Kiss (often stylized as KIϟϟ) is an American rock band formed in New York City in January 1973 by Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley. Well known for its members' face paint and stage outfits, the group rose to prominence in the mid-to-late 1970s with their elaborate live performances, which featured fire breathing, blood-spitting, smoking guitars, shooting rockets, levitating drum kits, and pyrotechnics. The band has gone through several lineup changes, with Stanley and Simmons being the only members to feature in every lineup. The original and best-known lineup consisted of Stanley (vocals and rhythm guitar), Simmons (vocals and bass), Frehley (lead guitar and vocals), and Criss (drums and vocals).
With their make-up and costumes, they took on the personae of comic book-style characters: the Starchild (Stanley), the Demon (Simmons), the Spaceman or Space Ace (Frehley), and the Catman (Criss). Due to creative differences, both Criss and Frehley had departed the group by 1982.
In 1983, Kiss began performing without makeup and costumes, thus marking the beginning of the band's "unmasked" era that would last for the next decade. They accordingly experienced a commercial resurgence, with the platinum certified album Lick It Up successfully introducing them to a new generation of fans, and their music videos received regular airplay on MTV. Eric Carr, who had replaced Criss in 1980, died in 1991 of heart cancer and was replaced by Eric Singer. In response to a wave of Kiss nostalgia in the mid-1990s, the original lineup re-united in 1996, which also saw the return of their makeup and stage costumes. The resulting Alive/Worldwide Tour was highly successful, grossing $143.7 million, making it their most successful tour to date. Criss and Frehley have both since left the band again and have been replaced by Singer and Tommy Thayer. The band has continued with their original stage makeup, with Singer and Thayer using the original Catman and Spaceman makeup, respectively. In September 2018, Kiss announced that, after 45 years of recording and performing, they would be embarking on their final tour, The End of the Road World Tour, in 2019, with the final show confirmed for July 17, 2021 in New York City where the band formed back in 1973, with additional shows added.
Kiss is one of the best-selling bands of all time, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide, including 25 million RIAA-certified albums. Kiss also holds the title as America's #1 Gold record award-winning group of all time, having earned 30 Gold albums. Kiss has 14 Platinum albums, with three albums being multi-Platinum. On April 10, 2014, the four original members of Kiss were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kiss was ranked by MTV as the ninth "Greatest Metal Band of All Time", and placed tenth on VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock" list, as well as being ranked as the third "Best Metal and Hard Rock Live Band of All Time" by Loudwire.
Kiss trace their roots to Wicked Lester, a New York City-based rock band led by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. They recorded one album, which was shelved by Epic Records, and played a handful of live shows. Simmons and Stanley, feeling a new musical direction was needed, abandoned Wicked Lester in 1972 and began forming a new group.
After abandoning the name Wicked Lester late in 1972, Simmons and Stanley came across an ad in the East Coast version of Rolling Stone placed by Peter Criss, a veteran drummer from the New York City scene who had previously played in the bands Lips and Chelsea. Simmons and Stanley met Criss in a nightclub where he was playing drums. After hearing Criss sing, they thought Criss should be in the new band they were forming. Criss then auditioned for, and later joined their new band. The trio focused on a much harder style of rock than what Wicked Lester played. They also began experimenting with their image, by wearing makeup and various outfits. In November 1972, the trio played a showcase for Epic Records A&R director Don Ellis, in an effort to secure a record deal. Although the performance went well, Ellis disliked the group's image and music.
In early January 1973, the group added lead guitarist Ace Frehley. Frehley impressed the group with his first audition, although he showed up wearing two different colored sneakers, one red and one orange. A few weeks after Frehley joined, the classic lineup was solidified as the band to be named Kiss.
The Kiss logo
Stanley came up with the name while he, Simmons and Criss were driving around New York City. Criss mentioned that he had been in a band called Lips, so Stanley said something to the effect of "What about Kiss?" Frehley created the now-iconic logo, making the "SS" look like lightning bolts, when he went to write the new band name over "Wicked Lester" on a poster outside the club where they were going to play. (Some of Wicked Lester's artwork included one lightning bolt for the "S" in Lester.) Later, Stanley designed the logo with a Sharpie and a ruler and accidentally drew the two S's nonparallel because he did it "by eye." The art department asked him if he wanted it to be redrafted to be perfect and he said, "It got us this far, let's leave well enough alone. Our number one rule has always been no rules."
KISS logo used in Germany, Israel, and other countries that outlaw Nazi symbols.
The letters happened to look similar to the insignia of the NaziSS, a symbol that is outlawed in Germany by Section 86a of the German criminal code. However, Simmons and Stanley, both Jewish, have denied any intentional likeness to Nazi symbolism in the logo. Since 1979, most of the band's album covers and merchandise in Germany have used an alternate logo, in which the letters "SS" look like the letters "ZZ" backwards. This logo is also used in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary and Israel to avoid controversy.
The band's name has repeatedly been the subject of rumors pertaining to alleged hidden meanings. Among these rumors are claims that the name is an acronym for "Knights in Satan's Service", "Kinder SS", or "Kids in Satan's Service". Simmons has denied all of these claims.
