Thanksgiving night – 1975. I was 12 years old. The family living room Hi-Fi was tuned in to my to-go Orlando Top 40 radio station. Mixed in among my current favorites from Barry Manilow, The Captain and Tennille and The Bee Gees, I heard for the first time a distinctive-sounding, hard rock, live concert recording. I couldn’t help but notice the abrasive guitars and gang-style back-up vocals chanting, “I – wan-na rock and roll all ni-ee-ite, and par-tee e-ver-ee day.” It was loud, heavy and I didn’t like it. “This sucks,” I informed my slightly older and more sophisticated teenage cousin, Cathy. “This is KISS,” she fired back. “And they’re cool!”
I had seen the band members’ outrageously painted faces on their album covers recently down at the local record store in the mall. I also recalled having seen a commercial for their television appearance on The Midnight Special earlier that summer. Their trademark make-up, leather outfits, platform boots, and fire-breathing, blood-spitting antics frightened me. And although The Midnight Special was my favorite T.V. show, I definitely did not tune in that week.
But Cathy endorsed these weirdos confidently, and who was I to argue? From Elton John to Bad Company to Rod Stewart, she always had been on-point with every other previous musical recommendation. Could she also be right about KISS? I had my doubts this time.
I am very pleased to report that even after all these years, “I Love It Loud!”
My younger brother Greg was the first in my immediate circle to (bravely) purchase a KISS record a few months later. Although I chastised him openly for his lack of sound musical judgment, I often would crank up his 8-track tape copy of Destroyer secretly when nobody else was at home. I was hooked quickly by their high-octane, teen-targeted anthems, including “Detroit Rock City,” “King of the Night Time World,” “Shout it Out Loud” and “Flaming Youth.” Before long, I personally owned several KISS albums. I also began buying every magazine I could find that featured pictures or stories of the band, and my parents were becoming quite concerned. I remember dressing up as KISS drummer Peter Criss for Halloween in 1976. I didn’t possess the means to recreate his outrageous stage costume, so being a rather resourceful kid, I just wore my green leisure suit, claiming I was paying tribute to Criss’ Dressed to Kill album cover look.
I clearly was becoming a bona fide “KISS Freak.” Truth be told, I now worshiped my kabuki-faced heroes with such zeal that I earned nicknames like “Kiss Long” and “Kiss Baby” from the Lynyrd Skynyrd-loving jock contingent at my high school. In fact, I was drawn into more than a few teenage cafeteria confrontations as a result of my notorious KISS obsession. I even received a death threat of sorts in the tenth grade when I walked into art class in 1979 and discovered a drawing taped to my desk. It was a cartoon of me being lynched while wearing Gene Simmons’ dragon boots. In my dad’s estimation, the KISS “distraction” was the root of every bad grade I earned and every poor life decision I made in those days.
I married my high school sweetheart in 1985. Our common bond was our passion for KISS. Our first dance at our wedding was to Paul Stanley’s “Hold Me, Touch Me.” We were bummed when our son Jesse was born in 1993, because we had been hoping for a girl, so we could name her Shandi – after the well-known single from KISS’ 1980 Unmasked album. We divorced in 1999.
Me and my ex-wife, hanging out with Paul Stanley in 1992, following KISS’ Daytona Beach Revenge tour performance:
Over the years, I’ve had the unique pleasure of connecting with all of the various KISS members (except Tommy Thayer) under different personal and professional circumstances. Fun fact, Gene Simmons threatened to beat me up in a hotel bar one night following a concert date on the 1983 Lick it Up tour. Apparently, the “Demon” had been offended by an off color comment I made while he was attempting to finger my fiancee on the dance floor. It’s a long story. While being consistently somewhat aloof, Paul Stanley always has been reasonably cordial and rather accommodating each time we’ve met. I also have a cherished photo of Peter Criss holding my son when he was just a year old. And then there was that time when my award-winning metal band Dead Serios opened for Ace Frehley in concert back in the early ‘90s. The Tampa KISS Expo in 2004 was a particularly interesting experience. I had a dealer table at the event, and I recall the promoter freaking out because Special Guest, former KISS guitarist Mark St. John, reportedly had locked himself in his hotel room and was refusing to come out. By mid-afternoon, St. John did finally make his way to the Expo stage. My private 2018 meeting with former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent in Nashville also proved incredibly memorable.
I’ve been down quite a long road with KISS – the outrageous original ‘70s makeup era and the slightly silly ‘80s non-makeup era. I’ve experienced their various lineups and I’ve devoured their great records, as well as having endured their crappy ones – and there have been an abundance of both. I recall crawling literally on my hands and knees through the mall with a broken leg, desperate to score a copy of Asylum on its first day of release in 1985. I’ve seen KISS perform in front of numerous sold-out crowds and a few embarrassingly small crowds too – including the Miami date on their 1995 hotel ballroom convention tour. I saw each of their album tours from ‘79-‘92. I also saw the 1996 Reunion Tour, the 2000 Farewell Tour (three times) and several other more recent tours featuring the current lineup.
