Still Kruisin’: Rockin’ the High Seas on KISS Kruise VIII (Photos/Recap)

Still Kruisin’: Rockin’ the High Seas on KISS Kruise VIII (Photos/Recap)

8AM October 31st, Halloween … The massive Norwegian Jade ship is docked in the port of Miami and the silence is deafening. There’ll be a new kind of “deafening” soon: the noisy “Rock & Roll All Nite and party every day” kind, as in a few hours passengers from 37 countries will embark on KISS Kruise VIII.

Organized by leading music cruise company Sixthman, this year’s KISS Kruise, slated for excursions in in Key West, Florida and Nassau, the Bahamas, draws a multi-generational array of members of the KISS NAVY from all corners of the globe: Russia to Brazil, France to Argentina, Spain to England, Germany to The Netherlands, Japan to the USA and more.

11AM, Port of Miami, Miami, Florida

The first few hundred passengers begin to converge on the port and excitement begins to build. It’s like a meeting of the rock and roll United Nations — men, women and children of all ages and nationalities, most looking like they stepped out of a KISS department store, resplendent in new and vintage KISS t-shirts, hats, and sweatpants, many showing off some skin emblazoned with colorful KISS tattoos. High fives and hearty hugs are commonplace as the passengers walk onto the ship ready for another trip of a lifetime (or the first, for KISS fans taking their maiden voyage with the Hottest Band in the Land).

Photo by @willbyington © 2018
Photo by @willbyington © 2018

This isn’t just a rite of passage, oceanic and lifestyle-wise, to hang out and experience KISS in intimate setting with 2300+ members of your closest friends, but a tight bond of family and renewal of friendships crossing language barriers. “I’ve been on every KISS Kruise since they started putting this yearly event on,” one fan observes. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I save my money up all year so I can swing it — I’ve also taken on a second night job at as a security guard at Walmart for a few months so I’m able to afford to come each year and also buy as much KISS swag as possible. Year in, year out, it’s the highlight of my year!”

The fan’s story is a common one. As much as KISS is a mighty rock and roll institution and connective thread that brings fans back year after year, it’s the close friendships fellow passengers make with each other that are now are as important a selling point as the band itself.

KISS ambassador Dean Snowden puts things into perspective: “This is an encompassing fun for everyone who attends. The camaraderie of the repeat fans from around the world makes this an unmissable event. These people have their own cliques they’ve cultivated from KISS Kruise to KISS Kruise. This is where all the hardcore KISS fans choose to rendezvous.” Jess Loud, KISS Kruise Community Manager adds, “I’m always amazed at how tight-knit the KISS Kruiser community is. They celebrate in each other’s successes, as well as commiserate when life gets tough. Getting to witness all of these guests come together to form a network of love and support for one another is one of the best parts of my job. It’s truly awesome how KISS has brought everyone together in this way.”

The theme for this year’s KISS Kruise is “KISS Kruise VIII: Decades At Sea,” which is an apt theme for this year with the recent sobering announcement that KISS are set to celebrate over 40+ years on the rock and roll battlefield with an “End Of The Road” final tour kicking off in 2019 and set to last three years.

Paul Stanley attests: “With the KISS Kruise, we try to give people what we would want as fans. This is a cruise that I hope that a band I love would do.”

Having attended several KISS Kruises in the past, there is zero chance of being bored. Instead, it’s full-on sensory overload 24/7: there’s so many activities and events planned by Sixthman that one might need to take a vacation after this vacation. “This year we are really excited to sail with even more former band members like Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick,” says Jess Loud, KISS Kruise Community Manager. “We’re also upping the ante on the activities with each band member — Paul, Gene, Tommy and Eric will each participate in two activities on board. And of course, you can’t forget the community of kruisers that started as strangers and have now become a family. Each year, new kruisers join and they’re welcomed into the KISS Navy by the veteran kruisers. That’s something truly special that you just don’t find anywhere else.”

Bridging the artist/fan bond Anthony Diaz, Sixthman CEO observes, “KISS embodies all that is so special about the concept of tearing down the walls between fans and bands and setting sail on vacation together. For 40+ years they’ve proven they truly care about blowing their fans away and they do so every year on the KISS Kruise by creating an experience at sea that is truly unlike anything you can get at a concert in a venue. They personally work so hard to customize each year’s sailing with elements such as deep cut set lists, vintage costumes and stage set ups, unique guest gifts and fan-band activities designed specifically to surprise and delight the uber-fan. They define what it means to LIVE LOUD.

