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From birth to death: Local Kiss fans lick it up for one final tour

From birth to death: Local Kiss fans lick it up for one final tour

Kiss to perform Saturday at SPAC as part of farewell tour
From birth to death: Local Kiss fans lick it up for one final tour
From left, Trevor, Toni and Justin Luciani of Schenectady pose with Kiss during the "Kiss Kruise VI" in 2016.
Photographer: courtesy luciani family

SCHENECTADY — The smoke, flames and explosions will soon fall silent as seminal rock outfit Kiss prepares to hang up their leather battle outfits after one final tour. 

Since their emergence nearly five decades ago, the band has crossed the threshold from an explosive rock outfit with a wildly theatrical stage show to an iconic band (and brand) occupying a singular perch in pop culture. 

And through it all, from their mid-1970s heyday, lineup changes, struggles to adapt to shifting music industry trends and eventual 1990s resurgence, the Kiss Army has been hanging tough. 

Now local fans are ready to lick up the seminal foursome’s final local performance as the “End of The Road” farewell tour stops at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs on Saturday. 

Here are some of their stories. 

FATHER AND SON, PT. 1

The Lucianis, who live in Schenectady, are a Kiss family through and through. 

For Justin Luciani, it all started when his mother took him to 1979’s “Dynasty” tour at Madison Square Garden when the band was at its peak. Three years later, his father navigated a snowstorm and dropped him off at the Glens Falls Civic Center for their “Creatures of the Night” tour. 

Years later, he and his wife, Toni, landed front row seats at SPAC for Kiss’ original lineup tour in 2000, one of several branded as a final farewell. 

Toni was pregnant, and co-founder and guitarist Paul Stanley ("The Starchild") kept smiling and pointing at her stomach. 

“Stanley must’ve set a spell, because he turned myself into a super-fan as well,” said their son, Trevor Luciani, who is now 18.

Justin quipped, “He must have heard something.”

Thirty years after having his mind blown in New York City, he returned — with 9-year-old Trevor in tow.

The young starchild peeked through a backstage window and locked eyes with guitarist Tommy Thayer, who smiled at him. 

“From then on, I was a general in the Kiss Army,” Trevor said. 

In a throwback to generations before him, Trevor spent his school-age years doodling Kiss makeup outlines on his notebooks. 

Instead of doing homework, he preferred to write reports on why albums such as “Music from the Elder” — the band’s widely panned 1981 foray into progressive rock — are misunderstood. 

He blasted their music while strutting down the school hallway, head held high and proud, and daydreamed during school assemblies about the original lineup — Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter — rising from the back of the stage in superhero poses as they did on the “Dynasty” tour.

“Kiss was my escape from all the bad things in life growing up,” said Trevor. “Kiss has taught me how to walk with my head up and be proud.”

He’s now been to 10 Kiss shows, including two Kiss Kruises with his family, multi-day events where fans from all over the world spend several days on cruise ships with their idols and fellow fanatics. 

Trevor, who is now a student at American University in Washington, D.C., even managed to pop off a question to the band during a band Q&A. He identified himself as being from Schenectady, which generated quizzical looks from the members.

“Kiss has bonded my father and I in such a way that nothing else could,” he said. “Kiss has been the soundtrack to our lives and for that, I am forever grateful.”

Justin, whose Kiss Kount now stands at 20, marveled at the band’s enduring longevity.

Each show, the band asks how many are attending their first Kiss concert. Half the crowd raises their hands, he said.

The fifth-leg of the band’s farewell tour will conclude in Japan in December, but co-founder Gene Simmons (“The Demon”) has said the tour could run into 2021.

Justin thinks they’re about ready to wind it up — for real this time.

Years of physically intensive stage shows have inevitably taken a toll, he said, noting Simmons regularly carries 40 pounds of gear and will turn 70 the day after the Saratoga Springs show.

“I think they know it’s time,” he said. “I can’t see them doing this at 75.” 

While their infamous pyrotechnics have been scaled back over the years, the band’s performances remain as vibrant as ever, he said. 

“Honestly, they haven’t really changed a lot on stage,” he said. “They’ve just really gotten better.”

THE COLLECTOR

Mark Kelly has been enlisted in the Kiss Army since he was 7 or 8, and has seen the band five times starting with “Hot in the Shade” tour, which touched down at what was then Albany’s Knickerbocker Arena on July 7, 1990.

