TO ROCK SOLD OUT LABATT CENTRE TONIGHT
September 29, 2009
By JAMES REANEY

For KISS, it has been London, Rock City for more than 35 years.

The U.S. rock legends' KISS Alive 35 tour reaches the John Labatt Centre on Tuesday night, as they return to the city where they have action-painted dressing rooms with mayo and mustard, fished in Fanshawe Lake ... and had fans ready to sign up with the KISS Army since 1974.

When KISS first rocked London in the summer of 1974, the New York band was one of many glam rock pretenders. Even then, KISS had figured out how to shout it out loud in a colourful array, which included David Bowie and the New York Dolls.

"It was this big secretive thing about not seeing them without their makeup," says Ingersoll-area music promoter and media relations businessperson Nick Panaseiko. "They were the first one to incorporate dry ice in huge barrels ... they had Peter Criss's drum kit raised up by a fork lift."

KISS bassist Gene Simmons told Billboard.com that fans can expect to see "new outfits, a brand new stage and millions more (dollars) put into it" on the tour to promote Sonic Boom, the band's first new album in 11 years.

"That's just the history of KISS," Simmons told Billboard.com. "Simply put, any band you go to see for the same ticket price, you know KISS is going to give you tenfold more."

Celebrating 35 years of rocking the world in makeup and crazed costumes, KISS is expected to visit its megamillion-selling classics including Rock and Roll All Nite, I Was Made for Lovin' You and Detroit Rock City plus new ones from Sonic Boom on Tuesday.

In 2009, long-gone former lead guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Criss have been replaced in the Sonic Boom studio by touring KISS members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. Simmons and longtime partner Paul (Starchild) Stanley are in place as always.

KISS cost Panaseiko, who had seen the band in Detroit, about $1,000 and pulled 900 fans to Centennial Hall for the band's first London gig on July 25, 1974. Future Canadian superstars Rush were on that bill and would soon become fixtures with the costumed headliners as KISS liked what the Toronto rockers brought to the show.

A Windsor FM radio station where Panaseiko worked had begun pushing KISS, helping bring the band to London. One of its personnel acted as MC that summer night in London.

"KISS was another outrageous band (like the New York Dolls) and we chose to have KISS on the air," Panaseiko says.

KISS was back before Christmas for another gig. This one was at the old London Arena on Bathurst St.

Panaseiko came up with a "Merry KISS-mas" concept to promote that Dec. 22, 1974 show. He also sent out some KISS impostors in faux Cat, Starchild, etc. makeup to build buzz.

The faux KISS visited record stores in a limo. It worked. KISS fans braved a huge snowstorm to see their heroes on a Sunday.

A real KISS-off was the way the storm delayed tour trucks for hours. KISS arrived late and demanded the arena be cleared for a sound check, Panaseiko recalls.

That request was rejected and the show went on. With their parents arriving to give them a ride home, many fans left before KISS started to rock. A Free Press reviewer was on hand. It appears the July show had been overlooked by The Free Press in favour of a choir from the Netherlands and a mystic called something like Dijon.

"Their style, though somewhat outdated, is unique," a reviewer wrote of KISS in time for Christmas, calling that style "thunder rock."

KISS kept coming back, jamming the old London Gardens again and again in the 1970s.

Once, when KISS came back that decade, they had an extra day here. Panaseiko says Simmons went down to play ball at Thames Park. KISS members also fished at Fanshawe Lake. They created a stir. Without their stage makeup but still wearing huge red leather boots, the KISS guys waded right into the water.

KISS stirred things up again at a much later London show.

That time, KISS decorated the dressing room at the old Gardens ... with mustard and mayo.

Legendary London concert promoter Don Jones discussed the paint-in with "one or two of the boys."

A new paint job was required.

"I'm sure they've grown up since then," Jones says.

On Tuesday, we'll see how much KISS has matured over the 35 years the band has been playing London.

The Free Press didn't think KISS would last, you know.

"KISS has something to offer musically but the glitter and whiteface is on its way out and if the group is to remain alive, it must change and face the future that one of its members (apparently Stanley, the Starchild) is supposed to represent," the reviewer said of that December, 1974 show in the snow.

It would seem the band has been able to KISS that off.

James Reaney is a Free Press columnist covering arts & entertainment.