The first Kiss performance was on January 30, 1973, for an audience of three at the Popcorn Club (renamed Coventry shortly afterward) in Queens. For the first three gigs, January 30 to February 1, they wore little to no makeup; the iconic makeup designs associated with Kiss made their debut during the March 9–10 shows at The Daisy in Amityville, New York. On March 13 of that year, the band recorded a five-song demo tape with producer Eddie Kramer. Former TV director Bill Aucoin, who had seen the group at a handful of showcase concerts in the summer of 1973, offered to become the band's manager in mid-October. Kiss agreed, with the condition that Aucoin sign the band to a record label within two weeks. On November 1, 1973, Kiss became the first act signed to former teen pop singer and Buddah Records executive Neil Bogart's new label, Casablanca Records.
The band entered Bell Sound Studios in New York City on October 10, 1973, to begin recording their first album. On December 31, the band had their official industry premiere at the Academy of Music in New York City, opening for Blue Öyster Cult. It was at this concert that Simmons accidentally set his hair (which was coated in hairspray) ablaze for the first of many times while performing his fire-breathing routine.
Despite the publicity and constant touring, Kiss initially sold just 75,000 copies. Meanwhile, the group and Casablanca Records were losing money quickly. The band (while touring) stopped in Los Angeles in August 1974 to begin recording their second album, Hotter Than Hell, which was released on October 22, 1974. The only single, "Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll", failed to chart, and the album stalled at No. 100.
With Hotter Than Hell quickly dropping off the charts, Kiss was pulled from their tour to quickly record a new album. Casablanca head Bogart stepped in to produce the next album, trading in the murky, distorted sound of Hotter Than Hell for a cleaner and slightly poppier sound. Dressed to Kill, released on March 19, 1975, fared slightly better commercially than Hotter Than Hell. It also contained what later became the band's signature song, "Rock and Roll All Nite".
Although Kiss albums had not proved to be big sellers, the band was quickly gaining a reputation for their live performances. Kiss concerts featured such spectacles as Simmons spitting "blood" (an effect made primarily from raw egg whites, strawberry syrup and red food coloring) and "breathing fire" (spitting flammable liquid at a torch), Frehley soloing as his guitar burst into flames (light and smoke bombs placed inside the guitar), Criss's elevating drum riser that emitted sparks, Stanley's Townshend-style guitar smashing, and pyrotechnics throughout the show.
By mid-1975, Casablanca was almost bankrupt, and Kiss was in danger of losing their record contract. Both parties desperately needed a commercial breakthrough if they were to survive. That breakthrough came in an unlikely form: a "double live" album.
Kiss wanted to express the excitement felt at their concerts (which their studio albums had so far failed to do) with their first live album. Compiled from May–July concerts in Detroit, Cleveland and Wildwood, NJ and released on September 10, 1975, Alive! achieved Gold status and spawned Kiss' first top 40 single: a live version of "Rock and Roll All Nite". It was the first version of the song with a guitar solo, and this recording has become the best-known version. It is also the basis of most covers, such as the cover by Poison in 1987. In recent years the band admitted that additional audience noise had been added to the album, as well as overdubs on select guitar and vocal spots, not to deceive fans, but to add more "excitement and realism" to the record.
The success of Alive! not only brought Kiss the breakthrough they had been seeking, but arguably saved Casablanca, which was close to bankruptcy. Following this success, Kiss partnered with producer Bob Ezrin, who had previously worked with Alice Cooper. The result was Destroyer (released March 15, 1976), Kiss's most musically ambitious studio album to date. Destroyer, with its rather intricate production (using an orchestra, choir, and numerous tape effects), was a departure from the raw sound of the first three studio albums. Album art was designed by Ken Kelly, who had drawn Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian and also produced album covers for acts such as Rainbow and Manowar. While the album sold well initially and became the group's second gold album, it quickly dropped down the charts. Only when the ballad "Beth", the B-side to the single "Detroit Rock City", began to gain more airplay on FM radio did the album's sales rebound. The single was subsequently reissued with the A and B-sides reversed. "Beth" peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its success led to an increase in sales for both the album (which achieved platinum status by the end of 1976) and concert tickets.
Two more highly successful studio albums were released in less than a year: Rock and Roll Over (November 11, 1976) and Love Gun (June 30, 1977). A second live album, Alive II, was released on October 14, 1977. All three albums were certified platinum soon after their release. Between 1976 and 1978, Kiss earned $17.7 million from record royalties and music publishing. A 1977 Gallup poll named Kiss the most popular band in America. In Japan, Kiss performed five sold-out shows at Tokyo's Budokan Hall, breaking the previous record of four held by the Beatles.
The first Kiss compilation album, Double Platinum, was issued on April 2, 1978. This double album included many remixed versions of their hits, as well as "Strutter '78", a re-recorded version of a song from the group's first album. At Bogart's request, this version of the song featured a disco influence.
During this period, Kiss merchandise became a substantial source of income for the group. Some of the products released included a pair of comic books issued by Marvel (the first contained ink mixed with actual blood donated by the group), a pinball machine, dolls, "Kiss Your Face Makeup" kits, Halloween masks, board games, lunchboxes, trading cards and many other pieces of memorabilia. Membership in the Kiss Army, the band's fan club, was in the six figures. Between 1977 and 1979, worldwide merchandise sales (in-store and on tour) reached an estimated $100 million.
1978: Solo and film projects
Frehley demonstrates the pyrotechnics that helped make Kiss a live sensation.
Criss performing in 1977
Kiss were at their commercial peak by 1978.Alive II was the band's fourth platinum album in just under two years, and the ensuing tour had the highest average attendance (13,550) in the group's history. In addition, Kiss' gross income for 1977 was $10.2 million. The group, along with manager Aucoin, sought to take the band to the next level of popularity. To that end, an ambitious, two-pronged strategy was devised for 1978.
