Pinch me (no, not you, Gene), I must be dreaming: backstage with KISS
Thirty minutes into a conference call on the road, I had to break into the conversation to beg off: “I am so sorry to interrupt, but I’m just about to jump in an elevator to go downstairs to interview KISS.” Some people wait a lifetime to say something that cool. But at Franchise Times, that’s just how we roll. And rock.
I was in Oklahoma at WinStar World Casino, an hour north of Dallas. The previous night I had toured the 10,000-square-foot Rock & Brews in Plano. KISS’s frontmen, Paul Stanley (above left) and Gene Simmons (with guitar, right photo), are two of the partners in the rock-themed chain of large-format restaurants.
I had met Gene, five years ago, when he let me ride in his truck and tour his home, but I had never met Paul. A lot has happened to the brand in five years. But for that story, you’ll have to wait a couple of issues. This is my backstage groupie tale.
To look at me, one would think I am into heavy metal. But in reality, I am more pop. When I was a runner, I would put together playlists, and my tune selection made me run slower. Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen don’t deliver that motivating upbeat tempo real runners crave, and their depressing lyrics make even your endorphins want to slit their wrists.
I am like Gene Simmons’ mother who used to ask him, “So, how’s the orchestra?” to which he’d reply, “The band’s fine, Ma.” (Just so you don’t think I was the wrong reporter to send, I do know KISS’s body of work, I just had never seen them perform live.)
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PR Maven Terry Wills and Michael Zislis, the culinary and business force behind Rock & Brews, flew in from L.A. and met me at the airport. After a pitstop at the restaurant, we picked up the new CEO Michael Sullivan and headed to WinStar, where KISS was performing the next day. After a good night’s sleep, we hung around the green room while the band got ready for their acoustical set sans make-up. This is a special perk for super fans who pay big bucks for access to the band before the concert.
Gene, ever the gent, walked me down the aisle like a bride and then Paul grabbed my hand and pulled me through the pulsating crowd to place me front and center. I tried to look like I had been there before. After the set, fans lined up and the musicians worked the line from opposite ends, signing autographs and posing for selfies. After makeup, they have another photo session with fans. The band and the fans definitely have a mutual admiration society.
At 9 the lights glared, the music blared and the crowd rose as one to its feet. I marveled that Gene’s make-up included reddening his famous tongue, which we saw a lot of during the show. It’s physical work, and Paul looked pretty darn good in his crop top—a look not many 60+ year-old men can pull off so gracefully.
I was transported back to my youth, until the confetti rained down from the ceiling. All I could think about was the amount of work for the clean-up crew. I’m getting older, why isn’t KISS?