First KISS concert
Posted on 10/22/2012KISS became my guardians and the moral authority by which I lived my life. Their music spoke to me and reflected personal views that always seemed to fall upon deaf ears whenever I tried to articulate them. My parents came to see me as recalcitrant, unruly, and lazy. KISS told me I was somebody of importance who, by refusing to accept the ill-conceived status quo and trying to rise above and leave a mark on this world, deserved attention and respect. My mom and dad didn’t understand me or know what I was all about, but KISS did. It was that same junior year that I got to see my heroes in person at Veteran’s Auditorium in Des Moines. There were six of us, traveling in two cars, in what was to be a major two-day event. Skipping school and reserving a couple of adjoining rooms at the hotel right across the street from the auditorium, I felt as if I were about to experience a devout and holistic religious phenomenon. My game plan was to get right against the stage, underneath the feet of my recently anointed personal messiah, guitarist Paul Stanley. Arriving the night before the show, we stayed up late partying exclusively in the two rooms because nobody was of legal drinking age, (Though that didn’t prevent us from buying ample supplies of alcohol at a non-discriminating convenience store.) The concert started at 8pm and all floor tickets were non-assigned seating (probably because there were no seats…standing only). To ensure my coveted place at the show, I arrived at 1pm and camped out in the lobby by the front doors with my good friend, Doug, thus making us the only two visible living things on the auditorium grounds. Never had time moved at such an agonizingly slow pace as it did then. Staring at the clock only reaffirmed the interminable wait that was before us. To pass the time we talked and played stupid little games. But it was difficult to ignore the barely moving second hand of the round black-and-white clock hanging above the entrance door. This had become more than a concert for me. It was an odyssey. Traveling to Des Moines to witness KISS was a pilgrimage of no less significance than Jews going to Jerusalem and bowing before the Western Wall or Muslims trekking to Mecca. Ever so slowly, other concert patrons trickled in, apparently with the same thoughts as us. Instead of fellow devotees coming to harmoniously share in this profound enlightenment, I viewed them as interlopers – enemies attempting to take the spot near the stage that was rightfully mine. And I viewed these people with suspicion and contempt. Doug and I had planned our attack, so we stationed ourselves in the best possible position to shoot through the doors once they were opened. Finally, at about 7pm, with a large and anxious crowd hovering around the portals, they opened. Everyone immediately pushed forward, crushing all of the people up front. I was pushed to the wrong side of the outward opening doors and had to fight against the crowd by literally walking up the wall. Pushing back against the throng by placing my feet against the brick partition, I was about head level with the boisterous mob when I grabbed the top of the door and swung around, kicking a few people in the head. They angrily swore at me, but it worked. I threw my ticket at the usher and bolted straight for the stage, 150 feet away. Doug was already there, and the lengthy fight to get in caused me to be late. The floor in front of the stage was filling rapidly and I was about six-people deep from the coveted spot. Seeing Doug, I yelled at him. He acknowledged and tried to assist anyway he could. I squirmed, clawed, fought, and finagled my way to him amidst verbal invective and occasional angry shoves from the people whose territory I was taking. Ordinarily this type of behavior was totally uncharacteristic, for I wasn’t a very aggressive person and I avoided confrontation of most any kind. But this was different…this was KISS! At last, I’d made it! Right next to the part of the stage I knew Paul Stanley would occupy. I had to desperately hang on to Doug as he frantically clung to the four-foot-high barrier that was set up about five feet from the stage, creating a pit where big security guys roamed. The crowd grew larger and deeper and we were literally trapped, subjected to the spontaneous movements of the horde. At times it undulated like an ocean wave and I would actually be swept off my feet. My only anchor was Doug, who in turn, held onto the barrier for dear life. After about a half-hour of that, it calmed a little bit as people were settling