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On Tour: Asylum

Even as the "Asylum" tour commenced the album was dropping on the Billboard Top Pop Album charts, down from its high position of #21, even though it had attained RIAA "Gold" certification on November 15. Meanwhile, fellow legacy act Aerosmith's come-back album "Done With Mirrors" had also made an apathetic debut on the charts; though that band had a marginally better tour albeit equally up-and-down in terms of attendance and certainly not spectacular. Other acts, such as RATT, were also seeing similar mixed attendance figures on the road. A positive take-away from the situation would be that the reception to the KISS "Asylum" tour went nowhere near the apathy and fan abandonment that afflicted and ultimately derailed Twisted Sister. A memo dated September 24 noted that the band initially intended to rehearse in El Paso, TX from November 17–20 with the tour commencing there on November 21. Dates in Lubbock, TX; Norman, OK; Salina, KS; and Kansas City and St. Louis, MO would follow before reaching Little Rock on what eventually became the actual start of the tour on November 29. These dates also appeared alongside the infamous "Accept No Imitations" ads in print magazines, notably Billboard's Sep. 21 issue. While the first two Texas dates were not rescheduled some dates through mid-December were re-ordered. One issue affecting the start of the tour was likely one of Gene's external production commitments reducing his availability. He was scheduled to be working with Keel (for their "The Final Frontier" album") at Village Recorders and Baby-O Studios until late October.

The earliest stage was impressive in scope and scale, recycling the basic elements of the "Animalize" stage -- metal ramps were sometimes used on either side of the riser. "Stairs" were offset on either side of the stage, similar to those featuring in the "Uh! All Night" video, though these would prove dangerous and unusable. The ubiquitous KISS logo had grown to massive proportions, not only with its 20' height but containing over 125 computer-controlled color changing spotlights framed by a couple hundred variable intensity lights. Visually, it provided a striking and dominant effect, particularly when combined with the massive overhead lighting rig and sparkler-waterfall effects. The show started with the low-frequency drone for the first time, leading in to the mandatory "You Wanted the Best" introduction. However, the band members were usually on stage ready to play. Eric's centrally positioned drum riser now resembled more a "snow plow" with its three pointed steps that faced the crowd. Like the logo's size, Eric's drum kit also continued its evolution to an epic scale. He incorporated electronic drum pads which he would utilized during his solo section to impressive effect. Recycling of ideas included the resurrection of one of Ace's old effects, the rocket shooting gimmick which Gene would use during his solo section. And, as had been the case during the 1970s, the show reached its climax with a massive confetti storm.

Structurally, the tour continued along the theme of previous outings. Where the band had played "Whole Lotta Love" during the "Animalize" tour (and did again on occasion), fans were occasionally treated to a cover of the Who's classic "Won't Get Fooled Again." During the first show, four songs were debuted from the new album: "King of the Mountain," "Any Way You Slice It," "Tears Are Falling," and "Uh! All Night." As had been the case the previous year, one of Gene's songs didn't survive that first performance and was immediately banished. Victims from the previous year's set included "Creatures of the Night," "Black Diamond," and "Young and Wasted" as 1970s material was reduced to just four songs. As had been the case the previous year, the set length fluctuated from 12 to 16 songs, and during the tour there would be several songs substituted into the set at various points: "Young And Wasted," "Stutter," "Calling Dr. Love," "Creatures of the Night," "Black Diamond," and "King Of The Night Time World." In December, the band played some of "White Christmas" as the shows got nearer to Christmas.

The "Asylum" tour was generally uneventful and visited the same sorts of venues that the band had played during the "Animalize" tour. Venue capacities ranged from 6,000 to 17,000 seats, though attendance figures didn't reach the maximums possible. Like the "Animalize" tour, attendances were patchy at best, though there was little decline from the previous tour. According to C.K. Lendt, the tour "Wasn't much different from the last, averaging 5,000 people per night. It was hit and miss. Sacramento would sell 2,600 tickets but Philadelphia would sell 10,000. Ticket prices were stepped up... Without the increase KISS would never earn percentage monies" ("KISS & Sell"). In essence, the band was stagnant on tour, regardless of the opening acts they were taking on the road with them who included Black 'N' Blue, W.A.S.P., King Kobra, Blue Oyster Cult, and Kix. The "Asylum" tour grossed $4 million including all revenue streams (guarantees, percentages, merchandising, and others). However, after the management fees and all of the accompanying tour expenses the resulting net was just $700,000. Primary items consuming the touring dollars were sound and lights, road crew salaries, and travel expenses. Even in 1985/6 it was expensive to keep the band on the road...