The first part involved the simultaneous release of four solo albums from the members of Kiss. Although Kiss has claimed that the solo albums were intended to ease rising tensions within the band, their 1976 record contract did in fact call for four solo records, with each of them counting as half an album toward the group's five-record commitment. Each album was a solo effort (none of the group appeared on another's album), and were all released and marketed as Kiss albums (with similar cover art and poster inserts). It was the first time that all current members of a rock band had released solo albums on the same day.
The solo albums were released on September 18, 1978. Casablanca spent $2.5 million on the marketing campaign for the albums, and announced they were shipping five million copies, guaranteeing platinum status. Despite the large shipments, none of the albums sold particularly well and were later sold as cut-outs. Of the four, Frehley's album was the most successful, and spawned the only hit single, a cover of "New York Groove", written by Russ Ballard and originally performed by Hello.
The second part of Kiss' and Aucoin's plan called for the band to appear in a film that would cement their image as larger-than-life rock and roll superheroes. Filming commenced in the spring of 1978. Although the project was proposed to the band as a cross between A Hard Day's Night and Star Wars, the final result fell far short of those expectations. The script underwent numerous rewrites, and the band (particularly Criss and Frehley) grew increasingly frustrated with the filmmaking process.
The final product, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, debuted on NBC on October 28, 1978. It was released theatrically, after many changes, outside the U.S. in 1979 under the title Attack of the Phantoms. The band members were unhappy with the finished film, and would speak about their filmmaking experience in later interviews with a mix of humorous embarrassment and regret. They felt that the film portrayed them more as clowns than superheroes. The artistic failure of the film led to a rift between the band and Aucoin. It has been only sporadically available on home video; currently, a version of the film is available on the compilation DVD Kissology Volume Two: 1978–1991.
1979–1983: Final make-up years
Kiss' first album of new material in two years, Dynasty (May 22, 1979), continued its platinum streak. The disco-flavored "I Was Made for Lovin' You" became one of the band's biggest hit singles to date, peaking at No. 11. Session drummer Anton Fig did almost all the percussion on the album while Criss recovered from an automobile accident. The only song to feature Criss' drumming was "Dirty Livin'", on which he also sang lead.
Billed as "The Return of Kiss", the Dynasty Tour was expected by Kiss and their management to build on the success of previous tours. Plans were drawn up for a Kiss-themed traveling amusement park called "Kiss World", but were abandoned because of the immense costs involved; however, "The Return of Kiss" saw a marked decline in attendance.
The crowds on this tour were much younger than previous audiences had been, with many preadolescent children in Kiss make-up with their mothers and fathers (who were sometimes wearing the make-up themselves) in tow at most concerts. Kiss themselves did little to dissuade this new fan base, donning colorful costumes that reinforced a cartoonish image for these younger fans.
The fans were unaware of the dissension within the band. One very public indication of the heightened friction within the group was an infamous October 31, 1979, interview on Tom Snyder's late-night The Tomorrow Show. During the episode, a visibly irritated Simmons and Stanley attempted, unsuccessfully, to contain the inebriated Frehley, whose frequent laughter and joking overshadowed the conversation between Snyder and the rest of the band. Criss made references to his large gun collection, to the chagrin of Simmons.
By the end of the Dynasty tour in December 1979, tensions between Criss and the rest of the band were at an all-time high. His drumming skills had noticeably eroded, and he even intentionally slowed down—or stopped playing altogether—during some concerts. The final show of the tour (December 16, 1979) was the last time Criss performed with the group for almost 17 years, although he remained an official member for nearly six more months.
Session drummer Anton Fig played all the drums on the next album, Unmasked, although he was not credited, while Peter Criss appeared on the cover. Showcasing a slick, contemporary pop sound, Unmasked (released May 20, 1980) had the dubious distinction of being the first Kiss album since Dressed to Kill to not achieve platinum sales. Soon after the album's release, Criss' departure was officially announced. Anton Fig, considered a member of Kiss for one day following the departure of Criss, was then fired by Stanley and Simmons, who felt he was not a good fit for the band.
The band auditioned dozens of replacements for Criss in June 1980. One of the many who auditioned was Tico Torres (who would later be with Bon Jovi). They finally settled on a little-known drummer-guitarist-pianist-keyboardist-singer from Brooklyn named Paul Charles Caravello (born July 12, 1950) who adopted the stage name Eric Carr. His first make-up design was modeled on a hawk, though it was rejected as Stanley felt it looked more like a chicken. Carr ultimately settled on a "Fox" persona. In his Fox make-up, he was introduced on ABC's Kids Are People Too!, and debuted with the group on July 25, 1980, at the Palladium concert hall in New York City. This was Kiss's only U.S. show in support of Unmasked. The band's 1980 tour of Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, was one of the biggest in their history, as they played to sold-out crowds and received overwhelmingly positive press coverage.
For their next album, the band worked again with producer Ezrin, with whom Kiss had found success on Destroyer. Early press reports indicated that the new album would be a return to the hard rock style that had originally brought the band success. However, 1981's Music from "The Elder" was a concept album featuring medieval horns, strings, harps, and synthesizers.
The album was presented as a soundtrack to a film that was never made, making it difficult to follow the storyline. To make matters worse, having received negative feedback following their record company's preview of the album, Kiss altered the record's track sequence in most countries to emphasize potential singles "The Oath" and "A World Without Heroes", which all but guaranteed the inability of listeners to understand the already muddled storyline. Once released, fan reaction to The Elder was harsh; it failed to achieve gold status and peaked at No. 75 on the Billboard album chart.
