ROCK DETROIT ROCK CITY
October 01, 2009
Written by and photos by JOHN DAVISSON

As a teenager in the late 70's, I began getting into rock music, slowly, by buying an album here and there and listening to records at friends' houses, or maybe borrowing the album. This was long before MySpace and Napster, before iPods and satellite radio. Rock music hit us in shortly before high school and it was new. There was no Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus or Jonas Brothers to draw us into pop music during our elementary school days. Radio was abysmal for my friends and me mostly because disco and oldies dominated. Our mantra was "disco sucks" and although now I can have a nostalgic interest in disco, back then good ass-kicking rock music was the fodder of youth.

Bands like Rush fed our cerebral interests; we would not have heard of Ayn Rand if not for drummer Neil Peart. Queen fed our operatic yearnings, Aerosmith was our roots-rock, Ted Nugent fed our machismo. For sophisticated music, we pulled out the Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer albums. But for many of us disaffected youth, it was Kiss that was the standard bearer. We wanted to rock and roll all night and party every day, and Kiss had the rock anthems for us. We were recruited into the Kiss Army, drawing Kiss logos on our notebooks, jackets and whatever we could get our hands on (this was before rap and the graffiti tagging craze).

Kiss knew we were loyal and they took rock merchandise to a whole new level to feed our ever growing needs. Every album had a poster available for order, plus tons of other merch such as belt buckles, t-shirts, photos and more. Inside each album would be something collectible, something to be prized, whether it was a photo album or even a paper "love gun" that snapped out a "pow" flag when you flicked it. Sure I had posters of other bands such as Aerosmith, Queen, Rush, Yes, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin on my wall, but the Kiss posters outnumbered the others put together. And to this day, nobody can quite compete with Kiss in the merchandise category.

I read the magazines about Kiss to learn my Kisstory and today, I still know there real names, their vices and motivators. On the Dynasty tour, I was able to sneak in a 110 instamatic camera (there was no such thing as a camera phone or even an affordable cellphone back then). It the start of a passion for photographing concerts (all I really wanted to do was document the show I attended) that moved to 35mm film, digital photography and now I am a respected senior music photographer with photos published in many outlets. Maybe I really owe it all to the visual spectacle that was Kiss. They definitely got my attention and refuse to let go. Someday I hope to photograph an entire Kiss show.

So it was with great zeal that I recently flew to Detroit to see and photograph Kiss opening their US tour with a 2-night stand at Cobo Hall, the arena that helped propel them to arena tours when they recorded the first Alive album there in the 70's. After Alive became a hit, the band recorded "Detroit Rock City" in homage to their fans in Detroit, one of the first cities's to fall under the Kiss spell. Now one of the older arenas in the country, Cobo Hall is about to be retired and the band felt it best to pay their last respects to the venue and city that was so much a part of the Kiss success story.

The band also invited some fans to Cobo Hall the night before the big concerts (sadly, I flew into Detroit too late for that) for a meet and greet and brief dress rehearsal, and to record a few songs for Jimmy Kimmel's TV show and to film some scenes for "Modern Day Delilah," the first video from their new album Sonic Boom that will be release on October 6.

The current tour from the hottest band in the land celebrates 35 years of Kisstory with a return to the original Alive album. The Alive 35 tour will be coming soon to a city near you. The first part of the tour opening show was the Alive album, almost in its entirety and pretty close to the same running order. For some reason, they dropped "Firehouse" and "Rock Bottom." "Rock and Roll All Nite," the ultimate Kiss anthem, was moved to the end to close the show in style. Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer have replaced Ace Frehley and Peter Criss respectively, although they carry the same make-up and similar personas, but it was still the Kiss spectacle. Hearing classics like "She," "Deuce," "Strutter," "Got to Choose," and "Parasite" was a real treat. Gene Simmons breathed fire during "Hotter Than Hell" and there was some nice pyro throughout, especially during "100,000 Years" and "Rock and Roll All Nite." Tommy Thayer's guitar solo featured sparks shooting from his guitar, just like Ace used to do. Eric Singer's drum kit elevated and revolved during his drum solo. There was no "Beth" but that's understandable as it was a Kiss power ballad that graced the album after Alive.

The show ended with a long encore that brought the Kisstory to the present, featuring "Shout It Out Loud," "Lick It Up," "I Love It Loud" (during which Gene spit blood and flew up to the lighting rig), and the new song "Modern Day Delilah." At one point they even threw in some riffage from the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," in homage to the band that pioneered anthemic rock. Then Paul Stanley stepped onto a winch that carried him over the audience to a revolving second stage at the back of the hall for "Love Gun." The final song of the night, which everybody knew they had to play, was "Detroit Rock City," with lots of pyro, as a final thank you to Detroit.

The stage and costumes were a little different but it was still the pyro spectacle I know and love from Kiss, and enough confetti was thrown into the air to make the arena floor look like it had been hit by a blizzard. The staging was new, with a giant video screen behind the band and video cubes lining the length of the stage on three levels. There were also hydraulic platforms at either end of the stage that elevated Gene, and Tommy far above the stage, almost to the lighting rig, while another hydraulic platform elevated Paul at the same time about half as high as he smashed a guitar. Kiss is still Alive 35 years after they started. And that makes this fan, and the legion of fans that make up the Kiss Army, very happy.

Kiss is also a possible induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a country club for elite artists with the right connections much like the Grammy award. Considering they wrote "Rock and Roll All Nite" (one of the all-time great rock anthems), pioneered the pyro that now sustains bands like Nickleback and Creed as well as the WWF, took merch to a new level, and sold more albums than most inductees, isn't it about time?