January 11, 2010 Road Diary, Volume 16 :: San Diego Sports Arena November 27, 2009, San Diego, California

Writing & Photography

On a chilly October day in 1977, my paltry savings in hand, I walked into the store on the Air Force base in Montana where my dad was stationed and bought my first KISS album. From the moment I gently put the needle in the first groove of that vinyl disc, my life was never the same again. On that day, I became a KISS fan.

For those who never understood what the big deal is with KISS, let me try to explain: It's widely accepted that KISS music isn't exactly the most intricate (although I've heard that performing their songs is a little more difficult than we novices are often led to believe), and KISS lyrics aren't necessarily the most complicated (who can forget the 7th grade dance staple "Beth"), but KISS music means everything to their fans. KISS music makes us rock. KISS music makes us happy. And, to their devotees, known as the KISS Army, KISS music takes us to a world where we believe we can be or do anything.

Marketing geniuses well ahead of their time, these four super-heroes (yes, a 1977 Marvel comic book featured KISS, even using authenticated blood from each KISS member in the vat of red ink used to print the issue) permeated our lives, our lunch boxes, our bed sheets, and even our underwear. KISS became our fantasy: Every guy wanted to be them; every girl wanted to be with them. Their image became an escape from our mundane lives. At a time when there was little choice other than disco on our radios, KISS became something this fan (and fans like me all over the world) could sink our rebellious teeth into. KISS was (and still is) rock and roll.

The original members - vocalist/ rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley, vocalist/ bassist Gene Simmons, drummer Peter Criss, and lead guitarist Ace Frehley (the unlikely target of my early teen infatuation) - formed KISS in New York City in 1973. Shortly after, they stumbled upon the value of making themselves a virtual show - masking their identities in make-up, wearing costumes to alter their personalities, and portraying these characters whenever in public. Other than scant glimpses of their eyes or chins, the 70s KISS fan never really saw the actual faces of the band members, which added to the mystery and intrigue of KISS.

Today, of course, the band has long-since been unmasked (Simmons even starring in motion pictures and television shows), but KISS still chooses to reapply their make-up when going on stage to please their long-time admirers. I guess the KISS Army prefers the fantasy over the reality.

But what continues to really thrill old fans, and what makes new fans, is the live KISS show. This time around, the band is touring in support of their latest album Sonic Boom, calling the tour "KISS Alive 35", as they celebrate their 35th year of traversing the globe to bring their music to the world.

We caught up with KISS in San Diego on this night, beginning with an unprecedented opportunity to meet the band in costume...leaving me a tad bit overwhelmed, squealing like a teenager and overcome by tears while I found myself consumed in the arms of The Demon (Gene Simmons), who pulled me close to him, firmly against his immense armored chest, while he propped my original copy of his 1978 solo album on the top of my head and signed the cover for me! Witness to my personal triumph were the other fans at this pre-show mind-blower, including a group of locally-stationed (and recently returned from a tour in Iraq) U.S. Navy combat photographers who were there as guests of KISS. The band, especially Simmons, took several minutes during the pre-show mayhem to sincerely thank each of these men for their service to our country.

Quickly finding our seats, it was time for the show! KISS took the stage to a flourish of pyrotechnics - more than any stage should ever have (so much fire that I swear I got a tan). The band literally lit up the night as they took the fans on this modern, but very familiar, ride through their ever- expanding song catalogue. Appearing larger than life (it helps that the guys sport seven-inch-tall platform boots), Stanley, Simmons, current guitarist Tommy Thayer, and current drummer Eric Singer didn't stop rocking for nearly three hours while we watched them do what they do best. Amid the fire breathing, the blood spitting, exploding guitar solos, drum solos, a snowstorm of confetti, Gene taking flight (via wires) straight up to the rafters to sing "I Love It Loud", and Paul later flying right over the crowd to a mini-stage at the back of the venue to sing "Love Gun", KISS performed songs mostly from their 24 gold albums that span more than three decades. KISS delivered exactly what their fans came to see...a rock and roll show we won't soon forget.

CLICK HERE to check out additional great photos from the show!