The appeal of Kiss for Andrew Sgambati has always been the superhero aspect of the legendary rock-and-roll band.
“I discovered Kiss when I was three,” Sgambati said. “I discovered them through the TV movie (Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park) I didn’t even know they were a band. I just thought they were superheroes like in Marvel Comics.”
Now, nearly 30 years later, Sgambati, 30, has a chance every weekend to get his superhero fix when he dons his Peter Criss costume and gets behind the drum kit for Kiss tribute band Mr. Speed, which plays the Auburn Avenue Theater at 7:30 p.m. March 13 and 14.
Formed in 1994 in Pittsburgh by Rich Kosak, who performs as guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley, Mr. Speed was selected as the best Kiss tribute band in the world, beating out more than 200 other Kiss tribute bands in Las Vegas in 2012.
Sgambati’s ride began in 2008.
The image and the colorful costumes adopted by the band may have been the initial draw for Sgambati, it is Kiss’ music that continues to inspire him to pay tribute to the band.
“The thing people lose sight of sometimes is they are a band first,” he said.
Sgambati, a banker by day, said he enjoys the chance to take the spotlight every show when Mr. Speed performs Kiss’ most popular single, “Beth”,which was originally sung by Criss.
After that, it’s a toss up as to which Kiss tune he favors.
“I always like songs like ‘Detroit Rock City’ and ‘I Stole Your Love,’” he said. “But they have so many songs and so many styles, from rock to disco. It’s always what is your favorite at the moment. Then next week it will be something different.”
Performance-wise Sgambati said, every Mr. Speed performance is a spectacle, aimed at getting as close as possible to the high level of showmanship displayed by Kiss itself.
“It’s always such a huge performance,” he said. “I always compare it to theater because you really inhabit those characters. No one wants to see Rich or Andrew or Joe Hess (as Ace Frehley, the Spaceman). They want to see the characters. The guys in Mr. Speed are putting out the very best Kiss product we can, we’re all fans and try to do the best we can.”
Although the members of Mr. Speed painstakingly don the makeup and wardrobe made famous by Kiss, Sgambati said they don’t skip over the handful of hits that came during Kiss’ unmasked period.
“We’re different,” he said. “We do the whole history of Kiss, two hours and twenty songs that encompass the band from the beginning to now.”
Sgambati said Mr. Speed, which is based in Cleveland, Ohio, was anxious to win over new Kiss fans on the West Coast.
“Kiss fans are just really rabid for some reason,” he said. “They just want to take that message from the band and ram it into other people’s faces.”
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m., March 13 and 14 show at the Auburn Avenue Theater are available at www.brownpapertickets.com. Cost is $19.62 for students and seniors, $21.63 regular admission.