Absent from the satellite performance was Frehley, who had become increasingly frustrated with Kiss' new musical direction. Upset with the band's decision to record Music from "The Elder", he did not actively participate in the album's creation, providing lead vocals for only one track, "Dark Light". He did not appear at a special concert at Studio 54 in New York City, leaving Kiss to perform as a trio. He recorded his guitar parts at his home studio in Wilton, Connecticut, and mailed them to Ezrin. Another source of frustration for Frehley was that with the departure of Criss, and with Carr not being an equal partner in the band, he was often outvoted 2-to-1 on group decisions. In June 1982, Frehley's departure from the band was negotiated, although he did not officially leave until December, and remained a business partner with Simmons and Stanley until 1985.
Soon after, Kiss made major changes to their business dealings – chief among them was severing ties with their manager of nine years, Bill Aucoin, and cutting back on their unwieldy organizational tree. Although Frehley had already decided to leave the band, he was pictured on the covers of 1982's Killers and Creatures of the Night, although he did not participate in the recording of either album.
Creatures of the Night (October 13, 1982) was Kiss' heaviest album to date, and although it fared better than Music from "The Elder", it peaked at only No. 45 on the charts and was not certified gold until 1994. In Frehley's absence, Kiss utilized a number of guitarists for the recording of the album, including Vinnie Vincent (born Vincent John Cusano on August 6, 1952).
Frehley's last appearance with the band (until the 1996 reunion) was in the music video for the single "I Love It Loud", which was co-written by Vincent. Frehley also appeared on the cover of the original Creatures of the Night album artwork. When the album was remixed and re-released in 1985 with a non-make-up cover and a slightly different song order, to reflect the band's roster change and abandonment of their make-up and costumes, Vincent was again absent from the album cover, as then-current lead guitarist, Bruce Kulick, appeared instead. The liner notes accompanying the remixed LP, however, credited both Frehley and Vincent with lead guitar performances on the Creatures of the Night album. Vincent officially replaced Frehley as lead guitarist in December 1982, as the band embarked on its 10th Anniversary Tour.
Vincent originally wanted to use his birth name in the band, but this was vetoed by Simmons on the grounds that it sounded "too ethnic". Specifically, according to Simmons, "it sounded like a fruit vendor." Simmons went on to note that "fairly or unfairly, rock and roll is about image". Vincent then suggested the name "Mick Fury", but this was also disallowed. Simmons later suggested the name change to "Vinnie Vincent". Vincent started actively pushing to join Kiss as a full member. Despite the misgivings that both Simmons and Stanley harbored about his personality, Vincent was taken into the band. Stanley designed a character, "The Wiz" also known as "The Egyptian Warrior", and make-up centered around an Egyptian ankh, for Vincent. According to the official authorized Kiss biography, written by David Leaf and Ken Sharp, "The Egyptian Ankh Warrior" refers to Vincent's make-up and persona, while the nickname "The Wiz" refers to his virtuosity as a guitar player. According to the Simmons autobiography Kiss and Make-Up, Vincent's Kiss persona was solely "The Wiz". A persona as "The Ankh Warrior" or similar is not mentioned in the book at all.
From 1982 to 1983, the new lineup of Kiss became Simmons (the Demon), Stanley (the Starchild), Eric Carr (the Fox) and Vincent (The Egyptian Warrior or the Wiz). This incarnation of Kiss was to be the last incarnation of the original make-up era.
Vincent's personality did not mesh well with either Stanley or Simmons, and he was dismissed from Kiss at the end of the Creatures tour. He was reinstated before recording started for Lick It Up because Simmons and Stanley could not find a new lead guitarist on such short notice. Vincent appeared on the cover of Lick It Up and was credited as the lead guitarist. He received a writing credit for eight of the ten songs on the album; "Fits Like a Glove" and "Dance All Over Your Face" were written solely by Simmons.
Personality issues arose once again, and Vincent was fired following the Lick It Up tour, due in part to excessive guitar soloing at a 1984 concert in Quebec. He was replaced by Mark St. John (birth name Mark Norton). Vincent's work on Creatures of the Night was not officially recognized until the album was remastered in 1997.
Vincent was later utilized by Kiss as a songwriter on the 1992 album Revenge, contributing to the songs "Unholy", "Tough Love", "Heart of Chrome" and "I Just Wanna". Before long, Vincent fell out with Simmons and Stanley for a third time, and they again severed their musical ties.
Persistent rumors circulated for years among Kiss fans regarding the true reason for Vincent's dismissals from Kiss, with at least one band member refusing to comment except to say that legally it was not up for discussion. Simmons stated in an interview several years later that Vincent's firing was for "unethical behavior", but he did not elaborate:
I named Vincent Cusano, 'Vinnie Vincent'. That's the only gift he's allowed. It's interesting that Vinnie hasn't changed his name back to Vinnie Cusano. Vinnie, for the record, was fired for unethical behavior, not because of lack of talent. The guy is very talented. He was unethical. He was fired.
Sensing it was time for a change, Kiss made the decision to abandon their trademark make-up and costumes. The band officially appeared in public without make-up for the first time on a September 18, 1983, appearance on MTV, which coincided with the release of Lick It Up. The tour to promote the new album and the unmasked band members began in Lisbon, Portugal, on October 11, 1983, at Pavilhão Dramático de Cascais, their first concert without make-up since early 1973. Lick It Up became Kiss' first gold record in three years, but the tour was even more sparsely attended than the previous one. Vincent did not get along with Simmons and Stanley, and he left the band at the conclusion of the tour in March 1984. Vincent's replacement was Mark St. John, a session player and guitar tutor.
