KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout


Fans KISS And Make-up At Convention

(August 1995)

The Times Leader
August 4, 1995

By Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

click to enlarge"That's my last Gene," said the vendor, speaking to a fan admiring a 1978 Gene Simmons doll. "$100."

The fan passed on the purchase (the coveted "original box" was missing), but the steep tag on the collectible probably made the $100 admission price to the traveling KISS Convention seem like a bargain.

Held at the Roseland Hotel in New York City on Sunday, July 30, this was a special stop on the KISS Convention tour. It brought KISS back to its hometown and drew thousands of die-hard fans to revel in 12 hours of KISS fun and madness.

A celebration of the career one of America's most beloved bands, the convention offered a museum, a guitar and drum clinic, a KISS tribute band, a Q&A session with the band and a rare unplugged performance by the group itself.

There was also romance in the air, as one couple decided to get married at the convention, with Gene Simmons serving as the best man.

It was KISS crazy.

ALL THINGS KISS

Formed 23 years ago, KISS reached the pinnacle of rock superstardom in the late '70s, yet despite several personnel changes and the dropping of their famed costumes and make-up over a decade ago, they remain a consistent gold act and a premier concert attraction.

In fact, KISS is set to make history. According to Mercury Records, the group's label, should their next record achieve gold status, it will be their 26th, breaking the mark held by The Beatles.

Having inspired a unique artist/fan relationship (remember the KISS Army?), KISS conventions have been a popular attraction for nearly a decade. But what makes the "1995-96 Worldwide KISS Conventions" different from past KISS-fests is the active involvement and participation of the band themselves. Fans — most wearing KISS t-shirts, some donning full KISS make-up — gleefully roamed the aisles of the "KISS Museum" displaying actual costumes and instruments used on the band's past tours, original album cover artwork, hand-penned song lyrics and stage designs.

Also included in the ticket price was a laminated KISS Convention Pass and a free color program. Fans, who were free to take photographs, bring tape recorders or video cameras, seemed to be having a blast.

"I love KISS," said Jennifer Truby, 24, a fan from Washington, N.J. "I enjoy their music. When I'm up, I listen to them, and if I'm down, it makes me happy."

For many, it was a scheduled unplugged performance by the band themselves which made the ticket price worth the cost.

"They're my favorite band in the world," said Phil Scanga, 32, of Queens, N.Y., who received his ticket as a Father's Day gift from his wife. "I've been with them a long time and love everything they do. I had to be here to see the unplugged show."

Paul Unger of Niles, Ohio, worked one of the vending tables at the convention. Representing H&H Marketing and Distribution Inc., he said his company specialized in the now-rare vinyl format, releasing limited edition, individually numbered, colored vinyl albums of KISS' more recent work.

"Every KISS album came out on vinyl except for 'ALIVE III,' " he said. "Our company went and licensed it and put it out on vinyl so that every KISS fan that grew up collecting vinyl can now have their collections complete."

Jeff Smittle, Pittsburgh, a fan and collector, was another dealer at the convention. The New York show, he said, was his 15th stop on the tour.

"The people have been fantastic — especially the people that dress up with the make-up on," he said. "I think the band's going out of their way to make it special for the die-hard fans."

And meet them.

That's right: If you were up for some elbowing and hustling, you were also welcome to stick around after the unplugged concert for a post-show meet and greet with the band.

Two giant video screens played vintage KISS concert clips throughout the day, and current KISS drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Bruce Kulick each offered clinics and demonstrations with their respective instruments. Later in the day, the KISS tribute band "ALIVE" performed. Donning replica KISS costumes and make-up, the group's rousing performance tried to recapture the magic of the early KISS experience.

LOVE AND KISS

Corinda and Bill Rexer of Binghamton, N.Y. gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "you may KISS the bride" when they were married on stage in full KISS make-up.

The attendants?

None other than Gene Simmons, serving as best man, and Paul Stanley, giving away the bride.

"We originally wanted the band to come to our official wedding a couple of weeks ago," said Bill, just before the ceremony. "They graciously said they couldn't make it because of other commitments, but said 'We'd love to have you come down to New York City and spend the day with us and do it at a KISS convention."

After the vows, KISS took the stage for nearly two hours of question and answers, with some fans saying they came from as far as Toronto and Russia. Simmons and Stanley downplayed the possibility of the day's most frequently asked question: Will there ever be a reunion with original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss? Such a reunion, they said, isn't in their hearts at this time, despite the lucrative offers that have been made.

Since this was a gathering of total KISS-heads, no question seemed too over-analytical or bizarre.

One fan asked Simmons exactly what it is that he mumbles just before the first drum break on the live version of "Let Me Go Rock 'n Roll" from 1975's "KISS ALIVE" LP, saying he'd been trying to figure it out for 20 years.

Simmons had no idea.

(In true KISS zaniness, another fan was able to answer the question.)

UNPLUGGED NUGGET

The highlight of the entire day, of course, was the highly anticipated performance by the band. Dishing out a whopping 31 songs in the set, the group offered a variety of hits and gems from their two-decade career. Opening with the 1974 nugget "Comin' Home," it was clear right from the get-go that this was to be no "greatest hits" show. This was for the die-hards, and selection of rarely performed songs such as "Sure Know Something," "Plaster Caster," "Got To Choose" and "A World Without Heroes" were all met with a roar from the crowd.

Paraphernalia, collectibles, and weirdness clearly took a back seat here for the show, and the true reason behind the whole event — the superb music of KISS — is what shined brightest. The solid foundation upon which their songs are built seemed to step forward in this unplugged (albeit loud) performance, and the infectious grooves and grinding riffs of gems like "Rock Bottom" and "Take Me" came off remarkably well.

Requests were taken, with fans holding up signs and shouting out song titles. The crowd sang nearly the entire song during the performance of "Spit" from 1992's "Revenge" LP, and a type of KISS karaoke transpired near show's end, with fans singing along with the band into a microphone being passed throughout the room.

The performance ended with the classic "Rock 'n' Roll All Nite."

But the convention wasn't over.

The band returned, promising to stay as long as it took to make sure everyone would receive an autograph.

With fans clamoring around the group — one guy asked Paul Stanley if he would autograph the tattoo of Stanley he had branded on his back. As Stanley began to sign, the fan stopped him.

Stanley, it seemed, was signing the wrong tattoo of himself on the guy's back.

There were several.

"No, not that one ," said the guy. "The one with the make-up."

Only at a KISS Convention ...

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