In preparing for each KISS Kruise, Sixthman works in close coordination with the KISS camp as Jess Loud relates: “Each of the guys in the band give us a lot of input about what they’d like to do for their individual activities. Some great examples of this are Paul’s Rock N Roll Art Class and Kruise Kitchen, Gene’s Motivational Talk on Power, Eric’s Drum Off to name a few. Our goal with every KISS Kruise is to take KISS’s vision for the event and the guests’ feedback to plan a vacation that is like no other!”

Photo by @willbyington © 2018

As for what separates Sixthman from all the other music cruise companies out there, Anthony Diaz, Sixthman CEO says, “On every sailing, the Sixthman team is passionate about going above & beyond to set the stage for moments that make life rock to occur before, during and after the music festival at sea. We hope to change expectations about what a vacation can be and work closely with our artist partners and Norwegian Cruise Line to provide an immersive experience and overall level of service we hope our guests will remember for a lifetime. We’ve worked hard to create and live our values. We strive to make the guest the star, to serve our team, guests and artists beyond expectations — to capture all the excitement and adventure of a music festival at sea experience in a rally for all of us to LIVE LOUD. Sixthman pioneered the concept in 2001. 17 years later the reception by fans and bands has been incredible and helped create a thriving industry that continues to innovate across the entire guest experience. Sixthman has made building and strengthening communities before, during and after the festival as its core priority. In doing so, we’ve been able to explore new genres of music, enter into serving new communities in television, sports and comedy. If we live up to our values of delivering a mind-blowing guest experience — we hope to continue to earn the high growth rates we’ve experienced in our first seventeen years.”

In reflecting upon the unique connection between KISS and their loyal fan base around the world, the company notes: “The KISS NAVY is an eclectic community of fans of all ages and from all parts of the globe. While the primary KISS fan grew up listening to the band in the 70’s and is in their mid 40’s and early 50’s today … we have a large number of guests onboard who are under the age of 18 as well as a good amount of fans in their 20’s and 30’s … it’s exciting to see so many generations enjoying the electrifying KISS live show all together on vacation onboard the ship.”

5PM. Pool Deck.

Out on the pool deck, festooned with colorful flags from countries around the globe, Austria, Germany, Argentina, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Scotland, Norway, Italy, England, Canada and South Africa, over 2,300 fans are packed in like sardines anxiously awaiting the arrival of their heroes, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer, to the stage. As in years past, the annual KISS sail-away show is the perfect way to commence this full immersion into KISSdom and lends an opportunity for this hardcore contingent of fans to witness the band perform in a stripped-down acoustic setting, delivering signature classics and a deep dive into the band’s 40 + year catalog of metallic heaviosity.

Opening with “Coming Home,” the first song the band performed on their legendary MTV Unplugged show, the band tore through deep cuts traversing their entire career. Remarking they’ve been rehearsing for their upcoming tour, Paul told the SRO crowd packing the ship’s pool deck they had no time to practice for this set but despite a few hiccups along the way — after a miscue in “Mainline”, Paul joked, “we’re in international waters so we can’t be arrested for murdering a song,” the band was loose and clearly having a blast performing KISS classics from such albums as Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill, Destroyer, Rock & Roll Over, Love Gun, Revenge and Hot In The Shade.

But most exciting news for those in attendance was the surprise guest appearances by former KISS guitar players, Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick, fueling the fire for ex-band members to have a role in the upcoming End Of The Road tour. Closing with the band’s national anthem, “Rock & Roll All Nite,” supercharged by four guitarists on stage — Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick — and at the song’s climactic finale, both Gene and Paul threw their respective instruments into the crowd, excited fans battling it out for who’d leave with the ultimate prize.

