By Phil Wahba
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the concert business struggles with top-name cancellations this summer, KISS hits the road in North America, betting that its spectacle of classic rock, pyrotechnics and fire-breathing will lure cash-strapped concert-goers looking for dependable entertainment.
The group is set to embark on its 32-date "Hottest Show on Earth" tour of the United States and Canada that starts on Friday in Cheyenne, Wyoming and ends in Fontana, California in September to promote its "Sonic Boom" album.
The fact that KISS still plays 15,000-seat venues 37 years into its career comes from providing fans with what they want and touring with regularity, even when the band's popularity ebbed and flowed, its lead singer said.
"It's about the marathon," KISS co-founder Paul Stanley told Reuters. "It's more about who lasts the longest -- if you're depressed or lose your drive because of one tour or one show, then you're in the wrong business."
Stanley says fans are now "more discerning" and artists have to give them high-quality, high production entertainment if they hope to fill arenas and amphitheaters during this economic downturn. "They want bang for their buck," he said.
KISS has been riding a wave of renewed popularity since it put its trademark make-up back on in 1996, in contrast to the early 1980s when album and ticket sales plummeted and the band was regarded as hard rock has-beens.
Several artists have been finding this summer a tough slog. Earlier this month, concert industry publication Pollstar said that ticket sales from the top 100 tours in North America had slipped 17 percent in the first half of 2010, compared to a year ago.
Organizers of the all-female Lilith tour scrapped about a third of the shows, while Christina Aguilera shelved her tour altogether.
"It's fairly simple -- there are only so many dollars available," said Stanley, a guitarist who sings lead on classics like "Detroit Rock City".
While KISS has so far not had to cancel shows or co-headline with another major act to book its tour, it has not been entirely immune to the tough concert market.
A ticket search on promoter Live Nation's website found that top seats for next month's show in Long Island, New York were nearly sold out, and selling for several times their face value on reseller site StubHub. But thousands of cheaper seats for the Long Island gig were still available three weeks before the band was due to take the stage.
TRIED AND TRUE
Fans have come to expect to hear certain songs in their original versions and see stunts like bassist and co-founder Gene Simmons breathing fire.
Stanley feels little sympathy for any superstar complaining about the drudgery of touring and playing songs the same way year after year.
"They're great songs, and on top of that, you have to respect your audience. When somebody comes to a concert and pays hard-earned money, they don't deserve to hear a band turn 'Love Gun' into a reggae tune," Stanley said.
"If a band is bored with their own material, maybe they should stay home. We're proud of every song."
One novelty of the tour will be a contest to select local, unsigned bands to open the KISS show.
Acts such as Judas Priest, AC/DC and Bon Jovi opened shows for KISS early in their careers, and Stanley said new bands need all the breaks they can get.
Stanley said the band plans to have a new album out sometime next year, adding that there will be no 11-year gap as there was before "Sonic Boom."
"In our case, it's really for us to make a statement about who we are and what we'll be tomorrow," Stanley said of the plans for a new album.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)