ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 28, 1984
By Steve Newton
It was a snowy and cold January afternoon in 1975 when several high school friends and I headed off to the second Vancouver appearance of an up-and-coming rock band named KISS. Almost all of us had our well-worn copy of the group’s first album and tunes like “Strutter”, “Firehouse”, “Cold Gin”, and “Black Diamond” were already Top Ten on our private air-guitar chart.
Gene Simmons almost set the curtains at the Commodore Ballroom aflame with his fire-breathing stunt, and fans at the front of the stage were straining to dab their shirts in the fake blood that issued from his lips and collected in puddles at his feet. “Spacecase” Ace Frehley wobbled around as if in a daze, but was always accurate with his piercing leads and euphoric gestures. Sexy “Starman” Paul Stanley leapt about like a manic Townshend as he grinded out the band’s rhythm guitar and took turns, with Simmons, howling their party-hearty lyrics. The “Cat” behind the drumkit, Peter Criss, pounded everything into place, and the combined effect was incredible. Kiss were the ultimate Rock and Roll Fantasy. We left the place with ears madly ringing and the Power of Rock permanently imprinted on our minds.
That was almost ten years ago, and although my own love of the band has long since died, KISS is still going strong. Last year their hit single “Lick It Up” pushed sales of the LP of the same name over the two-million mark, and the band has just released a new album titled Animalize. Gene Simmons has moved into acting as well. He just finished work on an upcoming film, shot in Vancouver, where he costars with Magnum P.I.‘s Tom Selleck.
But he and Paul Stanley are still at the core of KISS. Also in the band are new guitarist Mark St. John and Brooklyn-born drummer Eric Carr, who replaced Peter Criss four years ago, just prior to the recording of The Elder.
Since Kiss still wore makeup at that time, Carr had to find a being to portray alongside Simmons’ Demon, Stanley’s Starman, and Frehley’s Spacecase.
“Everybody was trying to come up with a character for me,” says Carr, who phoned the Straight office from KISS’s New York office recently. “Nobody really knew what to do, so everybody was chipping in. We were gonna make me a hawk, which–luckily for me–didn’t work out.”
Carr ended up as a fox (“I still am,” he quips, “except I don’t wear makeup anymore”), but from then on there were always second thoughts about keeping the band’s masquerade intact.
“When I first joined the band Gene, Paul, and Ace would always talk about taking the makeup off. It used to come up in discussions, but nobody thought too seriously about doing it. Then we got working on Lick It Up, and started talking about it really seriously. So we made it coincide with the new album and did the photo for the cover without makeup. And looking back, it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
KISS’s Animalize tour begins in Europe September 30th and the band comes back to the States to start their Ameri-Canadian leg on November 15th. But, as Carr points out, the group’s fabled live show has been toned down, along with the makeup removal.
“Our stages are always outrageous,” he claims, “but now we just don’t use as much pyro. The last European and American tour that we did without makeup, we stayed away from a lot of the pyro and effects because we wanted to go out and show everybody that KISS is a rock and roll band that can kick ass, and that it’s not just bombs and makeup. We knew it–we just wanted everybody else to know it!”
The upcoming KISS tour will be the first for new axeman Mark St. John, who was a California music teacher before donning the black leather of KISS. Needless to say, Carr is very excited about the talents of his new bandmate.
“He has close friends the likes of Allan Holdsworth, who he teaches sometimes. And where most people would practice with guitar books and things like that, he practices with violin concertos!”
From the opening solo of “I’ve Had Enough [Into the Fire]”, the first track on Animalize, it’s clear that St. John is a player that might live up to Carr’s fancy talk. His flashy style is similar to that of the late Randy Rhoads (another California guitar teacher, by the way). Guitar heroes always come in handy with metal bands, especially with the competition for today’s teen record-buying buck.
One band that has used the KISS formula of wild makeup and costumes to great effect (and profit) is Motley Crue. The strategy that made millionaires of KISS is now paying off in spades for the Crue, but Carr doesn’t seem to mind.
“We’re kind of flattered about that,” he says. “Anybody who thinks that highly of us to want to imitate, I think it’s great. And we feel kind of protective anyway, like they’re our sons or something.”