Following KISS’s set, Ace Frehley took the stage with his new band and performed a set teeming with rare cuts, notably first ever live performances by Ace of “Save Your Love” and “Hard Times” from 1979’s Dynasty, “Torpedo Girl” from 1980’s Unmasked and “Getaway” from 1975’s Dressed to Kill. Ace was in top form and his new band — guitarists Ryan Cook and Jeremy Asbrock, bassist Philip Shouse and drummer Matt Starr — were particularly impressive. They’re arguably one of the best bands that has ever played with as a solo artist faithfully delivering the material with spirited authenticity, musicality and infectious enthusiasm.

Photo by @willbyington © 2018
Photo by @willbyington © 2018

The one-two punch of KISS and Ace Frehley was more than enough for the fans on board, but the night wasn’t over yet as Bruce Kulick closed out the festivities on the pool deck with an exciting and accomplished set culling songs from his ‘80s and ‘90s tenure with the band. Kulick is an exceptionally agile and gifted guitar player; he nailed all the solos with impressive panache and swagger. His explosive band — Todd Kerns (rhythm guitar and lead vocals), Zach Throne (bass and lead vocals) and Brent Fitz (drums) — was equally adept at breathing new life into a cache of KISS songs culled from Bruce’s era, the majority never played live before.

Packed midway into the crowd is Matt Beach, 43, a return KISS Kruiser from Williamstown, Kentucky. Beach, who’s here at the show with his wife Stacy and 9-month old son, Jaxston, pinpoints what brings him back year after year: “This is my 5th KISS Kruise. I’ve always loved KISS and being able to see the band playing deep cuts and take part in KISS-centric activities and meeting people from all over the world keeps me coming back. And being on the KISS Kruise is the only place where I’m not the weird one; I’m just like everybody else!”

KISS set list, 10/31/2018

“Coming Home”

“Plaster Caster”

“Hard Luck Woman”

“Love Her All I Can”

“Goin’ Blind”

“Mainline”

“Flaming Youth”

“All The Way”

“C’mon & Love Me”

“See You Tonight”

“Domino” w/ Bruce Kulick

“Hide Your Heart” w/ Bruce Kulick

“2000 Man” w/ Ace Frehley

“New York Groove” w/ Ace Frehley

“Nothin’ To Lose” w/ Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick

“Rock and Roll All Nite” w/ Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick

Ace Frehley set list, 10/31/2018

“Save Your Love”

“Rip It Out”

“Hard Times”

“Getaway”

“Rocket Ride”

“Rockin’ With The Boys”

“Torpedo Girl”

“Strange Ways”

“New York Groove”

“Shock Me”

“Cold Gin’

(For his two additional shows on the ship, Ace unleashed more deep cuts never performed live like “Dark Light” from (Music From) The Elder, and “Two Sides Of The Coin.”)

Bruce Kulick set, 10/31/2018

“King Of The Mountain”

“Unholy”

Crazy Nights album medley: “Hell Or Hell Water,” “I’ll Fight Hell To Hold On”, “When Your Walls Come Down,” “No No No”

“Sword & Stone” (a song recorded for KISS’s Crazy Nights album but omitted from inclusion)

“Who Wants to Be Lonely”

Medley: “Rise To It,” “Let’s Put The X in Sex” and “You Make Me Rock Hard”

“Little Caesar”

“Heart Of Chrome”

“Jungle”

“Uh! All Night”

“God Gave Rock & Roll To You II”

(Note: Bruce performed an additional show on the ship and tweaked his set adding a powerful medley of songs from KISS’s Carnival of Souls album, the show closer “Turn On The Night” and more.)

When KISS was first asked to throw their own rock and roll themed cruise, Gene Simmons was skeptical. Why? “The reservations were that it was uncharted territory. The reservations were that everybody attending were KISS fans who expect to be treated a certain way, and one of the things that we pride ourselves with and I don’t say this lightly, the fans are the most important thing. We know some of them by name; some of the fans we keep in touch with personally. We don’t advertise it but these are really important people in our lives.

