As young rock 'n' roll fans, our needs are pretty basic, and our desires are easily expressed: "I wanna rock and roll all night, and party every day."
My first rock concert was KISS with Uriah Heep, December 16th, 1976 at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse. It was the Rock And Roll Over Tour, though that hardly mattered; the only KISS songs I knew at the time were the few I'd heard on WOLF-AM: "Shout It Out Loud," maybe "Detroit Rock City," probably "Hard Luck Woman," and most certainly the monster single "Beth" and the live "Rock And Roll All Nite." I was 16, about a month shy of my 17th birthday, and I didn't know how I could come up with the outta-reach amount of $6 to pay for a ticket. Salvation arrived in the U.S. mail: a Christmas card from my Aunt Betty and Uncle Charlie in California. The card contained a check as a Christmas gift, and I was on my way to see KISS.
My friend Tom LaMere was the instigator of this whole idea of going to a KISS concert. I wasn't really much of a KISS fan specifically, and I don't think Tom was, either. But it was something to do, and it sounded...well, exciting. A rock concert! About a year and a half before this, my parents had nixed the idea of me seeing Alice Cooper and the divine Suzi Quatro at the very same concert venue, but there was a world of difference between being too young at barely 15 to old-enough-I-guess at almost 17. I don't think Mom and Dad knew much about KISS at all, but there seemed to be less overt parental fear of KISS than there was of dear ol' Alice. Green light granted. Shout it out loud!
Typical of 1970s rock shows, this was Festival Seating--every dude for himself! Tom drove us there, and we joined the crush of KISS fans racing for position as the gates opened. We found a pair of seats with a decent view, in front of a couple of young ladies willing to share their clandestine bottle of whatever that stuff was--it was the '70s, and frankly, nobody cared much about monitoring or controlling that kind of behavior. Those of us who survived that era--and Tom was not one of the survivors--can only look back now and wonder how we managed it.
The show started with British hard rockers Uriah Heep taking the stage. Opening for KISS was said to be a thankless task for many a rock 'n' roll act; the crowd was there to see KISS, to see KISS's blood and thunder, fireworks and spectacle, to punch the air in lumbering, almost-time to simple party anthems played loud. The opening act? The opening act was in your way, an obstacle, the only thing left standing between you and your ultimate goal of seeing KISS in concert.
That said, I did want to see Uriah Heep. I only knew two of the group's songs--"Stealin'" and "Easy Livin'"--but I liked "Stealin'" a little, and I liked "Easy Livin'" a lot, so I was set to enjoy these sacrificial lambs just fine, thanks. Tom said something to the effect that one of Uriah Heep's key members had left the group, but it was immaterial to me--I barely knew 'em to begin with. It's not like they were Slade or The Sweet or something, man! Or, y'know, The Raspberries. I couldn't tell you now whether Uriah Heep's set was good, bad, or sprawled somewhere in the vast DMZ in between, but they closed with "Easy Livin'," and I sang along. Pumped. Mission accomplished!
The KISS concert is itself a pyrotechnic blur in my memory. Elsewhere, I've described KISS as the definitive 1970s rock group: loud, garish, celebratory, and as infectious as an arena cheer. Tom filled me in on some of the KISS songs I didn't know, like "Firehouse" and "Cold Gin," as Paul Stanley introduced the latter with (as I'd later discover) the same jivey patter he used on the Alive! album: Anyone here like the taste of alcohol? We responded as one in the affirmative. At 16, I wasn't yet much of a drinker--the lovely bottle-sharin' lasses behind us notwithstanding--but I roared right along with several thousand of my new closest friends.
Gene Simmons spat blood. Smoke billowed from Ace Frehley's guitar. Peter Criss and his massive drum kit rose above the stage like a phoenix ascending from Dresden. Paul Stanley pranced, and the three-man front line shimmied and swayed like the introductory lesson in a glittery, kabuki Motown tutorial, all set to a merciless volume. Noise filled the ears. Noise. Stanley worked the crowd. Ya know, he said, It's been a long time since we were in Syracuse. But with this kinda audience? You know we'll be comin' back!
Showbiz phonus-balonus? Absolutely. And it worked perfectly. The perceived magic couldn't quite make us believe in Peter Criss, lying on the stage, warbling "Beth" along with a pre-recorded backing track, but it did its job otherwise. We had been entertained, and we had been inducted: welcome to The KISS Army, Grunt! Ten-HUT!
Riding home, my ears were still filled with a dull buzz, and would remain filled for a few days thereafter. It took me a little while to get around to getting some KISS records, but the concert had made me a fan. I bought Marvel Comics' first KISS comic in 1977 (following the group's comics debut in the pages of Marvel's Howard The Duck), and received a copy of Rock And Roll Over as a high school graduation gift from my sister. This occurred just as punk rock was beckoning me--I heard The Sex Pistols for the first time that summer of '77--but I kept on as a KISS fan for a little while longer.
I'm not sure that I ever really stopped liking KISS, but I was certainly a lot less interested in them as the '80s trudged on. In the late '80s, as a freelancer for Goldmine magazine, I suggested to editor Jeff Tamarkin that I should write something about KISS. Well, Jeff had been trying to find someone willing to write that story for years, and it became my first Goldmine cover story, dated June 29, 1990.
The Goldmine cover story was sufficient to get me free tickets and backstage passes for a KISS show in nearby Weedsport, a stop on the band's Hot In The Shade tour. So my lovely wife Brenda and I drove to Weedsport to meet and see KISS. Paul Stanley and drummer Eric Carr skipped the meet-n-greet, but Simmons was there, along with guitarist Bruce Kulick. Simmons was surly and scowling; on the other hand, Bruce Kulick may be the nicest rock star I ever met, and he even complimented me on my KISS piece. "We were just looking at this the other day," Kulick said as he autographed my KISS issue of Goldmine. "We read Goldmine all the time!"
|One of The Avengers gives Bruce Kulick his due in Marvel's Hawkeye # 7|
After opening sets by Slaughter and Little Caesar, KISS put on another fine show. Much had changed since 1976; the makeup was long gone, as were most of the incandescent special effects of years past; Peter Criss and Ace Frehley had been out of the group for years; MTV had given KISS a new life as a hard rock pop act, and the group had its first hit single in years, a ballad called "Forever." But they still did the old stuff in concert, too. "Calling Dr. Love." "Detroit Rock City." "Love Gun." "Shout It Out Loud."
This Weedsport show was at an outdoor venue, and the mosquitos were just vicious that night. We scratched and swatted, clawed and rubbed, trying to make it through the concert with our skins intact. The pesky little vampires finally seemed to abate as KISS came back for the encore, to play the one song we all knew was coming.
I wanna rock and roll all nite, and party every day! AH CAN'T HEAR YOU!
I wanna rock and roll all nite, and party every day!
Brenda was waiving her fist in the air, no longer swatting 'skeeters, but instead rocking out to this anthem that had made me a fan decades before. You drive us wild, and we'll drive you crazy!
In 1976, I was a square-peg teen with an imperfect personality and a sub-standard social life. My friend Tom dragged me to my first rock concert. Tom did not live to see the '80s. But I still think of him now and again; I think of his efforts to pull me out of my self-inflicted shell, to shout it out loud, to rock and roll all night and party every day. If there's Festival Seating in the sky, I hope Tom found a spot near some ladies willing to share their refreshment. I hope the view's good, and I hope the music's loud. If we listen, maybe we can even hear it from here.
Well, if our ears ever stop buzzing first. Man, these guys were loud.