After spending much of the previous decade building a new future for themselves, Kiss successfully reconnected with their past on the Hot in the Shade tour.
The six-month trek kicked off on May 4, 1990, in Lubbock, Texas, and found Kiss adding a bunch of long-ignored songs from their ’70s heyday to the set lists. During average shows on the 1987-88 Crazy Nights tour, the band played 18 songs, only five of which dated its first decade; the Hot in the Shade tour more than doubled the number of ’70s tracks, which now took up 13 spots in a 22-song show.
More importantly, Kiss had their swagger back. “When we went on tour, we rallied,” Paul Stanley later told Louder. “We began to embrace our history. We would literally hit every period of the band, and we did it proudly.”
After hitting commercial and creative rock bottom in the early ’80s and splitting with fellow founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, Stanley and Gene Simmons made a series of big changes. They removed their famous makeup and adapted their sound and image for a world now dominated by MTV and hair metal. After a couple of false starts, they also found a stable and powerful lineup with drummer Eric Carr and lead guitarist Bruce Kulick.
Watch Kiss Perform ‘I Want You’ in 1990
Hit singles like “Lick It Up,” “Heaven’s on Fire” and “Tears Are Falling” returned the group to platinum-selling status. But their live shows began to focus too heavily on recent material, and the relatively conventional stage designs fell a bit short of their former bombastic standards.
Enter Leon, the nickname given to the sphinx found on the band’s 1989 Hot in the Shade album cover. A giant version of Leon dominated the tour’s new stage design, taking the spot traditionally occupied by a lighted version of the band’s logo.
“That was my idea,” the band’s former manager Larry Mazer tells UCR. “Let’s do things different, something that isn’t predictable. Every tour from day one had the Kiss sign, let’s not do that. Especially because we had such a cool thing in the sphinx, you didn’t need the logo. His mouth would open, lasers would come out of the mouth – it was such a strong centerpiece.”
Besides, the giant Kiss sign wasn’t really gone. At the end of the main set, Leon would “explode,” making way for the popular sign to make a dramatic return during the encore each night. “The reveal at the end just blew people’s minds – when the sphinx blew up and then the Kiss sign rose up from the bottom of the stage in full lighted glory,” Mazer recalls. “People went ape shit. I’ve been very proud of a lot of the tours I’ve been involved with in my career, but just as far as a theatrical show, that was No. 1 in my book. I’m very proud of it.”
“This is by far and away the best Kiss show in the past decade,” Stanley said at the time. “We’re doing 20-some odd songs and we’re onstage for over two hours. There’s enough pyro, lasers and smoke to cause most people’s circuits to overload. It’s pretty high-intensity stuff.”
Kulick tells UCR he was particularly happy to see the set list shaken up a bit. “I do think both the band and Larry had the idea to bring some new songs into the set, and, honestly, I welcomed it,” he explains. “Many makeup-Kiss songs I never played became fun for me. Opening the show with ‘I Stole Your Love’ and others made the set more varied, and more songs mean more fun for the fans. I think the tour showed that the band wanted to give the fans something to talk about. It worked!”
Hot in the Shade came out in October 1989, but Mazer says the tour was pushed back from its originally planned launch date in order to capitalize on the success of the album’s second single.
Watch Kiss Live in 1990
“I started to book a tour, and [the first single] ‘Hide Your Heart’ didn’t really make a big impact,” he recalls. “The Crazy Nights tour had done okay business, but not great business. So the tour, which originally was supposed to start in February, we pushed back, to let ‘Forever’ come out and become a big hit single. It became their first Top 10 single since ‘Beth,’ and that gave promoters confidence that it was hopefully going to be a successful tour.”
The manager also convinced Stanley and Simmons to add one of their most divisive songs, the disco-influenced 1979 single “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” back into the show. “I said to them, It’s been out of the set for many years. Even though it was considered one of the missteps of your career, sometimes when time passes, something that was uncool becomes cool over time,'” Mazer says. “We put together a great light show and a lot of pyro during it. It became a showstopper during the tour.”
Not every old song was welcomed back so easily: “‘Christine Sixteen’ bombed,” Mazer remembers. “I mean, literally no one cared. It just didn’t go over.” But both the band and fans were happy to hear old songs like “Strutter” and “Calling Dr. Love” again. “The fun part was I did not have to play the Ace leads note for note,” Kulick says. “I did as I always do, make sure all ‘signature riffs’ are done properly. I really loved the addition of ‘I Want You.'”
Neither Kulick nor Mazer can recall exactly why Simmons didn’t perform his usual fire-breathing routine on the tour, but Mazer did get the Kiss Demon to make one concession. “My thing was, stop sticking your tongue out,” he says. “You’re a 40-year-old guy! Just stop. Paul and I had this thing where we going to fine [Simmons] a dollar every time he stuck his tongue out. And if you watch the videos, he didn’t do it as much. When you’re in makeup, it was cool, part of the shtick. But out of the makeup, sticking the tongue out just drove me crazy.”
Tongue or no tongue, the tour was a major success. And a big morale boost for Kiss. “I think when the reaction from the fans is positive, the band can’t help but to have a good time,” notes Kulick. “It’s a good relationship to have.”
But there was tragedy just around the corner. On Nov. 24, 1991, a little more than a year after the Hot in the Shade tour’s last show, Carr died from a rare form of cancer. The group’s next studio album, 1992’s Top 10 Revenge, was dedicated to his memory.