“So once you get on the cruise you’ve got a few variables that are completely out of your control. You’ve got a ship full of personnel and they’re used to doing business a certain way. Since we didn’t know them and hadn’t worked with them in the past, we didn’t know how they were gonna treat people. You can check into a hotel and hate the way people treat you and you can check into a hotel and find that the personnel are terrific; cordial and smiling and all of that. So you had two variables; you had Sixthman who was the promoter of it and their crew and then you’ve got the ship’s personnel. Then you’ve got food issues. We’ve all heard horror stories. You don’t want a ship full of people getting sick; none of which we control. So the reservations were not having the control. So we entered into it slowly and because of that you find the fans don’t just enjoy it but absolutely love going on the KISS Kruises. I’ve got to hand it to Sixthman, who do an excellent job. I bring my family and my friends and we do things there that we don’t do anywhere else without security guards and barricades and all that kind of stuff, and really get up close and personal with the fans.”

Photo by @willbyington © 2018
Photo by @willbyington © 2018

Sixthman is happy to report that each KISS Kruise sells out. Anthony Diaz, Sixthman CEO:  “KISS has some of the most passionate fans from around the entire globe and the band does and incredible job of creating new fan-band experiences every year to exceed KISS Kruiser expectations. We feel honored to help being a part of setting the stage for the band and their fans to rock out together at sea — it’s an absolute blast. ” This year’s KISS Kruise sold out quicker than the previous editions, likely a result of original member Ace Frehley taking part for the very first time.

Frehley, who’s just released a new solo album, Spaceman, is a fan favorite, and the chance to attend three shows on the kruise is manna from the heavens for KISS freaks. “I’ve been dreaming of Ace taking part in a KISS Kruise, and his addition to the lineup made this KISS Kruise VIII. My mind will be blown if he gets up on stage and jams with KISS during their electric show.”

Guitarist Bruce Kulick, another renowned former KISS member, also joins the KISS Kruise, for the second year in a row. Last year with brother Bob, their band wowed the crowd with a selection of songs rarely, if ever, played live by KISS. This year Kulick steps to the table once again with a judiciously selected set list spanning his ten-year tenure with the band.

As for those folks siting on the fence and not lured into the promise of rockin’ the high seas with KISS, Sixthman attests: “If you are passionate about music and want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience with your heroes, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Here’s the thing though, I often find myself trying to talk people out of our events. I feel I have a duty to warn people that experiencing a festival at sea will make it nearly impossible to take a regular cruise again! We hear it from guests time and time again — it’s probably the biggest complaint we get.” (laughs) I always ask: ‘Have you ever been to a big music festival? Standing in line for bathrooms, huge crowds, mud, overpriced beer, and trying to get anywhere near the stage to see your favorite artist … it’s a huge test of patience! On a cruise, you have everything you need right there. You have your favorite band playing in an elevator — true story! — or standing next to you at breakfast, you have shows going on all the time, just like a big festival, but you can actually see the band, sometimes so close you need to back up! Plus, you’re on a ship with just a little over 2,000 people who are into what you’re into — it’s an experience that can create friends for life. There’s luxury accommodations, food as far as the eye can see, and music almost 24/7.”

Paul Stanley is a man of many talents, and KISS Kruise VIII demonstrate the scope of those inestimable gifts. Besides his obvious inherent gifts as a singer/songwriter and master showman, he’s taking part in two special events dedicated to his lifelong passions as a cook and as an acclaimed artist/painter: Kruise Kitchen with Paul Stanley and Paul Stanley’s Rock and Roll Art Class. Both take you “behind the mask” to reveal his multi-faceted creative vision and ambition.

During the KISS Kruise, Paul’s artwork is on display in the Wentworth Gallery Showcase: The Art of Paul Stanley and there’s a constant flood of onlookers. A defining element of Paul’s artwork is the saturation of vibrant colors and an aesthetic teeming with rock and roll swagger and attitude. Fans flock inside the gallery to take a peek at his extraordinary work, which proves that he’s a consummately skilled artists not just with a guitar in his hands with a paintbrush, too. As with the past few KISS Kruises, Paul has created a limited edition KISS Kruise III/Ibanez Paul Stanley commemorative guitars available to the KISS Navy boasting spectacular colorful Kruise “Decades At Sea” themed artwork.

Those who purchase one of Paul’s guitars or stage-used microphone gain entry to a music event/Q&A with “The Starchild.” In the Spinnaker lounge, Paul took the stage for this exclusive event, cowboy hat atop his head and a radiant smile on his face as he proceeded to answer questions from the crowd for over an hour.

