With or without makeup and platform shoes, KISS has been a staple on the concert scene since 1973. As the band continues on its Farewell Tour, which will end early next year, Lighting Dimensions sat down with its long-time LD, Bryan Hartley, for a look back.

Sharon Stancavage: How did you get involved with KISS?

Bryan Hartley: I got the position through Robert Roth. He knew I had a solid rock-and-roll background, and called me and asked if I wanted to do lights for KISS. That was in '94.

SS: What was your first tour with the band?

BH: South America was the first place that I went with KISS, which was right after the Revenge tour - Dino DeRose was the LD for that. This was called the Kiss My Ass tour, and it was promoting a KISS tribute album that was out. This was the time they weren't wearing makeup and Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer were in the band.

SS: When did you first meet them?

BH: At a rehearsal. Afterwards, I went up onstage and met Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, and the first thing Paul said to me was, "You definitely know the songs," so that was a good thing.

When I first met him, Gene said, "I need strong color washes, all red, all blue, all green." They wanted very strong lighting and that's pretty much what I did. Actually, Gene lucked out because I'm really into using strong color washes. Of course, now, with all the moving lights, it's not so easy - I can do the red, blue, and green solid washes to a certain extent, but after a while it gets monotonous. That's when you have to start combining colors.

SS: What kind of rig did you use in South America?

BH: There wasn't much intelligent lighting down there, so basically I just went in with something like 700 PAR cans, which I got locally. I also had 42 High End Systems Intellabeams[R], and we toured stadiums and did 10-15 shows in all. I just went with a big PAR can rig, because that's what I was used to, and that's what the band was used to.

SS: Did you do any other dates for that tour?

BH: In January/February 1995 we went to Japan. The fans are very loyal, they're just nuts about KISS. We then moved on to Australia. I co-designed the show with Dino DeRose: We had different stage sets for Japan and Australia, because at the time it was expensive to ship things from one country to another; it was cheaper to use two sets. We also carried a laser to both countries. I had about 600 PAR cans, 50 color changers, 20 Molefays, and around 40 Vari superscript *Lites[R]-VL2s[TM] and VL5s[TM]. That gear was available in Japan. The Light & Sound Design Icons[R] had just come out in America, and they weren't available over there.

SS: After that, the next big tour was Reunion, in full makeup. How did you hear about it?

BH: I got a call from KISS's production manager, Tim Rozner - he's been with the band the entire time that I was with them. He called me in January 1996 and said, "I've got to tell you something and you'd better sit down." He said KISS was going to do a tour, which I was expecting. Then he said they were doing the tour in full makeup with the original four members of the band, with pyro, the whole nine yards. That really blew my mind! I had worked with them before, and I could just tell that they weren't really interested in doing that sort of thing. I was a little nervous, because they had just gotten a new manager, Doc McGhee, who I didn't know at all. Fortunately, Doc is a big fan of keeping people who have been with the organization for a long time. I also thought that they might bring in a well-known designer to work on it, since it was such a big tour. But it worked out well for me and I got to keep my job.

SS: What was the rig like?

BH: I started off pretty much with PAR cans, Icons, Icon WashLights[TM], and four U-shaped trusses. I had Hexapods from LSD in there, and a whole back wall of vertical trussing that was alternated with vertical rows of speaker cabinets. During the intro, the trussing on the back wall was flat, and then it moved into the vertical positions. I actually had Colourmags and Molemags back then too. After about a month, getting things together and things changing, and during the Tiger Stadium gig, the production manager cut about 10 pieces of truss, and about 100 PAR cans. Doc eventually came to me and said that he really wanted to see the trusses move. And I said I'd really like to be able to get back the stuff that I lost, so I redesigned it after the first leg. When we came back, I had the same front truss and the same vertical walls at the back, and I just changed the overhead rig so that I had six fingers that went from upstage to downstage. And I kept that design until the end of the tour - I was out with that rig for about 12 months.

SS: Was there anything unique about the 1998 tour, Psycho Circus?

BH: This tour was KISS in 3D. At the time, it was the biggest videoscreen ever made in the world, 22' high by 40' [7x12m] wide, and KISS actually bought the videoscreen. Since it was in 3D, everybody who walked through the door got the special Psycho Circus glasses.

SS: What was your rig like for this tour?

BH: At the beginning, the trusses were configured like three Xs across the back, with three circle trusses in front of them. We had the whole rig built, and I had been programming for two days, when the band walks in and says, "What's up with the `Hollywood Squares'?" Eventually, we had a meeting about it, and I simply deleted the circle trusses, and added three more X-shaped trusses in their place. All of the X trusses moved independently from an overhead grid, and worked out quite well. But we eventually stopped moving them because they interfered with the videoscreen.

SS: What was the biggest challenge of the tour?

BH: They were having a lot of trouble getting the video to pop out, because of the size of the screen. I had 120 High End Studio Colors[R], and a ton of Icons, and they kept blaming the lights - I ended up telling Doc that I'd turn out half the lights and you still wouldn't be able to see the video. They finally realized that it wasn't the entire fault of the lighting, and that the film that you put over the projectors to create the 3D effect cut a lot of the light source down.

SS: How did you solve the problem?

BH: After the Dodger Stadium gig, Doc had Roy Bennett, who did the TV lighting for that show, work with me. Roy came to Boston where we had a few days for rehearsal and we worked on it together and changed some minor details. I really learned a lot from him in just two days. He opened my eyes to a lot of different things, and I was really happy afterwards - Roy's really good and he's taught me so much. Psycho Circus only played two months in the States, and because we weren't using the articulating trusses, I redesigned it for Europe. I got rid of the grid that suspended the Xs, and instead created three big digital 8s across the stage.

SS: Now we're into the Farewell tour.

BH: For this tour, we pretty much used the European Psycho Circus digital 8 truss configuration again. I like it, it looks great, and no one outside of Europe has seen it.

SS: Why did you reuse this plot?

BH: When I suggested it to them, I told them that it would save a ton of money in rehearsals, because if you do a new rig and start from scratch, you're going to need at least a couple of weeks of rehearsals. If we do it this way, we'll only need a few days of rehearsals, and everyone agreed. Actually, since I've been away from the rig for about a year, it was almost new to me. I had to go in there and program the new songs and touch up some stuff, and it worked out really well, because we're not doing 3D anymore.

SS: One of the big signatures of the show is the KISS signs.

BH: I designed these signs during the Reunion tour - each consists of 1,000 MR-16 lamps. They aren't too bad to put together. For the Reunion tour, we had one sign in the middle, and we were touring so much and had no breaks. They decided to make another sign, so we could send it out ahead of time to other countries. So we ended up with two of them, and we used both of them for Psycho Circus. And we kept that look for the Farewell tour.

SS: How have the MR-16s worked out?

BH: Everybody said, "You don't want to use MR-16s, we've had all kinds of trouble with them," but they were the perfect bulb - they were exactly what I wanted and needed. So we used them and they're great! I've had no problems with them at all. And this is the only KISS sign that they've used that's been the true logo of the band. I love the KISS signs.

SS: What's the best part of this tour?

BH: I'm really in love with the Studio Colors - they just really rock. I also love the set - it's a big improvement from what we've had in the past, and it's great to light. And the vibe of the whole thing is better than it's ever been.