On tour with KISS
EW's David Browne goes behind the scenes as a roadie on this summer's hottest tour
Gene Simmons’ blood is on my hands.
Actually, it’s not real blood, and technically, it’s on my towel. But never mind. I am a roadie, at least temporarily. When Kiss announced this spring that its four founding members (Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss) would reunite for the first time since 1979 for a world tour, I realized there would be no better opportunity to answer a question almost as pressing as the exact length of Simmons’ tongue: What exactly do roadies do? The tour promised to re-create the burlesque excess of Kiss’ ’70s stage shows, complete with Kabuki-bondage costumes and rocket-launching guitars. If there was roadie work to be done, this was my chance.
So here I kneel one July afternoon at Cleveland’s Gund Arena, the 15th stop on a tour that has improbably become the summer’s must-see nostalgia showcase, with a potential gross of at least $50 million. (Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the industry trade magazine Pollstar, estimates Kiss could be the top-grossing — and gross-out — tour of the year.) Every night, before he’s hoisted to the rafters by steel wires in one of the show’s most crowd-pleasing effects, Simmons, the band’s demon-seed bass player, drools blood from his mouth. And each day after, someone on the crew has to clean it up.
Today, it’s me. The wipe-up is easy; the blood, made of eggs, yogurt, red food coloring, and maple syrup, wipes away with a few strokes of a wet towel. I’m feeling cocky about my blood-swabbing skills — until stage technician Michael Garabedian alerts me to the electrical wires around me. Yikes — one wrong move and Simmons won’t be the only one flying to the rafters.
Stirred but not hopelessly shaken, I press on, all the while telling myself the grunt work will pay off when my fellow roadies and I rock & roll all night — and party every day — with Kiss. So let the blood, sweat, and beers begin.
Day 1 Cleveland
— 8 a.m. Having flown in from New York, I hook up with the crew, which is just pulling in from last night’s gig in Dayton. I receive my roadie indoctrination, starting with a photo-ID pass. Should I lose it, it’ll cost me $50, and I will be forced to wear a laminated photo of David Hasselhoff for added humiliation. I also receive a handout outlining crew policy. I will not be allowed to consume drugs or alcohol in the venue, and I am required to wear a Kiss T-shirt whenever band members are in the hall.
Inside Gund Arena, the crew has begun the backbreaking task of transforming an empty 12,500-seat venue into a theatre de Kiss. Steel cables dangle from the ceiling, which will eventually support five tons of speakers and a lighting rig that could double as a jungle gym for Godzilla. ”See all the glamour?” deadpans ponytailed rigger Erik Smith between sips of chocolate milk washing down a donut. ”See all these women bl–ing us?” I can’t tell if he’s kidding or not.
— 12:45 p.m. He is kidding. At the end of each show, 500 pounds of paper confetti are dropped onto the stage. Today, it’s my job to vacuum the bits that have lingered after last night’s show. Under normal conditions, this would be a breeze, but confetti coagulated with Simmons spittle is not exactly normal. Next, we haul iron barricades into place. I lose part of a fingernail in the process and remind myself to buy gloves as soon as possible.