Topics ranged from The End Of The Road tour, plans for KISS Kruise 9, Paul’s role in the Phantom Of The Opera “(the hardest work I’ve ever done and maybe some of the most gratifying work I’ve ever done”), patriotism, his approach as a lead guitarist on the songs “Hold Me, Touch Me” and “World Without Heroes,” how he stays in shape on the road, his new Puma sneaker line, which sold out in one day around the world with designs for two new shoes and a clothing line in the offing and plans for his soul band off-shoot, Soul Station.

Photo by @willbyington © 2018

When questioned about the formative influences that honed his style, Paul singled out The Beatles and acknowledged that a glimmer of the four distinct personalities of The Fab Four can be found in KISS’s DNA.  Led Zeppelin was the other pivotal band that changed his life. “Seeing Led Zeppelin in concert in August of ’68, the band‘s synchronicity and unspoken telepathy was the greatest show I ever saw. It was almost like a religious experience it was so magical.”

Mike Wren, 44, an engineer from Brick, New Jersey, bought a Paul Stanley KISS Kruise guitar. “I’ve been a KISS fan since 1979 when I was 5. I picked up the guitar in 1987 and I’ve seen KISS live 145 times! I’m a guitar collector and have over 140 guitars. It’s my obsession. I own a few of Paul’s Ibanez guitars and the fact that I’ll be getting a Paul Stanley KISS Kruise guitar personalized to me is amazing.”

Apart from the sail away show and two electric sets with KISS, the Gene Simmons brand is omnipresent: there is a displays of Gene Simmons Axe basses and those who purchase an instrument take part in an intimate meet and greet experience with “The Demon.”

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Jim Cara is responsible for crafting the Gene Simmons line of Axe basses.

How much input does Gene have in terms of the design of these basses?

Gene needs to be consulted on any change or new idea. If I come up with a concept and believe in it, such as the Clear Axe and the Primitive, I do the R&D (research and development) myself and show it to him before anyone else can see it. He will then approve it, or tell me to destroy it.

Run us through the various basses that are being offered on KISS Kruise VIII. Detail the process from concept to finished bass.

My job or my “lane” as Gene likes to remind us all at #teamgene, is to create basses that are one of a kind, often from customer ideas and concepts. A client gives Christina (Vitagliano) an idea of what they would like created. She has several resources and designers that she can consult. This was the case on the Dragon Bass. It was designed and built by someone who specialized in that genre and did an incredible job.  I have been very lucky to have had Gene see my work many years ago and hire me directly, and now I work with Christina very much on a daily basis. I send her concept renderings and she then works with Gene and makes suggestions or just lets me run with an idea. Sometimes I show her concepts that I’ve not figured out how to make. At that point, I take a stock model from scratch or cut, acquire, or conjure up what I need to make it a real bass.

What makes these basses unique and special, both in terms of look and playability?

Well, the stage played basses have a special system that gets modified. Then, Gene’s tech works with GS to create Gene’s sound. The quality control on Gene’s production models is pretty tight. Ever since switching from Cort and setting up Gene’s own private factory, the focus has been in making basses that Gene could pick up and play right on stage if needed. The hardware and electronics are top notch. The basses have a complete Neck Through design and are basically bulletproof.

What’s the most challenging bass to make and perfect?

Chrome basses. Many companies have tried. Big companies. Nobody can get it right. Gene was willing to give us a chance to develop systems that work. So far, we have created more Chrome guitars than anyone. I have an education in automobile design, refinishing, and chemical coatings.  These things are applied daily to what I do at #teamgene.

What’s your favorite of the basses and why?

The acoustic. It’s the only ground-up production model that I had input on the design and function.  It was a challenge to make an acoustic that would work, and still be evil enough for Gene. I worked with CAD designers at Gene’s factory to find a way to maintain the Punisher shape, and still make a hollow acoustic bass that could be played electrically. The idea was tanked until Christina came on board. She mentioned an acoustic bass, and I showed her one that I already had blueprinted. My design was a bit traditional so we all worked on many sound hole ideas and ways to make it more demonic. One day, I was looking at Gene’s makeup in a mirror and saw what now is the design of the sound hole. It’s Gene’s makeup in a mirror.

