Harrah's Laughlin's Summer Concert Series begins Memorial Day Weekend, on Saturday, May 25, with beach parties, live music and the Colorado River as the perfect backdrop for fun.
Party-goers can dance and enjoy a different band every Saturday throughout the summer paying tribute to a variety of popular bands. Kicking off the series will be a wild rockin' performance from Sin City KISS.
Bring the whole family because there's no age limit when it comes to fun, and listening to music is free. The parties are standing room only, but beach chairs are available for rent. A DJ gets the party started (7:30 p.m.), before the band takes the stage (9 p.m.).
Let's face it, KISS is no ordinary heavy metal band.
It was the first to combine rock with theatrics, carnival side-show attractions and comic book characters. Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley dared to be different by painting their faces and wearing elaborate spike-and-metal-studded black leather and spandex costumes, complete with platform shoes. Those comic book characters were The Starchild (Stanley), The Demon (Simmons), The Spaceman or Space Ace (Frehley) and The Catman (Criss).
They were all about breaking rules and setting the world on fire, both musically and literally. These controversial rock heroes were as faithful to their legions of fans as they were to themselves for more than 40 years, giving them more and more reasons to continue their loyalty to this day.
As if their musicianship, ass-kicking anthems and power ballads weren't enough, their stage antics like fire breathing, blood spitting, smoking guitars, shooting rockets and pyrotechnics were ridiculously over the top — and among the reasons fans couldn't get enough. It was electric sex, fantasy, and rock, all rolled into one explosive package.
From that first live show for three people at the Popcorn in Queens in 1973, to selling out arenas all over the globe, KISS became one of rock's most influential bands. So to recreate all of that doesn't happen with a few tubes of grease paint, and some plugged-in guitars; a tribute group has to be all in or pack up the gear and go back to playing the dive bars.
Members of Sin City KISS knew from the start they would have to pull out all the stops if they were going to pull off portraying one of the most iconic bands on the planet, and the egos — which either make or break a band — would have to be checked at the door. These guys also have the talent to do it all as they take every nuance, note and guitar riff very seriously, making sure every show is about creating the spectacle and the magic of the music first brought to life by the four original guys.
It was a chance meeting between Louis Reyes and Steve Mitchell that set the wheels in motion for a rollercoaster ride that has taken on a life of its own. Mitchell, who portrays Paul Stanley, talked with us about that first meeting and the band being on the musical ride of their lives ever since. Here's his take…
Talk a little bit about your background and how this tribute came to be.
I actually used to live in Phoenix and I was in a tribute band there, and on a trip up here to Las Vegas, I happened to meet Louis Reyes, who is the Gene Simmons in our band. We became friends and we just got to talking, so we decided to start Sin City KISS. Louis had just come out of a different KISS tribute band probably around 2012, so we've been together about seven years.
We were both huge KISS fans back in the day — I mean, everyone in the band is old-school KISS fans we've stayed KISS fans all along. Louis and I were both KISS fans in the '70s, and we really cover that '70s era. However, we'll throw in some of their newer songs, but we try to keep it to the classics from the '70s, which is what most people seem to know, and we have fun. We had residencies at the Stratosphere, we were in their "World's Greatest Rock" show for all of 2017 — we played six nights a week in that show. It was like a Legends show, but for classic rock. Then we've had residencies at the Four Queens for a while, Planet Hollywood, we played at the Hard Rock several times, we played California, Arizona, Florida, and Colorado.
You and Reyes also portray the Starchild and the Demon in another light?
Additionally, Louis and I each do KISS weddings at the KISS Wedding Chapel here in Las Vegas inside the Rio. Believe it or not, a lot of people get married at the KISS Wedding Chapel.
Do they come dressed as KISS characters?
Sometimes they do, sometimes they'll just wear the 7-inch boots, but yeah, we've seen it all. In addition to that, I've also been on seven of the eight KISS cruises where I have done things like mass wedding vow renewals that have been kind of "KISSified" — it's like there's a hundred KISS song titles throughout the ceremony that's usually attended by 500 or 600 people. They also asked me to write a KISS Navy swearing-in ceremony, a pledge of allegiance to the state of rock and roll, so I've been able to do some official things like that on the KISS cruises.
Who are the other two guys in the band?
Carl Ciadella is our drummer, he does Peter Criss and our Ace Frehley, his name is Val Popovic.
What was the biggest challenge in putting this group together?
The biggest challenge is finding the right people. Louis and I have been the two steady people in the band. And Carl has been with us the longest, he left for a little while and obviously came back, but the Ace character has been really hard to find the right person especially locally, because sometimes they burn out.
Honestly, I think one of the things that's different with our band, is like we realize we are not KISS. And within the KISS tribute world, there's a lot of drama that I, quite frankly, just stay away from. I just don't have the time for it, but that has lead to seat turnover, not only in our band, but a lot of the bands, so the hard part has been locking in the right four guys that can really work together well — Louis and I are very different people, but we just have the same vision for the band. Carl is very much the same way. We had a couple of great Aces, one of them is here in town, he has done it for so long, he just wanted to take a break.
Because this is a KISS tribute show, it takes a lot more commitment than just showing up in costume, right?
It takes a lot to get ready. It's a very long day when we do a show — we have a lighted KISS sign, we have our own backline, we have the fog machines — so to set up the stage, it's not just like showing up at a club and plugging in and playing. It's going there early, it's setting up, and then it's two hours for the makeup, and then the show. After the show we always go out and do pictures. That can last 30 to 60 minutes depending on how big the crowd is, and then by the time you break it down and go home it's a 12-hour day for a 90-minute show.