With St. John, Kiss released the album Animalize on September 13, 1984. Animalize followed the success of Lick It Up, and due in part to consistent MTV play for the "Heaven's on Fire" video, Animalize was the band's best-selling record in America during the decade, with over two million albums sold. With the success of the album and subsequent tour, Kiss had recaptured some of their earlier glory (though not to the level of their 1970s heyday). St. John, however, came down with reactive arthritis during tour rehearsals, and only performed at a handful of shows. St. John was relieved of his duties from Kiss in December 1984 and was replaced by Kulick (born December 12, 1953, in Brooklyn). Kulick was Kiss' fourth lead guitarist in less than three years, but he stayed with the band for 12 years. Kulick was one of the band's longest-serving members, with the longest continuous tenure of anyone other than Simmons and Stanley, but he never wore the band's iconic makeup.
Bruce Kulick (pictured here in 2002) was the lead guitarist for Kiss from 1984 to 1996.
The lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Carr and Kulick turned out to be the most stable since the original, and for the rest of the 1980s, Kiss released a series of platinum albums: 1985's Asylum, 1987's Crazy Nights and the 1988 greatest hits compilation Smashes, Thrashes & Hits. Crazy Nights, in particular, was one of Kiss' most successful albums overseas. The single "Crazy Crazy Nights" reached No. 4 on the singles chart in the United Kingdom, their highest-charting single in that country.
Kiss ended the decade with the October 1989 release Hot in the Shade. Although the album failed to achieve platinum status, it spawned the hit ballad "Forever", co-written by Michael Bolton. Peaking at No. 8 in the US, it was the group's highest-charting single since "Beth" and was the band's second Top 10 single.
During this time, Kiss struggled with their identity and fan base. Simmons, arguably the driving force in Kiss during the 1970s, became less involved with the group in the 1980s as he pursued outside interests, most notably a film career. Stanley took a more prominent role as a result.
In February 1991, the band decided to once again enlist Ezrin to produce their next album. Before recording could begin in earnest, however, tragedy struck. In March 1991, it was discovered that Carr had a tumor on his heart. It was successfully removed the following month, but more tumors were soon discovered in his lungs. Carr received chemotherapy and was pronounced cancer-free in July. However, in September he suffered the first of two cerebral hemorrhages. He died on November 24, 1991, at the age of 41. Coincidentally, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died the same day.
Despite the tragic loss of a longtime member, Kiss continued, introducing veteran drummer Eric Singer (born Eric Doyle Mensinger on May 12, 1958, in Cleveland, Ohio). Singer had played with Paul Stanley previously, as part of Stanley's backing band during a 1989 solo tour. Singer also played with artists such as Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Lita Ford, Badlands and Alice Cooper.
Kiss released Revenge on May 19, 1992. It featured a leaner, harder-edged sound, as indicated by the first single, "Unholy". In a surprise move, Kiss enlisted Vincent to help with songwriting duties. The album debuted in the Top 10 and went gold. Kiss embarked on a brief club tour of the U.S. in the spring of 1992, before beginning an American tour in September 1992. The tour was documented on the album Alive III, released on May 14, 1993. Four days later, Kiss were inducted into Hollywood's RockWalk.
In 1995, the group released the book Kisstory, a 440-page, 9 pounds (4.1 kg), detailed chronicle of the group's history to that point. That same year, the band embarked on a unique and well-received Worldwide Kiss Convention Tour. The conventions were all-day events, featuring displays of vintage Kiss stage outfits, instruments and memorabilia; performances by Kiss cover bands; and dealers selling Kiss merchandise from every stage of the band's career. Kiss appeared live at the conventions, conducted question and answer sessions, signed autographs, and performed a two-hour acoustic set composed mostly of spontaneous fan requests. On the first U.S. date (June 17, 1995), Criss appeared onstage with Kiss to sing "Hard Luck Woman" and "Nothin' to Lose". It was the first time Criss had performed publicly with the band in nearly 16 years.
On August 9, 1995, Kiss joined the long line of musicians to perform on MTV Unplugged. The band contacted Criss and Frehley and invited them to participate in the event. Both joined Kiss on stage for several songs at the end of the set: "Beth", "2000 Man", "Nothin' to Lose" and "Rock and Roll All Nite". The Unplugged appearance set off months of speculation that a possible reunion of the original Kiss lineup was in the works. In the weeks following the Unplugged concert, however, the band (with Kulick and Singer), returned to the studio for the first time in three years to record a follow-up to Revenge. Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions was completed in February 1996, but its release was delayed for almost two years. Bootleg copies of the album circulated widely among fans. While Kiss continued to exist publicly as Simmons, Stanley, Kulick and Singer, arrangements for a reunion of the original lineup were in the works. These efforts culminated with a public event as dramatic as any the band had staged since their 1983 unmasking on MTV. With the following statements, Tupac Shakur introduced the original Kiss lineup, in full makeup and Love Gun-era stage outfits, to a rousing ovation at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards:
You know how the Grammys used to be, all straight-looking folks with suits. Everybody looking tired. No surprises. We tired of that. We need something different, something new, we need to shock the people ... so let's shock the people!
On April 16, the band held a press conference aboard the USS Intrepid in New York City, where they announced their plans for a full-fledged reunion tour, with the help of new manager Doc McGhee. The conference, MC'd by Conan O'Brien, was simulcast to 58 countries. On April 20, nearly 40,000 tickets for the tour's first show sold out in 47 minutes.