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For those who shell out big bucks for one of the immaculately crafted bass guitars, they’re also invited to participate in the Gene Simmons Master Class, where the God of Thunder teaches you how to write a song.

“It happened sort of naturally, I was invited to take part in one of those Rock & Roll Fantasy Camps. Basically, what it is is you get a chance to get up there and jam with, I don’t know, Chubby Checker and Ginger Baker or whoever is there. I saw some of the younger fans there and they were about 15 and had their own band. I think they were called Rebel. They wanted to jam up there and then use the Gene Simmons association and smartly spread it on social media. But because they could already play a few riffs on guitars and drums, I said, ‘We’re gonna try an experiment. You’re gonna write a song in under an hour. It’s gonna be your song; you’re the writers and the publishers and all that and I’ll take you through all the steps. I’m not gonna put words in your mouth or chords; you’re gonna come up with them. You’re gonna come with the feel, the melody and the lyrics.’

“Then it occurred to me that it is in point of fact very easy to learn to write your own songs. In the rap world you can certainly write your own rhymes. Anybody can do it. It doesn’t mean that it’s gonna be good; that has something to do with whether you have talent and whether you can recognize your own creation. There’s something called the 10,000 hour principle. If you really want to do this well, you’ve got to put in 10,000 hours because while practice might not make you perfect, it certainly makes you better.

“So for those who take my master class on the KISS Kruise, they’re gonna learn all kinds of stuff. This idea also reminded me that I did exactly the same thing when I did that English TV show seen around the world called Rock School. What I did was show these troubled kids who had drugs and alcohol issues — the fathers weren’t at home and it was a small town and nobody cared about it so they were aimless and directionless and didn’t care about anything. These kids are truants and didn’t go into school. As a curiosity all of a sudden the attendance was close to full because this weird guy from this group called KISS was gonna be coming in with TV cameras so of course they came in. So I found out which in the bunch had a voice, which in the bunch had never played an instrument and literally assigned instruments to them. ‘You’re gonna play drums, you’re gonna play guitar…’

“See, everybody whether it’s McCartney or Hendrix started off not playing an instrument. We’re limiting the number of people that can take part in the master class because of the amount of time. I’m flying into Miami and I’m gonna spend a full day with the master class people before the cruise actually begins and additionally on the cruise itself we’ll spend more time. We may have 50 to 100 people taking part but even if you’re watching me show somebody how to come up with their own thing, it unlocks the thing in your mind. So at any point you may have 10 bass players and 10 guitar players and I’m gonna show them that there’s not much difference between bass or guitar. The Queen song, ‘Another One Bites the Dust,’ once you come up with that lick you can write the song. (imitates bass riff for “Another One Bites the Dust”)

As usual, Gene Simmons is a ball of energy on the KISS Kruise: he’s putting on a Gene Simmons Vault event and he’s also hosting a lecture on Power, the title of one of Simmons’ latest books.

KISS members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer also host their own events; Tommy oversees the Junior KISS Heavy Air Guitar Competition where passengers 14-years old and under get to play “rock star” imitating their favorite KISS guitar solos while Eric Singer hosts the “Eric Singer Drum-Off” and judges the skills of who’s best in the KISS Navy at keeping the mighty beat of rock and roll.

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Former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick put on two dynamic shows on KISS Kruise VIII, which paid homage to his 12-year career with the band, unleashing an arsenal of songs seldom, if ever, played live. Bruce chats with us about the experience and preparation involved for this year’s KISS Kruise.

Bruce Kulick: For a band like KISS with the fever of the fans and their passion for the group, which for some is their entire musical diet, to be on a KISS Kruise is really like Disneyland for them. KISS is one of the few bands who do expos very successfully. There are really huge bands like The Who and you don’t hear about a Who convention, KISS are one of those few bands that engender such passion and support to put on something like a cruise or expo.

What was it like for you to witness that for the first time at last year’s KISS Kruise and to witness it again this year on KISS Kruise VII?

Bruce Kulick: I have been the biggest supporter of Sixthman, the people who put on the KISS Kruise, They know how to feed the fans and create the experience that’s gonna make it memorable. That’s why when I did my meet and greet with the fans at least 25 percent or more of the fans have been on every KISS Kruise. Those fans are saving all year to go on the KISS Kruise — it’s not cheap — so that’s their vacation every year. That shows how there’s strong dedication for this band and I think it’s amazing. I’m so happy that I had last year’s opportunity and this one.

