halted the tour, David Lee Roth was opening for Kiss. Now it’s the performance painter Garibaldi. So David is not back?
Not. But it bears noting that during Dave’s heyday, nobody did what he did. He was the ultimate frontman. Not Plant, not Rod Stewart, nobody. He took being a frontman way beyond anything. And then, I don’t know what happened to him… something. And you get modern-day Dave. I prefer to remember Elvis Presley in his prime. Sneering lips, back in Memphis, you know, doing all that. I don’t want to think of bloated naked Elvis on the bathroom floor.

You’ve talked in the past of one day replacing the members of Kiss, including yourself, and having the band carry on. It seems that a Las Vegas showroom would be ideal for that.
You’re pretty smart, you’re pretty smart…. We are the four most recognized faces on earth. I know to nonbelievers out there it sounds a bit like self-aggrandizement, but I offer the following: we know that Sweden is a monarchy, which means there’s a king and often a queen. But you and I, despite the fact that we’re well-read, have no idea what their names are or what they look like. Which is curious because everybody in Sweden knows what Kiss looks like.

So Vegas could be the type of place where Kiss starts that transition?
Already talking about it… The idea would be more than just music. Like most stage productions, there’s a story. So the Kiss show would certainly include a book, a story, a script.

And the band’s story and music can continue to be told and performed.
Simultaneously around the world.

Almost like a Broadway production?
Well, closer to Blue Man Group, with music.

You started painting during the pandemic and have an art showing in Vegas in October. Your bandmate Paul Stanley is an avid painter too. Do you both compare works?
Nope, not at all. I just told him, “Hey, pandemic’s here, I’m going to fool around. I’ve never done this before.” Paul’s studied it. He has a sense of what a paintbrush can do in this kind of stuff. I haven’t. On the other hand, I can’t read or write music, but I write songs. I can’t cook, but we have a restaurant chain, two at LAX, and across the country. I don’t know how engines work in a truck, but I can drive my truck.

One of the most polarizing of Kiss albums, Music From “The Elder,” turn 40 this fall. How do you view that record now?
I take full blame. It was based on a treatment, a semi-script that I wrote called The Elder. I was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel at that point and I wrote it on the Beverly Hills Hotel stationery. And when [producer] Bob Ezrin came back into the fold, he said, “What do you got there?” I said, “I’m developing this motion picture. It’s called The Elder,”…a mythological fantasy, which I’ve always been drawn to. And he said, “OK, we’re going to do a concept record and we’re going to write songs based on your various premises.” The decision was Bob Ezrin. And in hindsight, it was an interesting mistake. We all were sort of [thinking], “The Who are the threat, and they have Tommy? Why can’t we have The Elder! The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper. This will be ours.” Well, it wasn’t.

Well, good luck back on the road and with the residency, Gene.
I’m also thinking about a new religion called Kiss-tianity. What do you think?

Sounds good. Who is the Christ figure?
Without being crucified, I’ll take the job — because it’s all tax-free income.

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