The first time I saw KISS perform was back in 1974 inside a metal pole barn located in (of all places) Asbury Park, New Jersey, which ironically is Bruce Springsteen’s hometown. KISS had just released their debut album (in my opinion, still their best) and one year later in 1975 they set a record as being the first band to sell out The Saginaw Civic Center (now known as the Dow Event Center).
KISS Is one of those bands you either love or hate. In 1976 they were voted by readers of the now sadly defunct Cream Magazine as the Best and Worst Band of the Year; and they’ve always held a close relationship to Michigan. They recorded KISS Alive at Cobo Hall in Detroit, which is really the release that propelled them to mega-fame; and after their third album Dressed To Kill, I lost interest; but their legacy is undeniable.
The Review had hoped to feature a review of their August 15th return performance to The Dow Event Center, but unfortunately KISS were not granting interviews and press & photo credentials were somewhat conditional upon agreeing to write preview features about the opening band. Seeing as I am not big proponent of conditional journalism, we declined; and instead we are featuring this somewhat humorous assessment that Bo White forwarded to me last night. – Robert E. Martin
KI$$, Comic Books & the Commercialization of Rock
It isn’t very often that I criticize a major act - a well-loved rock & roll band that stood the test of time. KISS was formed in New York City in 1973 and they were an almost immediate sensation. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were the leaders of the band and they were responsible for the face paint and outlandish outfits.
A host of players travelled through the KISS experience, with smoking guitars, blood spitting and fire breathing. It was like a group of Kabuki warriors with painted faces just waiting to freak you out. The various actors in the musical aggregation were like comic book styled characters like Space Ace, Catman and the Demon.
By 1983, the band seemed to tire of the costuming and began to perform without costumes and makeup. I didn’t care one way or another because I thought the shtick was a bit infantile and only fit for lobotomized zombies in the night of the living dead; but obviously I am in the minority, seeing as KISS has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. So, what do I know?
KISS started out in New York as Wicked Lester. They had a sizeable following and recorded one album that was shelved by Epic. By Late 1972, Simmons and Stanley hired an exceptional drummer and singer by the name of Peter Criss. By 1972 the trio did a showcase for Don Ellis, the A&R director for Epic Records, however he did not like the band’s music. But by January 1973 Ace Frehley joined the band and it was only a few weeks later when Paul Stanley re-christened the band as KISS.
And the rest is history…well, maybe not history. The current members are Paul Stanley (rhythm guitar, vocals); Gene Simmons (bass, vocals); Tommy Thayer (lead guitar, Vocals); Eric Singer (drums, vocals). Former members included; Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Eric Carr, Bruce Kulick, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John and Bruce Kulick.
The band has evolved into distinct stages from the Early Years to the Rise of Prominence, Solo Albums, Final Makeup Years, Unmasking, Reunion and Post Reunion.
In 1995 the band released a 440-page of wham bam thank you mam that chronicled the group’s history and it was followed by a worldwide Kiss Convention Tour. Not too shabby for egotistical Rock & Roll Hall of Fame corporate rockers; though I believe there is always more to consider when we think of KISS; for instance, Dick Wagner’s spectacular guitar work on such tracks as Flaming Youth and Sweet Pain during the sessions for the Destroyer album, while also playing acoustic guitar on the power ballad Beth.
I also have a memory of an old interview with Simmons in which he praised British Invasion Bands and professed his love and respect for the Beatles music; but after all these years and after all their triumphs, I still don’t get it.
Perhaps it’s like having a shabby old pair of sneakers - they aren’t very comfortable, but they fit just right and you won’t throw them away. It’s when something reminds you of an old forgotten time, a brief candle of memories that take you to another place that’s warm and soothing.
KISS has been around for forty plus years and all the cylinders are firing. Their resilience is stunning especially when you notice that other musicians fold in the face of ennui, whether its new wave, old wave, metal, rap or punk. But I still don’t get it. There must be an explanation for this KISS phenomenon, perhaps something like a musical X-file… oh no, something is out there!
I am unable to attend the August 15th Kiss Concert, but I will sit without judgment. I have an open mind about KISS and I dig their longevity and working class vibe. So I decided to take a trip through YouTube to see several of their more recent concerts – again, not too shabby.
I did take notice that Simmons and Stanley don’t jump up and down and move around very much anymore. It’s tough when you have to squeeze your big fat butt into those star spangled rock & roll outfits and put that nasty Japanese kabuki war paint on your face. I bet it itches like a bitch!
As for the concert in Saginaw, I hope they play all their hits especially Lola and Paperback Writer.
16th November, 2023