Last year’s show with your brother Bob was a major highlight for many fans, so this year’s solo set came with a ton of increased expectations. What went into putting together this year’s shows on the KISS Kruise?

Bruce Kulick: Unlike last year where I wanted to represent my brother Bob’s songs that he’s known for with KISS on session work and writing with KISS and my songs spanning my 12-year career with the band, I went on Spotify and was able to rehearse with an app on my iPad and my iPhone and realized how many songs I was involved with with this group. It’s pretty mind-blowing.

My band guys are super KISS fans and super BK-era fans ‘cause they grew up going to show when I was in the band. So the amount of songs that were thrown on the table to look at was way too many to do in two 75-minute sets. Then the discussion came up to do some medleys. I’m a big Rat Pack and Frank Sinatra fan and those guys used to come out and do medleys ‘cause Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. had too many hits between them.

We’re doing much more developed things than they did; they’d just do a chorus and move into the next song. In five minutes they’d pack in 30 songs. The cruise encouraged us to do two sets. We had more songs prepared that could fit into one set. The people that saw our first performance did not see the same set as the second one. The medleys serves the purpose of instead of learning 20 songs, suddenly we have learned many more but still set the time limit of being on the cruise. Many of the fans chose the songs, which we endeavored to learn, things like “Up All Night” and “King Of The Mountain.”

It was fun to do an unreleased song that a lot of fans know called “Sword and Stone” that was never released, Eric Carr’s song “Little Caesar” and songs from Carnival of Souls, a medley that included “Hate,” “Rain,” “In The Mirror” and “Master and Slave.” I got really excited preparing for this and looking at the material and then playing these songs for the band because it have me a new appreciation for my era with the band. I made giant playlist of every album and every song I performed on with the band and went from there constructing the set lists.

The trickiest songs to learn for the KISS Kruise VIII were some of the songs from Crazy Nights and the Carnival of Souls stuff is hard. Carnival of Souls had a lot of funny time signatures.

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11/2, Stardust Theatre, KISS electric show # 1

Anticipation is high in the Stardust Theater, packed with the most rabid KISS fans, some in full KISS makeup and a few with custom KISS costumes to boot. For three-time KISS Kruiser Claudia Moreira, 46, from Rio De Janiero, Brazil, being able to witness her heavy metal “fab four” is an indelible experience. “For me, since KISS play arenas and stadiums in Brazil, the chance to be able to see them this close, see their faces, see their expressions and see how excited they are is incredible.” Attending the KISS Kruise carries its own powerful emotional journey as well, as Claudia explains,” My brother Carlos got me into KISS when I was five-years-old. Tragically, he passed away last year — he had a complicated life. He loved KISS; they the favorite band in his life — so being here on the KISS Kruise I’m able to carry him here in my heart.”

Sometime after 9PM, KISS prowled onto the stage wearing their new costumes for the End Of The Road world tour. Opening with the anthemic battle cry “Shout It Loud,” the band delivered a tight 20-song set of signature favorites circumnavigating their 44-year career. Songs plucked from the first three KISS albums, KISS (“Deuce,” Cold Gin” and “Black Diamond”), Hotter Than Hell (“Hotter Than Hell” and “Let Me Go, Rock & Roll”) and Dressed To Kill (“Rock & Roll All Nite”) bookended by cuts from their last two studio albums, Sonic Boom (“Say Yeah”) and Monster (“Hell Or Hallelujah”). While their set list was missing the deep cuts fans have been treated to on past cruises, the show offered a clear preview of the kind of “Greatest Hits” set fans might get on the 2019 tour dates.

