Delicacy of Godzilla Devastating Tokyo
Delicacy of Godzilla Devastating Tokyo (Bruce Meyer, UPI, 1975) On stage, a member of the Kiss road crew reaches over his head to adjust a microphone. "Wow," says someone down the third row. "What are they, eight feet tall?" Not quite. The members of rock band Kiss really average about seven feet tall, including their custom-built, eight inch-high boots and their freak-frizz hairdos. They look like a gang of demented Japanese kabuki dancers on patent leather stilts -- and they smell.
In unwashed, steel-studded black leather, they smell of rancid sweat, gunpowder and ozone. The total effect is in keeping with their music: Loud, electric, laden with fuzz-tone and played with all the delicacy of Godzilla devastating Tokyo. With the stage in darkness, a voice booms out the introduction, punctuated by explosions that dazzle the eyes and fill the air with acrid smoke.
"Are you ready to rock?" (Blam!) "Are you ready to roll?" (Blam!) "Then welcome -- Kiss!"
A six-foot-high electric "Kiss" sign blazes and the band blasts into its opening song, "Strutter". The crowd is on its feet as if pulled by wires. In a band whose approach is uniquely visual, bassist Gene Simmons is the most startling: Black greasepaint flames rise from his eyes, black lips are surrounded by a mime's whiteface, fuzzy hair tied into a floppy topknot. Simmons strides about the stage in a half-crouch like a huge tarantula, knees bent and legs spread, thrusting out a long red tongue, flap-ping bat-like feather wings and leering at the audience. During the course of each show, Simmons shoots a 20-foot flame from his mouth, lead guitarist Ace Frehley fires little exploding rockets over the crowd from his guitar, Paul Stanley destroys his amplifier and innumerable flash-pans keep the hall filled with drifting smoke.
The finale comes as drummer Peter Criss is levitated, drum kit and all, over the heads of the band, aboard "Flying Bertha", a concealed contraption resembling what Harry Houdini and Rube Goldberg might have produced had they collaborated on building a fork lift. To a young audience jaded by the showbiz approach of Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull and the like, Kiss represents the state of the shock-rock art in 1975. And whatever one may think of the show itself, must be conceded that the Kiss approach works: The kids love it. The band has been together barely two years -- and was virtually unknown outside the New York area only one year ago.
"It's really kind of crazy, says Simmons. "We really don't realize how quickly things have happened. In May of 1973, we played for free in a loft." After a few months of staging their own dances in various run-down hotel ballrooms. Kiss got its first "real" gig -- fourth on the bill at New York's Academy of Music on New Year's eve. But by the start of 1974, they had found their "angel".
He was Neil Bogart, a former head of Buddah records, now out to make it big with his own Casablanca records label. Kiss was his first act. Bogart flooded the band with money for equipment, costumes, props. He pulled Kiss from the ranks of the unknown with an ad blitz in the trade magazines that produced rumors they were a "manufactured" group -- rumors they've been fighting ever since. "Everything we do on stage is us -- we wrote the music, we designed the costumes, we even apply our own makeup," says Frehley. "Even before we got the name," adds Simmons, "we had the whole concept pretty much formulated -- our approach to the stage as theater. We used to put on makeup and play in front of mirrors."
As for their music, it's the most basic brand of rock 'n' roll -- no fancy lyrics, sparing with the solos, heavy on the powerful chords. It is, as Simmons put it, "basically impact stuff." And the impact; of Kiss' onstage anarchy can have weird effects on an audience. "Baltimore -- we played in Baltimore," says Criss, with a look of quizzical awe. "And the people dug it so much when Gene spit the fire, they lit a part of the place up, started burning it, to show they were digging it. Insanity." Simmons grins. "They were so into the show that they saw fire, and they said, 'Wow. Fire. More fire.' And they started lighting fires in the place."
With three albums under their collective belts, generally good reviews and excellent sales in the cities they've played - plus an apparently endless supply of new tricks -- the members of Kiss think they're holding all the cards they need to play the rock 'n roll game and win. As Stanley puts it, "Kiss is the kind of concert I always wanted to see - it's 45 minutes of controlled chaos."