There are a few KISS tributes out there, but you guys are considered one of the best. How do you stand out from the crowd? What do you think it is that makes you guys different?
For us it's just an honor to pay tribute to these guys, so I think we're all very humble about it. We realize that it's like living the dream you had as a kid, like you wanted to be on stage and we're getting to personify those iconic images that we were raised on. I think the thing that sets us apart is that attitude and it comes across. We did a show at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Saturday night, and the promoter was asking me questions like, "Do you want this? Do you want that?" And afterwards he was like, "I love you guys 'cause you're so easy going, you're not divas." I think that goes a long way and when we're interacting with the crowd after the show, and taking pictures, we don't rush people through. We take our time and a lot of people don't do that. They appreciate that fact, especially in Las Vegas, there's hundreds, if not thousands of different shows if you add up all the bars in the area every night that people can go to. The fact that people choose us over all the other entertainment options on a Friday or Saturday night is humbling.
Some tribute guys lead with their egos instead of paying more attention to detail.
We just feel like we're wearing someone else's clothes, someone else's makeup, singing someone else's songs, and people are paying to come and see us. We just really want to make sure that we give 100 percent to them. I think that helps us stand out. We also are very meticulous with the costumes, so we want to look professional. These aren't costumes we buy in a store, they are handmade costumes, so the costumes look good. We take our time with the makeup — and even though out of the makeup, I look nothing like Paul Stanley. In the makeup, knowing how to cut the white to shape his face more, I think it gives that authenticity to it. And then I've been listening to these guys since 1976, and watching videos. I've seen them about 80-some odd times in concert, so we study them. We have the talking down on the stage, and we play the songs exactly like they play 'em on KISS Alive! and KISS Alive II. You're not going to hear our interpretation of the songs — we want to be faithful to the way the songs sounded on the album. I think if you add all of those things together, I think that contributes to maybe why people think we're one of the better tribute bands.
What's it like to be a regular guy by day and an anonymous rock star at night? No one gets to see your face what do you think about that? Are you fine with the whole Jekyll and Hyde thing?
For the most part, the Jekyll and Hyde thing is nice because when we do a show, or we do a corporate event or — we play for Toys For Tots every year, even though my wife is with me it's like she's invisible. It's constantly "can we have a picture, can we have a picture." So it is nice we can go places and not have to deal with that. If we just go out for a night, we're out for a night. The one time that it isn't so fun is when we go to events out of costume, we show up and no one knows who we are, and I look like the band's accountant. That's because by day, I work for a bank. I'm this normal corporate America kind of guy, but all of the other guys in the band have long hair so if the four of us walk in somewhere people are like, they must be a three-piece band with their manager or their accountant or something. If I go somewhere I want to be known I have to do something different, so I just started buying flashier clothes, and that actually changed things.
How much practice did it take to be able to walk and dance in the platform shoes?
It took a while. When I first got 'em, I actually would clean the house in them — it was a great way to reach the top of the fans. Walking on carpet is very difficult, so that kind of helped because you never know what kind of stage you're going to be on. Sometimes there's a great backstage, sometimes the stage is a little sticky and that's taken me down during a show. Sometimes the stage has bumps in it, or sometimes we can't go wireless so we have to plug in, and those cables from the guitars are very treacherous. It limits how much of the dancing or the jumping I can do. The first time I tried to jump in the boots, I actually rolled my ankle and I can't believe I didn't snap it, but it was swollen like a grapefruit for probably a month. So I gotta pay attention when I come down and come down a certain way. The few times I've gone down during the show, I just make it part of the show. We were playing the Hard Rock once, and I was jumping sideways across the stage and the stage was a little bit sticky. My boot caught and I just went down, so I just fell onto my back, held the guitar up, continued playing, rolled up onto a knee, kept playing and I got up. I tried to make it look like I was supposed to do that.
What song do you have to do?
"Rock and Roll All Nite," — we have to do that one every time. It's an easy song to play, and I'm to the point, "Guys, do we even have to practice?" Obviously it's a great song, it's iconic, it's the song everyone associates with KISS, it's a great sing-along, so it's fun to play live because we get to watch the audience singing along. I don't think we've ever done a show without it.
Since this is an outdoor show, do you do pyro? Are there less restrictions when you're outside?
We do the blood spitting when we do our normal show, so we'll do that outside for sure. Going back to the whole Great White disaster years and years ago in Rhode Island, a lot of clubs don't allow pyro, so the way we improvise that is that we have fog machines that shoot up plumes of smoke, and we have colored lights in them, so we can make those orange and they look like fire shooting up, so we use those inside and out, so we'll have all that.
What can the Laughlin audience expect at this show?
They can expect to hear all the '70s classics that most people know. If they've had KISS Alive! or KISS Alive II at any point in their lives, then they're gonna know almost the entire set. We may include songs outside the '70s like "Lick It Up.” There are some '80s songs we do. Obviously I would include "Creatures of the Night" from 1982, all of the makeup albums, we do "I Love it Loud," off the Creatures of the Night album. If just the average classic rock fan comes they may not know the entire set, but they're going to know a lot of it and KISS fans will — ’cause a lot of them are like original member-only fans so they'll get mostly the Gene, Paul, Peter, Ace songs.