SET LIST (electric show # 1)

“Shout It Out Loud”

“Deuce”

“Lick It Up” (complete with instrumental homage to The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”)

“Say Yeah”

“Heaven’s On Fire”

“War Machine”

“Psycho Circus”

“Shock Me”

“God Of Thunder”

“Do You Love Me”

“Let Me Go, Rock & Roll”

“Hotter Than Hell”

“Hell Or Hallelujah”

“Cold Gin”

“Love Gun”

“Black Diamond”

Encore:

“Detroit Rock City”

“Hide Your Heart”

“Rock & Roll All Nite”

Truly, the KISS Kruise is all about the experience. First-time KISS Kruiser, Chris Van Nauw, 48, a resident of Antwerp, Belgium, was drawn to setting sail as a KISS Navy passenger because, “I wanted to get close to the magic of KISS as possible. They can’t get away and run from me ‘cause I’m on the ship. (laughs) But I’m not a stalker, just a longtime fan and on the KISS Kruise I can get much closer to them at intimate concerts and activities. And that’s amazing for someone who’s been a fan of the band since 1979.” He also cites “getting a small gift from the band each day that’s left in your cabin makes you feel welcome on this ship, and that’s very very important.”

Throughout the cruise, the KISS Navy is afforded the opportunity to attend fascinating Q&A discussions with luminaries in the KISS world, whether it’s KISS’s long time manager Doc McGhee, the KISS Crew or a dual Q&A with Frehley and Kulick. A particularly interesting panel took place with renowned producer Michael James Jackson, who lent his production expertise to such albums as Killers, Creatures Of The Night and Lick It Up. Jackson’s panel focused on the back story of the band’s 1982 album, Creatures Of The Night, a fierce metallic return to form for KISS whose career had been waylaid by the commercial failure of their concept album, (Music From) The Elder. “Creatures was a message to the fans,” observes Jackson. “It was a way for KISS to say, we’re back, we are here and we are who you want us to be.” Jackson stressed that “the most important thing about the Creatures of The Night album was the attitude. KISS needed to reconnect with their audience. The frame of reference on the album was how do we redo KISS in a really smart and classy way.”

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11/5, Port of Miami, Miami, Florida, 7AM

Surviving days at sea, rockin’ and rollin, perhaps imbibing one too many alcoholic beverages and getting little sleep, as the Norwegian Jade pulls into port in the early morning hours of November 5th, the KISS Navy is exhausted but content. As the sun beats down on the black concrete of the Port of Miami, over 2,300 KISS Navy passengers slowly disembark and walk off the ship and return to civilization, the hushed talk centered upon reveling in the joyful experiences, bonds forged in friendship and a collective sense of family.

“There really is a unity on the cruise,” affirms Simmons. “You see all kinds of flags from different countries, all kinds of languages being spoken and stuff like that. The UN would probably do well to get on the cruise and study what happens there ‘cause there no fights. It’s not like soccer matches. People get along. There’s people of all ages, single people, married people. What’s remarkable is the fans stay in touch with those they befriend on the cruise from year to year. People make friends from around the world. Every once in a while there’s a bit of a human story related to KISS that reminds me that the idea is bigger than a song or band or anything. There’s a guy that drive a town car that picked me up to take me to the airport. He came from Kiev in the old Soviet Union. He was telling me about how much he likes the band with this very thick Russian accent. He told me he was 34 and was talking about many of our songs and this riff or that riff. He told me that KISS was forbidden in that country. You certainly couldn’t buy KISS records. We were considered decadent Western American propaganda. I said, ‘Yeah, I heard that.’ He said, ‘Well, I was in jail for that.’ He spent two years in jail because they heard he was playing KISS records and then they broke into his home and arrested his parents. This guy as a teenager went to jail. That’s something, isn’t it?”

“KISS is much more than a rock and roll band,” relates Stanley. “The band and its fans are a tribe. It’s humbling for me that we can be the magnet that brings people together. What we have with our fans is reciprocity. The fans are our oxygen, they are our blood. They make it possible for us to exist.”

Seven-time KISS Kruiser Meaghan Ketcheson, 50, from Winnipeg, Canada has the last word: “The KISS Kruise changed my life. I’ve made best friends with people from all over the world –Australia, Scotland, Chile, Germany, Sweden and Norway and literally someone who lives 12 blocks from my house. This is my happy place. It’s my Facebook friends list come to life!”

One Response to "Still Kruisin’: Rockin’ the High Seas on KISS Kruise VIII (Photos/Recap)"

  1. Dwayne Wimmer   December 1, 2018 at 11:54 am

    It was an amazing time. I am looking forward to KKIX

    Reply

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