As an eighth-grader at Hackett Middle School in Albany, he and his pals dressed up as Kiss for a “Puttin’ on the Hits” lip synch show and took second-place. 

“Makeup, blood spitting — the whole deal,” Kelly said. “People were screaming. It was great.”

Since rising to prominence, Kiss has built up a brand empire: From iconic metal lunch boxes and action figures to Kiss Kaskets and a Kiss Golf Course in Las Vegas, the band has over 2,500 licenses, according to Forbes.

“My friends and I collected everything,” said Kelly. 

The Rotterdam resident estimated he has more Kiss-related books than anyone in the area, including an item he picked up in a Montreal record store in the 1980s, the first time he saw the band together pre-makeup. 

Another prize is a book written by Lydia Criss, original drummer Peter Criss’ first wife, which contains a candid look at early costume and t-shirt designs.

Kelly has also attended numerous fan conventions, including one of the first at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in 1991, where he met Criss (“The Catman”), who autographed his program. 

THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Kiss emerged in the more laid-back 1970s, when it was de rigueur to buy stripped-down cargo vans and customize them. 

During a spring break trip to Daytona Beach in 1977, SUNY Plattsburgh student Steven Twardzik encountered a Kiss-inspired model emblazoned with the band's iconic "Destroyer" cover art. 

“We were down there partying our asses off when we were 19 or 20 years old,” Twardzik said. “It was like the Cheech and Chong era,” he said, referring to the comedic stoner duo.

He shot several photos of the van and has kept them all these years, an early addition to the photographer’s portfolio.

Kiss skyrocketed to superstardom  in 1975 with the “Alive!” record.

In doing so, the quartet added a fresh blast of vitality to the music scene, he said. 

“It was all craziness, but a big show — they made it entertainment,” said Twardzik, who lives in Guiderland. 

Twardzik, 61, also said concert culture at the time was more laid back and loose, citing a 1977 gig in Jersey City.

“It was more of a free-for-all. You could bring a cooler of beer in, no problem,” he said.

FATHER AND SON, PT. 2

It all started when Richard W. Morrell joined Columbia House, the mail order music club that offered customers 12 records for 1 cent.

He let each of his children select one album. 

“I have no idea what possessed me to choose ‘Rock And Roll Over’ by Kiss, but I have been a fan since that needle first played ‘I Want You,’” said his son, Sim Morrell. 

By age 7, Sim was the prime target for all-things Kiss: the models, dolls, trading cards, makeup kit, the transistor radio and the lunchbox.

“That rusty, banged-up box still reminds of a fun time in my life discovering this music,” Morrell said.

Richard had the opposite taste in music — he was more of an opera fan and dabbled in classical, Sim recalled — but was supportive, and his parents let him attend shows as long as he maintained his honor roll status.

Morrell, 49, has never wavered in his Kiss Kommitment, including skipping his college graduation to attend a gig. 

The Clifton Park resident was present when the band appeared on the U.S.S. Intrepid to announce the original reunion tour in 1996, and flew to Germany to follow the band for five consecutive shows in 1999. 

Morrell has seen them a total of 56 times.

But above and beyond, the concert that stands out is Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky on June 30, 1996, the first time he’d seen the band perform with makeup following their decade-long “unmasked” phase. 

He couldn’t make the first official show in Detroit, which was sold out. The first New York dates were a month away and he didn’t want to wait, so he reached out to a friend in Ohio who secured a ticket at a local outlet. 

Morrell, then 26, set off the day before on the 16-hour drive. When he arrived, he was instantly transported back to 1977: He sang and clapped along and marveled at the pyrotechnics and bulletproof setlist:

The band, he said, were simply superheroes.

“I still get chills thinking of the moment when the stage curtain fell to the opening riff of ‘Deuce,’” Morrell said, referring to one of their most popular songs.

“Ripping through national anthem after national anthem, this would be the show that raised the bar to the sky for every show since… it was, to me, the most glorious two-hour concert of my life.”

When Kiss takes the stage Saturday at SPAC, Morrell will not be there.

“In a strange twist of fate, my father passed away a couple of weeks ago,” Morrell said.

Richard W. Morrell’s memorial service will be held on the same night, a New Orleans-style “second line” parade and bash in Round Lake. 

“He is the only one who could get me to miss the last local show of the band he had a hand in me discovering some 42 years ago,” Morrell said.

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