The first public concert featuring the newly reunited Kiss was an hour-long warm-up show on June 15 for the annual KROQ Weenie Roast in Irvine, California, during which the band nearly ignited the stage of the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. On June 28, the Kiss Alive/Worldwide Tour began at Tiger Stadium in Detroit in front of a sold-out crowd of 39,867 fans. The tour lasted for 192 shows over the course of one year and earned $43.6 million, making Kiss the top-drawing concert act of 1996. The average attendance of 13,737 is the highest in the group's history.
Kiss performing in Paris on March 21, 1999.
In September 1998, the reunited group issued Psycho Circus. Although it was the first album with the original lineup since 1979's Dynasty, the contributions of Frehley and Criss were minimal. While the images of Frehley and Criss are featured prominently on the album, most of the lead guitar work was later revealed to have been performed by future band member Tommy Thayer. Former member Kulick made an appearance on the intro of the song "Within". Most drum duties were handled by session musician Kevin Valentine. Despite the controversy, the album achieved a No. 3 chart debut, the highest position for a Kiss album until Sonic Boom debuted at No. 2 in 2009. The title track received a Grammy nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance. The Psycho Circus Tour opened at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Halloween in 1998, and was simulcast on FM radio across the U.S. It proved to be another success, and was historic for being the first to ever incorporate 3D visuals into a stage show.
On August 11, 1999, Kiss was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in the "Recording Industry" category. August 13 saw the release of the film Detroit Rock City, starring Edward Furlong. The film takes place in 1978, and focuses on four teenagers willing to do anything to score tickets for a sold-out Kiss show in Detroit.
The next month, the group worked in collaboration with World Championship Wrestling to produce a Kiss-themed wrestler known as The Demon, whose face was painted to resemble Simmons' makeup. The group performed "God of Thunder" live on WCW Monday Nitro to debut the character. The band received $500,000 for the one-night, one-song performance. According to wrestler Dean Malenko, their appearance was the lowest rated Nitro ever. The character was short-lived, and all ties to Kiss were cut by WCW when its head, Eric Bischoff' was relieved of his duties in September of that year.
On the eve of the Japanese and Australian leg of the Farewell Tour on January 31, 2001, Criss suddenly left the band once again, because he and the band could not come to agreement with his contract salary. Taking his place was previous Kiss drummer Singer who, in a move that was controversial among longtime fans, assumed Criss' Cat persona as the Farewell Tour continued.
With the band supposedly set to retire by early 2001, a career-encompassing collection entitled simply The Box Set, consisting of 94 tracks on five CDs, was released in November of that year, while the summer saw perhaps the most outrageous item of Kiss merchandise yet – the Kiss Kasket. In introducing the Kiss Kasket, Simmons quipped, "I love livin', but this makes the alternative look pretty damn good."
On December 4, 2001, Kiss was one of the honorees at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences ("The Recording Academy") Heroes Award ceremony, at the NARAS New York Chapter. NARAS has 12 chapters throughout the United States, hence 12 ceremonies throughout the year, with the honorees each being honored by the chapter closest to their residence. By receiving this honor, which NARAS has renamed the "Recording Academy Honors", Kiss effectively received NARAS' second-highest career honor, right behind the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.
Kiss was relatively quiet through the rest of the year, but 2002 started with some controversy as Simmons took part in a controversial interview on National Public Radio with host Terry Gross. In February 2002, Kiss (with Singer on drums and Frehley on lead guitar) performed during the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was Frehley's final performance as a member of Kiss.
On March 6, 2002, Kiss performed a private concert at a resort in Trelawny, Jamaica. Frehley, who was no longer under contract, did not perform with the group. He was replaced by Thayer, who donned Frehley's Spaceman makeup and costume for his first live appearance with Kiss. That month, the band (with Thayer) taped an appearance on the American sitcom That '70s Show. The episode, "That '70s Kiss Show", aired in August 2002. Thayer again performed with the group in April 2002, when Kiss performed "Detroit Rock City" (with pre-recorded music and live vocals) for an appearance on Dick Clark's American Bandstand 50th Anniversary show, which aired on May 3.
Despite claims made prior to the Farewell Tour that it would be the group's last, Kiss toured with Aerosmith in 2003. Frehley announced that his departure from the band was permanent, stating that he believed the Farewell Tour would be Kiss' last, and that he did not want to open for Aerosmith. He was permanently replaced by Thayer, as Kiss moved into a post-reunion phase that saw the band easing into a new lineup, permanently featuring Thayer as "Spaceman" and Singer as "the Catman". On this tour, still featuring Criss, the group introduced the "Platinum" tickets package, with the most expensive packages costing $1,000. This package included a seat in the first five rows, a meet-and-greet with Kiss after their performance and a photograph with the band. The tour earned more than $64 million in 2003, which ranked seventh for the year.
Simmons and Stanley did not renew Criss' contract when it expired in March 2004. Criss, on his website, stated that "No one, again, no one has called me, or my attorney about an extension for future touring. As a founding member I find this to be disrespectful to me, and to the fans that have made us one of the biggest bands in the world." Criss stated in a radio interview in 2004 with Eddie Trunk that Simmons and Stanley were going to start a new Kiss, and felt that he was getting too old to play the drums for two hours (Criss was almost 59 at this time).