in, and through the thick, pungent haze of pot smoke, I could see the surrounding balcony seats filling rapidly. As joints were being passed around, I steadfastly, and atypically, declined participation. I wanted to remain 100% clearheaded when introduced to my icons. The stage itself was huge and mostly covered with large black tarpaulins, allowing the warm-up act only a fraction of the available stage and equipment. Seeing the monstrous, unlit KISS logo in the background twenty-five feet above Peter Criss’ drum riser was eminently awe-inspiring, for I knew it wouldn’t be long before that logo would illuminate with bright, multi-colored flashing lights. In the same vein, I couldn’t help but have nagging doubts that this was just too good to be true. Kiss won’t be here. This is Iowa for Chrissakes. KISS has been to the four corners of the globe, made movies, and sold millions of records. Why would they come to Iowa? It couldn’t be KISS. They had to be imposters. Like the Harlem Globetrotters, KISS had to have duplicate bands that came to insignificant places, like Iowa. Paul, Gene, Peter and Ace wouldn’t be here tonight. I could never be that fortunate, I don’t deserve it. The pre-concert atmosphere was frenzied. Smoke, lights, guitar, drum, and microphone checks overlaid the hard rock-n-roll blaring from mammoth speakers. When it neared 8pm the standing-room-only crowd began to get palpably anxious. More shoving and ocean waves were accompanied by impatient shouts to get the show rolling. I was getting rather peeved myself with the long wait and sardine-like conditions. Glistening, drawn faces, soaked shirts, and wet, matted hair of everyone around reflected a room temperature of over 100 degrees, fueling impatience and discomfort. Abruptly, the music stopped and the lights went out, prompting a deafening roar from the crowd. With a curt, perfunctory introduction, a little-known band, ‘The Detectives’ came onstage and broke into a song. The legions cheered loudly, more due to cessation of the long wait than the anticipated thrill of The Detectives. The novelty wore off quickly however, and after twenty minutes of strident, unfamiliar music, choruses of boos and chants of, “Get off the stage!” filled the arena. Soon, “WE WANT KISS!” was louder and clearer than the bad music. Unwilling to tolerate these verbal abuses from the fans any longer, The Detectives aborted their set and angrily stormed off the stage, cursing and making obscene gesticulations towards the crowd. Huge cheers ensued then the houselights came back up causing a Pavlovian response that relaxed the throng in such a fashion as one could almost hear the collective sigh and feel the easing of anxiety. KISS was next! Down on the floor, Doug and I looked at each other with fatigued expressions reminiscent of two battle-weary soldiers who just survived a blitzkrieg. If it was that rough for the warm-up act, what on earth could be expected when KISS took the stage? The combination of stifling heat, claustrophobic conditions, interminable waiting, and the frighteningly exhilarating prospect of mass chaos when KISS was introduced started to physically affect me. The onset of heart palpitations and slight dizziness caused a sense of dread and anger that was about to confirm my worst fears and justify my self-loathing. I wouldn’t be able to see my heroes because I was about to have a fucking heart attack! Fight it Stan! Don’t let those bastards win this one! This is KISS goddamn it, fight! Doug apparently noticed something was wrong because he asked if I was all right. Holding up my hand to signal, ‘don’t bother me right now,’ I consciously took slow, deep breaths and tried to relax. Suddenly, the lights went down and the crowd roared as we were again pushed in multiple directions as everybody moved toward the stage. My feet were literally lifted off the ground and I held onto Doug as he latched onto the barrier for pure survival. While being swept up in the ocean of people, I saw Peter Criss get behind his drums and instantly the tumult vanished. It was really them! His makeup was so vivid and precise, just like the album covers. I was mesmerized! To Criss’ right flank, twenty feet in the air on a hydraulic lifting device that was part of the stage design, bassist Gene Simmons peered out over the boisterous crowd. Adjacent to Simmons on Criss’ other side, equally high in the air on a similar device, stood both lead guitarist Ace Frehley and the Messiah! “PLEASE WELCOME THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE LAND, KIIIISSSS!” The band breaking into an earsplitting rendition of “Detroit Rock City” followed this electrifying introduction. Cold smoke, oozing from large strategically placed hoses visible only to those in the first few rows, blanketed the stage like a London fog. Hundreds of bright, flashing multi-colored lights beamed from all angles, only to be diffused by the thick cloud. Concussion-rendering explosions, orange-yellow sparks spinning like a pinwheel, and pillars of fire, overloaded the senses to the point of momentary disorientation. Slowly, the hydraulic apparatus lowered the members, each clad in their signature outlandish black leather, spandex, and glittering costumes, to the stage floor where they burst forth and commenced to captivate the house while rendering me incapacitated of anything but hypnotic awe. Whisked away to another dimension, concerns about life’s relentless difficulties were suspended, and all worldly significance was temporarily contained within the personal interaction between my gods and me. Taped to each microphone stand were vertical rows of guitar picks, and after Paul Stanley and the boys would use one for a while, they would toss it into the crowd for a souvenir. Because of very limited movement, catching one of the coveted mementos would be serendipitous at best. But I wanted one badly, especially the Messiah’s. I felt deserving of very few things on this earth, but knowing there was absolutely nobody alive who loved KISS more than me, or was as devout a follower, the least I was owed was a guitar pick, and no matter what it took, I planned to get one. Whenever one was flicked in my general direction, I would stretch and strain mightily trying to procure the little piece of plastic that was more valuable than money. Midway through the show, Paul Stanley was crouched and jamming not three feet from my outstretched arms. Then, looking directly into my eyes, a visual connection between God and man, he flipped his guitar pick. My arms were extended and hands opened wide hoping to latch onto anything, like a drowning man grasping for a rope. It was magically preordained. The pick was flying like a Frisbee; far to my left, but the angle of trajectory made it dive right. Locked onto it and gauging its flight pattern, I knew before it ever happened. That guitar pick, as if by sheer will, floated directly by everybody else and into my grasp. I clenched my fist tightly, treasuring my prize. We were packed in so tight I couldn’t even bring my arms down to put the trophy in my pocket. As the concert rolled on, I added an Ace Frehley pick and part of a towel that Gene Simmons used to wipe his face after he spat blood. It was merely PART of a towel because when Simmons threw it into the audience, Doug, me, and one other person all latched on and nobody was going to relinquish it. After a few minutes of intense tug-of-war, we amicably decided to rip it into three equal parts. There was no way that interloper was going to unlawfully steal what was rightfully mine, so he insisted Doug do the honors. Upon distribution, Doug made sure he and I got the parts with the most blood and makeup on it. Catching Frehley’s pick was a sheer accident. Not even seeing it coming, I just grasped at air and got lucky. Or perhaps luck had nothing at all to do with it! The night concluded with KISS’ anthem, “Rock-n-roll All Night.” During this final segment, massive rotating drums above the stage dumped tons of confetti on everybody. Large fans in the pit between the dais and barrier blew it back upwards, creating a head-bowing, blinding squall that forced closure of eyes and mouth, lest thousands of pieces of little paper collect in the exposed orifices. At the show’s conclusion the houselights came back up and I found myself in such a catatonic state of shock and awe, words would not immediately form. With ears ringing, I slowly trekked across the garbage-strewn and smoke-filled auditorium reflecting on the previous two hours. I realized how Moses must have felt after his experience with the burning bush. I opened my hand to take my first good look at the two picks. They were white with KISS inscribed on one side and the signature of the guitarist on back. Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley’s picks, and Gene Simmons’ bloodstained towel – what an absolutely glorious night! Exiting through the auditorium doors, I was impervious to the sudden gust of frigid air, and as I ran my hands through my hair, confetti trickled down causing me to notice my shirt pocket was half-full of multi-colored tiny shards of paper. More souvenirs! This was the best night of my life!