Peter Criss

KISS WEEK! Alive MCMXCIX

Friday, November 20th, 2009 | musiX, pdX | No Comments

Live: KISS and Buckcherry at the Rose Garden, 11.17.09

It’s interesting to think about the pre-show rituals for a KISS concert in 2009. There’s less beer swilling and doobie smoking in the parking lot, and a lot more face-painting with the fam before packing into the mini-van to head down to the arena.

I was standing in front of the stage with four other (real) photographers right before the show. I stared out into the large crowd … well, not just any crowd—the KISS Army! KISS Nation! Which is sort of the equivalent of Fast Food Nation (OK, maybe Applebee’s Nation). Lots of makeup. Lots of KISS shirts covering portly bellies. Lots of middle-agers and their kids. They forked out their dough (tickets are anywhere from $20-$126) and were ready for that 60-foot curtain in front of the stage to drop. As the final chords of Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” rang through the house speakers, those famous words cut through the darkness and the curtain fell. I immediately turned into a teenager.

Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are large men—even without the heels. And 35 years in, they play their parts like seasoned actors in a Broadway production, rarely deviating from the script. If you’ve been to a KISS show before you know you’re going to get the classics: “Strutter,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Cold Gin” (which these days is preceded by a PSA from Stanley telling audience members not to drink and drive) and “Detroit Rock City” (a song whose narrator meets his end after drinking and driving). All great songs. But how about “Love Theme From Kiss”? Or “Plaster Caster”? “The Oath”?

I’ve seen hundreds of KISS performances—four in person, many more on VHS and DVD—and I’ve heard the same between-song banter over and over and over. So I’m always looking for that rare break in the script. I finally got it about two-thirds into the show at the expense of a hooligan in the upper deck. Paul was about to go into his spiel about extended encores, when out of nowhere … “Y’all are gonna get to see me shove a light pen up a muthafucka’s ass.” Whoa. Paul, don’t forget there are children in the audience. Anyway, doesn’t this guy know that Stanley Eisen doesn’t tolerate lasers in his eye? After a short, one-sided exchange, the Starchild snapped back into character as if nothing happened.

KISS is a tighter band today than perhaps it’s ever been. Yes, it’s incredibly lame that drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer are wearing Peter Criss and Ace Frehley‘s makeup (couldn’t they have come up with new characters? Perhaps some sort of exotic bird? Maybe a panda?), but KISS’ new lease on life wouldn’t be possible without them. Especially Singer, who drums circles around Criss. Thayer’s a fine musician, too, though everything that came from his fretboard was lifted from the Space Ace.

Not to mention letting Thayer sing “Shock Me” is fucking sacrilege.

But it’s about recreating that classic show, which is still big and loud and fun. KISS has retained the best and most campy elements from the ’70s—fog, fireworks, ticker tape parades, blood spitting—brought into the aughts with banks of video monitors that flashed images of old album covers and graphics that followed along with the songs. At one point, the cover of Sonic Boom appeared overhead as Stanley directed those in attendance to head down to Wal-Mart and pick up a copy. A commercial? I guess it’s the KISS version of an indie band telling a crowd they have a merch table with shirts and 7-inches? Can we go with that?

But hand it to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley for still knowing how to rock ‘n’ roll all night—performing hundreds of shows a year, for more than two hours a night. And for a couple of guys approaching senior citizenship, they still get around pretty well in those 7-inch heels. These guys are the Kings of the Nighttime World. The Knights in Satan’s Service. And though I found myself cringing a few times, a KISS concert is still the greatest show on earth.

Photos by Mark Lore

In memory of Mark Louis Arnone, Feb. 24, 1973 – Oct. 21, 2009

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KISS WEEK KICKS OFF!

Monday, November 16th, 2009 | musiX | No Comments

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve pretty much lived, breathed and slept KISS since I was about 5 … which is, no doubt, both impressive and extremely sad. While my devotion to the band has waned over the past decade, I think it’s safe to say that once you join the KISS Army, there’s really no getting out. I love ‘em … err … I leave ‘em … I mean …

Today TDoL kicks off KISS WEEK … because, well, why not? The band is riding a wave of critical acclaim (?!) with its new record, Sonic Boom. Still selling out shows. Finally nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their 10th year of eligibility. Besides, like it or not, the b(r)and has influenced three generations of music—some of it good, some not so good—while becoming the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of Ringling Bros. meets Disneyland. Fun … and sometimes nauseating.