On January 12, 1986 KISS played their first ever concert in San Juan, Puerto Rico. C.K. Lendt recalled, "Promoters continued to take chances on KISS. One of KISS' promoters from the early days, Dave Lucas, stepped up to the plate to promote a KISS show in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in January 1986. Although his home base was Indiana, Dave had branched out to find new markets and was working with a local impresario in San Juan. I warned Dave not to take the show as the costs and uncertainties were too great, especially with all the air cargo and travel costs he'd have to absorb. We already had an offer from a more experienced local promoter there. Dave kept topping his offer and we finally said yes. But the Catholic Church admonished parents to keep their kids away and articles in the press tied KISS to Satanism. Dave lost a bundle promoting KISS in Puerto Rico" ("KISS & Sell"). He wasn't the first or last promoter to get burned by misjudging the band's appeal in the 1980s. One interesting thing to come out of this visit was Paul Stanley jamming with a band at a local rock club. The announcer had some fun welcoming Paul back to the Coventry, and the song ("Strutter") was bootlegged as a very rare recording alleged to be from "Shannon's Pub" from 1973! According to one person who was at the event, "'Strutter' was agreed on since it was the easiest for Paul to remember, and the band knew that one... Although Paul pretty much had forgotten the words and had to be rehearsed backstage before he went out" (Michael Hawkins).

The tour had important repercussions for the band, even as quiet as it was, due to one of the opening acts, Black 'N Blue. Gene went on to produce albums for that band and even dragged Peter Criss onto vinyl in 1986 for their album "Nasty Nasty." More importantly, he also developed a relationship with guitarist Tommy Thayer. While this initially started out as a song-writing partnership it later developed into a more professional relationship when Tommy became KISS' tour manager for the "Farewell" tour of 2000/1 and general reliable support person prior to replacing Ace Frehley in the band in 2003. When W.A.S.P. left the tour to join Black Sabbath on their tour, King Kobra had nearly begged KISS to let them open. Drummer Carmine Appice recalled, "I heard KISS was changing opening acts... I met with Paul Stanley... I asked him to consider us as a favor. We talked to Gene Simmons... Also our managers were friends. KISS was getting offers of money from other bands, asking to be on the tour. Finally KISS called and said yes to us" (The Morning Union). The same paper that interviewed Carmine described the band's appearance at the Springfield Civic Center in unflattering terms: "These guys appear to be the living incarnation of the characters in Rob Reiner's hilarious rock parody 'This is Spinal Tap'" (The Morning Union). The band took a further strange step when original vocalist Mark Free became Marcie Free in 1995. However, KISS hitting the stage at that venue blew out the power in the arena after their first song of the night, "Detroit Rock City." After more than an hour the band continued the show with a shortened set.

Opening the set with "Detroit Rock City" was generally the standard during the "Asylum" tour -- though "King of the Mountain" was tried at least once. The set usually ended with "Lick It Up," which had been adopted as the band's anthem for the 1980s. Jam sections and medleys appeared randomly. The "Asylum" tour was notable in that it provided Bruce Kulick with his first real guitar solo spot with the band. Eric Carr also started to take his drum solo to a whole new level integrating electronic synthesizers resulting in an almost symphonic solo. According to Eric, "Personally, I was especially pleased with this tour, because of the great reviews that I got on my drum solo. You know, I used synthesizers... and that wall of fire in front of me. We gave it the works and the response was great" (Rock Scene Spotlights #5). The "Asylum" Tour ended at Philadelphia's Civic Center on April 12, 1986. It was around this time that the album finally dropped out of the charts completely. For the first time in several years there was no proper international (non-North American) leg for the tour. The rest of the year was essentially taken off as a holiday, with the members pursuing other projects. This allowed Gene, in particular, to work on his ever-growing assortment of non-KISS pet projects.

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