Although I didn’t get to watch it live (MTV didn’t air it until Halloween), it was 15 years ago today that the original four members of KISS – Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss – got back together to record a MTV Unplugged special. This was the original group’s first performance together since December 1979, and the first public performance without their trademark make-up and outfits.
The show was inspired, in a roundabout way, by the fans. For years KISS fans across the country had been putting on their KISS conventions – gatherings not unlike those more commonly observed in sci-fi fandom (albeit much cooler). These events were increasing in popularity in the early 90s as former members like Ace Frehley (who I met at one of the Atlanta shows) and Vinnie Vincent started turning up. And bigger crowds of course meant more $$$, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the band. In the summer of ’95, KISS launched their own convention tour, bringing a ton of memorabilia, a tribute band, and themselves to play an acoustic set.
My trip to the official KISS convention should probably be another post, but I’ll comment briefly here. The ticket was a then-astronomical $100 per person, but it was totally worth it. First off, it was limited to only a few hundred people. I got to sit about 15 feet from the stage for the whole thing. As I mentioned KISS played an acoustic set that ran 2+ hours, during which they took requests shouted from the crowd, and for the last 4 or 5 songs, passed a mic around in the crowd. Yes people, I once sang “Lick It Up” with KISS as my backing band.
But anyway, back to the story: prior to the KISS convention in Los Angeles, Peter phoned Gene and asked if it would be OK if he brought his daughter to the event to show her some of the KISStory on display. Gene of course agreed and asked if Peter would join them on stage for a couple of songs, which he did, performing “Nothin’ to Lose” and “Hard Luck Woman.” To say this went over well with the fans would be a bit of an understatement. Afterward, there was discussion about doing something similar in NY with Ace, when the conventions’ buzz helped create the MTV Unplugged opportunity. With that in the works it was a no-brainer to include both Ace and Peter.
And of course as most of you know, the Unplugged special helped spark the full-fledged second coming, the Alive! Worldwide 96-97 Reunion tour, which delivered all the pyro, greasepaint, and blood one associates with KISS. With all that overwhelming the senses, their music can sometimes get lost in the spectacle of it all. That’s what was cool about Unplugged – we got a reminder that these guys had real melodic gifts and were strong and capable musicians. Here’s a couple for your Monday: