September 25, 2009
Cobo Arena a scene of rock history


It's going to get sentimental in Cobo Arena this weekend.

Really loud and sentimental.

With its Friday-Saturday stand at the old Detroit arena, the rock band Kiss will return to the scene of its most famous concerts: the 1975 shows recorded and photographed for the multiplatinum album "Alive!"

Kiss booked the new dates as a farewell to the vaunted venue, which will be converted into exhibit space as part of Cobo Center's nearly $300-million expansion authorized by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in July.

"We figured, before they take the rock 'n' roll soul out of the building, how about we go in there one more time and shake it up?" says guitarist Paul Stanley.

For more than 20,000 fans this weekend, it will be a chance to revisit a spot that has spawned countless rock 'n' roll memories and boxes full of cherished ticket stubs.

Still, for local music fans -- many of whom grew up with wild Cobo nights in the '70s and '80s -- this weekend is a heck of a way to start saying good-bye.

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons figures he'll have a lump in his throat as he walks onstage.

"For us it's an emotional event," he said. "Kiss never wrote a song called 'New York Rock City.' But we did write one about Detroit. That was an homage to the city that gave the world just a ton of music that survives over the ages. And Cobo in particular was the palace, the citadel of sound."

The venue hasn't been an entertainment hub for many years, its role displaced by Joe Louis Arena in 1979 and then by the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1988. Just four dozen concerts have played Cobo this decade, according to Pollstar magazine data.

But in the 1970s it was the go-to rock spot, a relatively cozy arena where the music was loud and security personnel often looked the other way.

Along with Tokyo's Budokan and New York's Madison Square Garden, Cobo is among a handful of venues around the world with instant name recognition.

That's largely thanks to the slew of live albums cut at Cobo over the years, by artists such as the J. Geils Band, Madonna and local hero Bob Seger.

But most famous of all is "Alive," the double album that propelled Kiss to global fame in the mid-1970s. Recorded in Detroit and other Midwest locales in spring 1975, the LP included a Cobo crowd photo that became iconic.

Kiss, like many emerging bands of the time, enjoyed an early embrace from Detroit's rock audience.

"It's a historic and magical place for us. Kiss and Cobo are linked forever," said Stanley. "Going back is kind of 'Fantasy Island.' We're getting a chance to do something we never thought we could."

Filmmaker Doug Akers, who grew up in Detroit, describes it as one of "music history's hallowed halls." Last year he began work on "Let's Go Cobo," a documentary about the arena. He'll film an interview with members of Kiss this weekend, and is aiming for a 2010 release.

At 42, he's too young to have attended the legendary Kiss dates in the '70s. But he's got tickets for this weekend.

"It's the show I always wanted to see," said Akers. "I'm just like millions of other kids around the world -- I grew up looking at the back of that Kiss 'Alive' album, dreaming of seeing them play there. I'm just going to revel in the moment, like I do every time I step into Cobo."