During the summer of 2004, Kiss headlined the Rock the Nation 2004 World Tour, with Poison as the opening act. The tour ended in August with a sold-out show in Mexico City. Selected dates on the tour were filmed for the Rock the Nation Live! concert DVD, released on December 13, 2005. Stanley, who had been experiencing increasing difficulty with his hip, had his mobility limited during the tour. He has already had two hip surgeries performed, with more likely in the future.
After the conclusion of the Rock the Nation Tour, Kiss performed only sporadically for a number of years. The group played two shows in 2005, and another six in 2006. Four of the 2006 shows were July concerts in Japan, including two dates (July 22 and 23) as a headlining act at the 2006 Udo Music Festival. Kiss performed four July 2007 concerts, three of which were dubbed the Hit 'N Run Tour. Prior to the final show on July 27, Stanley was hospitalized with an extremely rapid heartbeat. In his absence, Kiss performed in concert as a trio for the first time since 1982. This was the first Kiss concert that Stanley had missed during his then 34-year tenure with the group.
Stanley released his second solo album, Live to Win, on October 24, 2006, and undertook a brief solo tour in support. On October 31 the same year, the group released Kissology Volume One: 1974–1977, the first of 10 possible DVD sets featuring complete concert footage, interviews and never-before-seen clips. By January 2007, the set had been certified 5x platinum in the United States. A second volume was released on August 14, 2007. It was certified 6x Platinum by the RIAA on October 24. What seemed to be the final entry, Kissology Volume Three: 1992–2000, was released on December 18, 2007, and has been certified 8x Platinum by the R.I.A.A. Stanley insisted that there are more volumes forthcoming, during an interview with Norwegian broadcasting in the summer of 2008, but no details have been given.
In April 2007, former guitarist St. John died from an apparent cerebral hemorrhage at age 51. After being forced to leave Kiss in 1984, St. John formed the short-lived glam metal group White Tiger. In 1990, he briefly collaborated with Criss in a band called the Keep, which only performed once and released no recordings. St. John largely dropped out of public view in later years, but did make occasional appearances at Kiss fan conventions.
Though Kiss had been eligible for enshrinement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1999, they were not nominated until 2009 and were not inducted until 2014. While this snub displeased some fans, Stanley and Simmons maintained that it was meaningless to them. Nevertheless, a group of about 200 Kiss fans held a protest rally in front of the Hall of Fame in Cleveland on August 5, 2006. It was the first known organized demonstration seeking the induction of a band into the Hall.
In 2007, a new comic book series featuring the band was released by the Kiss Comics Group in association with Platinum Studios. Titled Kiss 4K: Legends Never Die, the first issue was published in both a regular size and a giant 1.5' x 2.5' "Destroyer edition".
Throughout the summer of 2008, Kiss headlined festivals as well as their own shows and played to a record audience of about 400,000 people. As part of this tour, Kiss headlined the Download Festival at England's Donington Park on June 13. Three days later, they headlined the Arrow Rock Festival in Nijmegen, Netherlands. On June 28, Kiss headlined the Graspop Metal Meeting in Dessel, Belgium. It was the last show of the European leg of the Kiss Alive/35 Tour. On August 4, Kiss played at Rockin' the Rally at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally as part of the tour. South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds proclaimed August 4, 2008 to be "Kiss Rock and Roll Day" in South Dakota. In September 2008, both Simmons and Stanley confirmed rumors that the Kiss Alive/35 Tour would continue with extensive tours of North America in the beginning of 2009, as well as South America. The latter tour included shows on April 5 in Argentina, April 7 and 8 in Brazil, April 14 in Peru (the first Kiss show ever in Peru), and other concerts in Venezuela (the first Kiss show ever in Venezuela) and Chile. That summer, Kiss came back to North America to continue the Alive/35 World Tour, starting on July 18 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
2008–2012: Sonic Boom and Monster
More than 10 years after their last studio album, and following years of denials about ever wanting to do a new album, Stanley and Simmons changed their minds. In November 2008, Stanley stated to rock photographer Ross Halfin that a new Kiss album was in the works. Stanley himself would be the producer, and the album would have a "real 70s Kiss sound" to it. Later that month, Simmons and Stanley both publicly confirmed the information about a new Kiss album:
We have 4 tunes recorded. If you're a fan of our stuff from about 1977, you'll feel right at home. All of us have taken up the songwriting call to arms in the same spirit we once did – without a care in the world and without outside writers. Nothing to prove to anyone. Just doing what comes naturally. Ignoring fashions, trends and with a personal vow from all of us: no rapping. There are plenty of people out there doing this and they don't need four palefaced guys pretending they're from the hood. Besides, I'm not sure how to correctly pronounce 'wassup.' See you all there ... Or maybe later!
In October 2009, a new studio album, titled Sonic Boom, was released. It included a CD of new material, re-recorded versions of famous Kiss hits (previously released as Jigoku-Retsuden, a Japanese exclusive album in 2008) and a live DVD recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina. "Modern Day Delilah" was released as the lead single from Sonic Boom on August 19, 2009. The song was Kiss' first single release in 11 years, since 1998's "You Wanted the Best". The song gained positive feedback from both critics and fans, and was compared to the band's 1970s work. In support of the new album, Kiss appeared live on Late Show with David Letterman on October 6, 2009, and on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on October 7, 2009. Sonic Boom debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 108,000 copies in its first week of release.