But if you can get past the KISS tampons and the KISS Kaskets and KISS M&Ms and KISS wine, KISS lunchboxes, KISS belt buckles, KISS Kondoms, pinball machines, KISS this and KISS that, you’ll find the music—loud, dumb, primal rock ‘n’ roll music. And when Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley aren’t spewing their agendized drivel (which isn’t often) you can sometimes catch them talking about the great bands they grew up listening to—The Seeds, The Pretty Things, The Beatles, The Move, Stax/Volt records. That’s what appeals to me anyway.

So, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? Before the merchandising empire. Before the prepubescent fans. Before the pyro. Before Gene started taking up photography. Beginning on Jan. 30, 1973 KISS performed a series of shows at New York’s Popcorn Club, located on Queens Boulevard, which would soon be renamed Coventry. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss had just joined. And they had changed their name from Wicked Lester to KISS, which Paul Stanley took from the New York Dolls song “Looking For a Kiss.”

The first shows were sparsely attended, the makeup and costumes crude (Paul was still donning the short-lived “bandit” makeup), and the band was still unsigned. But KISS’ performances at those sleazy, roach-infested clubs were ferocious and brazen—not much different from the ones they’d give only two years later for sold-out crowds at majestic rock ‘n’ roll shrines like Cobo Hall and Madison Square Garden.

These old performances make me wish time travel was possible. I can’t imagine what this must have looked like to people in 1973. This performance from the Popcorn Club on Dec. 22 of that year was the band’s very first caught on film—a single-angle shot from behind a modest crowd. Paul and Ace look like they’re wearing jeans under them thar boots, Peter Criss is spry behind the drum kit, there’s no giant KISS logo … hell, there’s not even a stage—only four hungry young kids from New York and a couple of dancing queens up in front (one of whom is Criss’ then-wife Lydia). What a difference a few years would make.

In memory of Mark Louis Arnone, Feb. 24, 1973 – Oct. 21, 2009

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Wicked Lester: The peck before the big KISS

Friday, April 17th, 2009 | musiX | No Comments

KISS fans are a peculiar bunch—willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of their hard-earned dollars to see the band play in makeup 30 years on, or to get their grubby little paws on ultra-rare bootlegs or a still-sweaty Gene Simmons cod-piece. Kooky, I tell you.

Any KISS fan can also tell you that there was life before the makeup and cod-pieces. Gene Klein (born Chaim Witz, who would later become Gene Simmons) and keyboardist Brooke Ostrander formed a band called Rainbow in New York in 1970. The pair soon recruited a couple of guitarists in Stephen Coronel and Stanley Eisen (who would later become Paul Stanley), and drummer Tony Zarrella. Rainbow played mostly covers and would perform only one gig at Richmond Community College in Staten Island.

By 1971 the band had changed its name to Wicked Lester and began writing more original material. Wicked Lester went into the studio later that year (after performing only two shows). In the process Coronel was given the boot, and session guitarist Ron Leejack was brought in to record the leads. The record—made up of mostly originals as well as a few covers—took a year to record. When brought to prospective label Epic Records, the album was turned away and would never be released.

The Wicked Lester record has, of course, circulated in bootleg form for years with varying quality. Two tracks—“Lover Her All I Can” and “She”—which would resurface on KISS’ Dressed To Kill album in 1975, appeared on a KISS box set a few years ago. The Wicked Lester songs aren’t horrible, just unfocused, with flutes and horns fluttering and squawking over folky, slightly funky, psychedelic rock. My favorites are the Simmons-penned “Simple Type” with vocals from both future KISSers and the cover of Infinity’s “(What Happens) In the Darkness,” a rollicking Ike and Tina-inspired burner punctuated by Stanley’s sassy (and underrated) rock vox. And “Molly” reminds me of something you’d hear on The Electric Company (some of Morgan Freeman’s best work). It also boasts this gem of a lyric: “Molly, my pal, you’re my gal … ”

You know the rest of the story. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (second and third from left respectively in the photo) recruited Peter Criscuola (later the Catman Criss) and Paul Frehley (Space Ace) and conquered the world 10 times over. So … when’s the Wicked Lester reunion?

“She”Wicked Lester

“Simple Type”Wicked Lester

“(What Happens) In The Darkness”Wicked Lester

“Molly”Wicked Lester

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