KISS Returns to Huntington, WV
September 10th, 2016 marked the 37th anniversary of Kiss making a stop in my hometown of Huntington, WV on their 1979 "The Return Of Kiss" tour. In a weird coincidence, the final stop of their current "Freedom to Rock" tour brought them back to Huntington to perform on that very same date and on the same stage once known as the Huntington Civic Center, now the Big Sandy Super Arena.
Before I get into my review of Kiss' most recent stop in Huntington, I want to travel back in time to 1979:
In May of 1979 Kiss released their seventh studio album Dynasty and launched a tour that was dubbed "The Return of Kiss." Kiss had ended their Alive II tour in April of 1978 and took time off to do the Kiss Solo Albums and released their TV movie Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park. By the time they started the Dynasty tour Kiss had been off the road for over a year and excitement was high for their return to the concert stage.
When it was announced that Kiss would be making a stop in Huntington my dad quickly picked up tickets for the whole family. Going to see Kiss back in those days was a family affair because my parents were Kiss fanatics just like me and my two older brothers. I was so excited that Kiss was coming to My town and that we had tickets. Kiss had played Huntington a couple times before but the excitement for this show seemed bigger than anything prior. Counting down the days until the concert was kind of like waiting on Christmas, it seemed like the day would never arrive. One of my most vivid memories I have of the 1979 show was waiting for the band to take the stage. I was physically shaking with excitement to see my heroes and my dad had his hand on my shoulder and he could feel me shaking and he asked me if I was gonna be alright. I'm pretty sure I wasn't even able to reply to his question. I don't think I've ever been that excited for any other show in my life. The specifics of the show are kind of a blur thirty seven years later but I do remember it being very loud and flashy and everything my 10-year old self expected it would be. One highlight that I do remember clearly is the band performing a couple songs from the Kiss Solo Albums. They did "Move On" from Paul's record and "New York Groove" from Ace's. Earlier in the tour they had been doing one from each record but by the time they made it to Huntington, they had dropped the songs from Gene and Peter's records.
There were almost ten thousand crazed Kiss fans in attendance that night, which was a bit smaller crowd than when Kiss had played Huntington in 1978, but rumor is the previous year's show had been way oversold. The band did not stay at the local Holiday Inn just down the block because the hotel chain was requiring the band to put down a $5,000 deposit, due to some damage that had been done on the band's previous trip to town. It has also been reported that Kiss manager Bill Aucoin was in Huntington for this show. Bill did not always attend concerts, if Bill was there it was considered to be a special occasion or important show.
Another memory that I have from this show is my mom buying a shirt from a bootlegger outside the venue as we were leaving the show. She only had enough money for one shirt, so she got it in a size large and said I had to share it with my brothers. I eventually grew into the shirt and I still have it. When I heard Kiss was returning to Huntington on September 10th 2016, I knew immediately what shirt I would be wearing.
Fast forward thirty seven years and I find myself heading back to my hometown to see Kiss once again. During those thirty seven years I have remained an avid Kiss fan and have probably seen them at least 20 more times. I didn't take the time to count them all, but that's definitely in the ball park. I've seen them in just about every configuration you can think of. I saw them four times during the original make-up years, several times once they unmasked and then numerous times when they decided to put the facepaint back on. Kiss have only returned to Huntington one other time during this thirty seven year span, that show being January of 1988 during the Crazy Nights tour. I actually got backstage at that show and met my heroes, maybe I'll write about that in a future Pencil Storm entry.
Going to concerts today is so much different than it was all those years ago. When you went to a show back then you really had no idea what to expect and I think that played into the excitement I felt when I saw Kiss in 1979. Now with YouTube and setlistfm, you don't even need to go to shows anymore because you know everything in advance. Times change and that's just the way it is now.
Kiss definitely gave the nearly sold-out crowd in Huntington its money's worth on the "Freedom To Rock" tour. I could sit here and complain that Paul didn't sound pitch perfect or that it's just not the same without Ace and Peter - which it's not - but in the end Kiss is still the biggest rock & roll spectacle out there and they do it better than anyone. The set list was kind of predictable but they did throw the die-hard fans a bone when they played "Flaming Youth," which they rarely do. Other highlights included "Psycho Circus" and "War Machine." It was weird seeing Eric Singer sing Peter Criss' signature song "Beth" and Tommy Thayer doing Ace's "Shock Me," but when I looked around no one seemed to care, everyone was singing along and having a blast. I guess in the end that's what really matters. The music still gets people excited. Gene Simmons was in great form, breathing fire, spitting blood and sounding strong vocally. Gene takes a lot of flak but he is a great showman, no question. The biggest thing that struck me while watching the band perform was realizing that in 1979 Paul Stanley was just twenty seven years old and at what I would consider the top of his game and Gene was thirty. Now they are in their mid-sixties and they are still doing what they love. That's pretty cool.
I will admit that over the last decade or so it has been harder to be a Kiss fan but for me they will always be my band. Kiss gave me the spirit of rock and roll and that's something I will never turn my back on.
I thought I would have mixed emotions about going to this anniversary show but I'm glad I went. I'm glad I was surrounded by Kiss fans old and new. I'm glad that my 76-year old mother attended this show with me like she had so many others in the past. It wasn't quite the magical experience that I had in 1979 and my hands weren't shaking with excitement prior to them hitting the stage but I came away from it feeling like I had just seen a kick-ass rock show. So, I say job well done Kiss.
Below you will see then and now pics and videos from the Huntington concerts. As you will notice, I tend to save everything!
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps andReturning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.