On September 25, 2009, the Kiss Alive/35 North American Tour kicked off at Cobo Hall in Detroit; both nights were filmed for future DVD release. These were the band's final performances there, as the venue was later closed as part of the renovation of the Cobo Center. Kiss headlined the 2009 Voodoo Experience held at City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Halloween night. During their performance at the MTS Centre on November 9, 2009, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one of the lighting trusses caught on fire from a pyro cue. The truss had to be lowered in order to have the fire put out. During the five or so minutes it took to extinguish the fire, the band broke into the song "Firehouse". No one was hurt and the show continued.
On April 13, 2011, Kiss began recording a new album due for release later in the year. Simmons stated, the album "is gonna be the next step to Sonic Boom. Very similar – straight rock songs, no ballads, no keyboards, no nothing, just rock." The band also used old analog equipment instead of more popular digital recording gear. Simmons said: "Technology is a seductive bitch, she will seduce you. You press this button, you don't have to do anything. But analog is the love of your life. You can push real hard and it always gives back. For the new album, the actual recording process was 24-track tape and an old Trident board. And as many tubes as possible. You need tubes, electricity and thick wood to make that thick sound."
Kiss spent the summer of 2011 playing venues in the US and Canada, visiting cities they had not played in some time; it was dubbed the "Lost Cities Tour". Their next album Monster was released in October 2012. KISS by Monster Mini Golf was opened in March 2012 in Las Vegas. The facility is an 18-hole indoor miniature golf course, featuring arcade games, a gift shop and numerous pieces of band memorabilia on display. The complete current version of the band attended the grand opening.
Kiss appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on March 20, 2012. A press conference was held on the same day to announce a summer North American tour called The Tour, co-headlined by Mötley Crüe. The Tour started on July 20 and ended on October 1. The single "Hell or Hallelujah" was released internationally on July 2, 2012, and on July 3 in North America. Monster was released on October 9, 2012, in North America to critical and fan acclaim, debuting in the Top 3 in the US and Top 10 in many countries.
In 2014, Kiss toured as co-headliners with Def Leppard. After Simmons toured with Joe Elliott in South America, the two talked about their bands working together. From June 23 to August 31, 2014, the bands toured 42 cities, with a dollar per ticket donated to such military charities as Wounded Warrior Project.
For the first time in the band's 41-year history, Kiss was featured on the cover of the April 10, 2014 (Issue 1206) edition of Rolling Stone magazine. On April 10, 2014, Kiss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though the rockers did not perform, the original four members (Simmons, Stanley, Frehley and Criss) showed up at the 29th annual induction ceremony in Brooklyn to accept their honor.
On January 28, 2015, Kiss released a collaboration single with the Japanese female idol group Momoiro Clover Z, titled "Yume no Ukiyo ni Saite Mi na". It was the first time Kiss had issued a collaboration record with another artist. In Japan, it was released physically in two versions: "Momoiro Clover Z Edition" (on CD and Blu-ray) and "Kiss Edition" (CD only). An alternate mix of the single's title song was also included as an opening track on the Japanese-only SHM-CD album Best of Kiss 40, released in Japan on the same day.
Before the collaboration, the members of Kiss had watched concert videos of Momoiro Clover Z. Stanley later commented during an interview:
Spectacular show! Great choreography! Music like we never heard before. We said, "this is something we can do!" Somebody said, "Kiss, why are you doing it?" "Because we can!" It's two worlds getting together, doing something unbelievable. Music power rocks the world.
On September 15, 2015, the RIAA announced that the band had earned more gold records than any other American band in the association's 63-year history, with a total of 30 gold album awards (including the band's four 1978 solo albums). Cary Sherman, the RIAA CEO and chairman, commented:
What an extraordinary achievement for an enduring band. Forty years later and the band is still rocking. Congratulations to KISS on their Gold album milestone and continued success.
2016–present: Freedom to Rock Tour, possible twenty-first album and final tour
There had been conflicting stories regarding whether Kiss would record another album. Simmons had said "yes" in interviews, saying that he had songs written and lined up for a new album. Stanley and Thayer dispute this however and say that they did not vow to make one and that the band can move forward without new music.
Simmons and Stanley made cameo appearances in the 2016 film Why Him?.
In October 2018, the band reunited with Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick on the Kiss Kruise. They performed "2,000 Man", "New York Groove", "Nothin' to Lose", and "Rock and Roll All Nite". This is the first time Frehley and the band have performed since 2002 for the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics and Kulick's first time performing with the band live since his departure in 1996.
The band's final tour kicked off on January 31 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and currently features 186 additional dates that run through October 3, 2020 in Fort Worth, United States. In February 2019, Simmons said the farewell tour would likely gross between $150 million and $200 million, “not counting ancillaries, licensing, merchandise and stuff like that.”
During the first leg of the End of the Road World Tour, Kiss was accused by fans of lip syncing and using backing tracks. Three years prior, Simmons had been critical of bands using backing tracks on live shows. Former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach defended Kiss, saying that the band did not lip sync at the show he attended. Stanley did not confirm nor deny that he lip syncs on stage, saying he is taking care of his voice.
On November 14, 2019, the band announced their Australia and New Zealand shows on their final tour had been cancelled due to Paul Stanley's health issues stating: "Doctor’s orders ultimately have taken precedence and finally we now find ourselves with no choice but to surrender".
In December 2019, X Japan's Yoshiki joined the band in Tokyo and Osaka on their Japan leg to perform "Beth" on piano and "Rock and Roll All Nite" on drums. They would later collaborate on a televised New Year's Eve performance in Japan, performing "Rock and Roll All Nite" under the combined name "YoshiKiss".
Kiss will perform their final show on July 17, 2021 in New York City.