9 p.m. Saturday
Although KISS minted gold and platinum albums like the devil's alchemist in the 1970s, releasing multiple live and studio projects in a single year, the band notched a No. 1 on the Billboard album charts for the first time this year with Sonic Boom, its first studio project in 11 years. Since putting the makeup back on, the band has managed to be both ageless and ironic at the same time.
KISS coined a steady stream of albums through the late 1990s, including during the unmasked years. But what made the band was the spectacle: the makeup, the tongue, the pyrotechnics. KISS ushered in the era of the arena show, and took a by-any-marketing-means-necessary approach to promotion if not also music (Double Platinum included a remix of "Strutter '78," which flirted with disco). There were years the band seemed most concerned with moving posters and other merchandise if not records. That drive never faded, even as two new members put on the face paint. (Original drummer Peter Criss' cat-themed makeup is allegedly inspired by a tough early life, referencing a cat's allotted nine lives. He used up another last year when he announced that he had survived breast cancer.) Appearing on American Idol this year brought no worries of selling out, at least in an artistic sense.
KISS is now suitable for Wal-mart, where there is a full line of KISS Halloween costumes. But the band has always worked to keep shelves packed with product, endlessly releasing new compilation albums full of remixes. Even 1978's landmark Double Platinum (which is hard to say without hearing the gruffly serious tones of a VH1 Behind the Music voiceover) was a greatest hits compilation by a then nearly 5-year-old band.
During the 1970s when people were playing Led Zeppelin songs backward to find hidden satanic messages, Gene Simmons went on TV talk shows describing himself as "evil incarnate," which only works if you think money is the root of all evil. KISS' hard rock was never as hard as Zeppelin. Its look was less horrific than Alice Cooper's, with whom they shared a producer for Destroyer, but glam enough to set the stage for later waves of showy 1980s rock. KISS doled out a lot of lip service to hedonism, Satanism, harder rock and even incipient heavy metal, but its sound never strayed as far as the gimmicks teased. But the live albums constituted its best work, proving the band's got more going for it than just a bunch of pretty faces. — Will Coviello