Peter Criss holding my 11-month-old son, Jesse at the 1994 KISS Expo in Orlando, FL:
For me, it all comes down to this one night – a nearly sold-out show of approximately 18,000 fans at the BB&T Center in Sunrise Florida. The first time I saw KISS live was in Lakeland, Florida on the 1979 Dynasty tour (read our recent Retro Album Review here) – the first tour in which Gene flew to the arena rafters during “God of Thunder.” But I’m now pushing 57. I’m no longer the drooling fanboy I was at 17 – or at 30 or even at 45 for that matter. My recent interest in the band has been driven more by my KISS-related relationships – including my decades-long friendship with Brad and Rhonda – the married couple and fellow “KISS Freaks” with whom I had traveled to Sunrise tonight. Yes, it’s people who now fuel my fandom – the folks sitting behind us in Row 15 / Section 120, discussing what KISS has meant to them, or the 30-year-old gal from Memphis who confessed how she only was attending the show because she has a “thing” for current guitarist, Tommy Thayer. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will confess that for various reasons, my personal KISS relationship has felt a bit splintered in recent years. Oh sure, I’ve remained committed to the relationship, however, these days it seems like we’ve been “sleeping in separate beds.” But KISS has consumed so much of life, if this truly is “The End of the Road,” as the tour name suggests, I wasn’t gonna miss it.
Showtime – 7:30pm. Simply put, David Garibaldi is a supremely gifted, world-renown artist. His celebrated work – absolutely amazing. The gonzo-style portraits he created onstage of Bruce Springsteen, Steven Tyler and KISS during his high-energy 30-minute set were incredible, indeed. While selecting a performance painter as the opening act for the super-hyped tour might have seemed odd to some, Garibaldi clearly was one of the most talented cats in the entire arena. And I personally thought his performance brought a refreshing fun factor.
The sounds of Led Zeppelin’s classic “Rock and Roll” blasted from the massive PA system as the house went black at 8:50. Sidestage video screens revealed the band revved-up and ready, heading from the dressing room to the stage – longtime manager, Doc McGhee, leading the charge. With an ear-splitting blast of pyro, the stage-spanning black current donning a gigantic silver KISS logo dropped to the ground as the superhero members were hoisted on brightly lit flying saucer-type pods from the arena rafters to the stage below. The opening tune – the concert staple, “Detroit Rock City.” And the crowd goes wild!
Graham Finney’s shots of KISS at Utilita Arena in Newcastle, UK on July 14, 2019:
“I’ve got a feeling tonight is gonna be a rock and roll party!” announced sparkly, spangly ringleader, Paul Stanley, in his thick, signature-style New York City accent – leading his crew into the anthemic 1976 hit, “Shout it Out Loud.” Although much of Stanley’s banter tonight felt “familiar,” it was forgivable – he IS the “Starchild.” Truth be told, I got more high school action than I can remember in the back of my dad’s Chevette – all while “rockin’” to Stanley’s 1978 solo album – on 8-track. Hence, the man could have been selling Florida swampland, and I probably would have bought three or four acres.
Of the show’s many highlights, “Lick it Up” shined brightly, as an array of white laser lights twinkled off Eric Singer’s impressive-looking, mirror-plated Pearl drum kit during the band’s segue into The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
The KISS stage set was enormous. And with much of the production being “flown” from above, the stage offered a wide-open, unobstructed view. In that regard, fans had a particularly prime view of Singer’s performance from any seating locale. With twirling tricks and spinning sticks, Singer seemingly was the band’s driving force. His solo on “100,000 Years” at first emulated Peter Criss’ original ALIVE! solo, but he then transitioned quickly into his own musical statement – wiping off his face casually with a black stage towel and stretching playfully while keeping the energy pumping with his powerhouse double kick drum work.
Arriving at “The End of the Road” with my friends, Brad and Rhonda in Sunrise, FL (August 6, 2019):
As for Tommy Thayer, his performance was spot-on. His arsenal of guitar weaponry was jaw-dropping – a collection that included a blinding, chrome-plated Flying V and an eye-catching, glittery blue Les Paul. Thayer’s exciting Ace Frehley-inspired solo, involved him shooting at the aforementioned flying saucers with pyro fired from the neck of his guitar. Unfortunately, Thayer was somewhat upstaged by the noticeably less than engaged Paul Stanley who could be seen in the background, throwing guitar picks at Eric Singer during Thayer’s shining moment.
And then there was legendary, co-founding KISS bassist, Gene Simmons. The soon-to-be 70-year-old business mogul looked monstrous – frightening and intimidating – larger than life, to be sure. His trademark fire-breathing during “War Machine” and blood-spitting during “God of Thunder” were thrilling as always. And not even his flubbed lyrics on “Calling Dr. Love” could diminish his demon-like presence.
In case you haven’t noticed, concert ticket prices have become obscene in the last few years. But my final KISS concert delivered maximum bang for the buck – a spectacular, second-to-none, mega-decibel production with retina-searing visuals. From the costumes, makeup and rock-ribbed showmanship onstage to the bevvy of enthusiastic babes flashing their “goodies” from the front row to the blasting confetti cannons to the nostril-burning sulfur permeating the arena, it provided all the components I’ve come to crave in a live KISS experience.
I couldn’t help overhearing one particular fella as I entered the venue earlier in the evening. “It’s a hostile world,” he declared to his buddy. “A KISS concert is the ONE place where everybody can come together to escape and let it all go.” BINGO – that’s EXACTLY it! Attending KISS concerts always haven been a personally freeing experience. And this one was particularly enjoyable. Yeah, I get it – KISS ain’t the same band they used to be. But I ain’t the same guy I used to be either. Thank goodness. And if tonight truly was the “End of the Road,” I’m sure glad that I didn’t miss it.
Whatever you think of this band, they will certainly live on “Forever.”
KISS Set List at BB&T Center (Sunrise, FL) on August 6, 2019:
Detroit Rock City
Shout it Out Loud
I Love it Loud
Heaven's on Fire
Lick it Up
Calling Dr. Love
God of Thunder
Let Me Go Rock and Roll
I Was Made for Loving You
Black Diamond Encore
Crazy Crazy Nights
Rock and Roll All Nite
*Me as a 16-year-old KISS Freak -- doing my best “Paul Stanley” in 1979.: