Saturday, July 16, 2011
One From The Archives: 07/16/95 Kiss Convention @ Radisson Hotel South & Plaza Tower, Bloomington, MN
(All Images via: NYCDreamin Archives)
Long time readers of this blog are no doubt well aware that I've been a Kiss fan since I was 7 years old. That's 34 years I've spent following the band - it's just in my blood at this point - there's not much I can do about it - and I've never been ashamed to proudly identify myslef as a life-long Kiss Army Soldier. Or am I just a 7 year-old Kiss geek in a grown mans body? The following story may shed some light on just how bad it has been known to get for me at times...
In the early spring of 1995 I caught wind that Kiss were planning to stage an official "Kiss Conventions" tour. I didn't even balk at the ticket price when the official announcements were made: $100.00 to spend a day with hundreds of my fellow Minneapolis/St. Pual area Kiss Army Soldiers in worship of all that is Kiss. There would be merchandise booths selling every Kiss collectible under the sun. The Kiss tribute band Strutter would perform. And best of all, the band themselves would be there for most of the day to mingle with fans, sign autographs, do a Q&A session and ultimately finish up the evening with an extended "unplugged" set.
So as soon as I was able to scrounge up the cash, I sent it off to a Beverly Hills address, which I'm sure was some kind of money laundering operation for Gene Simmons himself, and waited for my "ticket" to arrive. You see, marketing geniuses that they are, Kiss were not about to let Ticketmaster horn in on the action, so the band, in what was then a rather innovative move, sold the tickets themselves through the mail or a 1-800 number if you had a credit card, which, at the time, I did not. So I sent in my money order, waited a few weeks, watching my mailbox like a hawk and an envelope arrived in the mail one day a few weeks later...
...and inside the envelope, instead of a ticket, I received this letter explaining that a "pass" had been reserved in my name and would be available for me to pick up at the door on the day of the convention.
I just had to show my ID at the door and I would then be given my pass into the glorius one-day shrine to Kisstory when it arrived in my city. I filed the confirmation letter and envelope in one of my numerous Kiss scrapbooks and settled in to wait for convention day to arrive. I worked as many extra hours as I could over the following month or so - picking up shifts from co-workers and working several double-shifts. I think I lived on Ramen noodles for a few weeks - whatever I could do to make and/or save some extra cash to spend on much needed Kiss stuff when the big day finally came.
A few days before the convention, this small item appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper...
July 16th 1995 finally arrived and I was up early, unable to sleep any later than 6:00am, waiting for a few friends who were going to the convention also. I dressed, stepped outside, lit up a cigarette and walked a few blocks to a local convenience store and picked up the mornings newspapers hoping for something additional on the convention. The St. Paul Pioneer press had this small blurb in the entertainment section...
The plan was for my friends to pick me up late that morning and then we would head off to Bloomington and get down to the serious business of being mega Kiss geeks. The plan proceeded accordingly - the guys arrived - we made last minute checks that we had all our cash, cameras (1 each), film (several rolls each), 1 video camera, a few blank VHS tapes, fresh charged video camera batteries, ID's for our passes at the door...we had everything in order and finally at around 10:00am we were off to spend what promised to be an exciting and expensive day in the company of the hottest band in the world. One of the cooler things about the convention wa sthat you were allowed to bring in as much audio and/or video equipment as you wanted. As such, there is a virtual glut of high quality video and audio from the Convention tour.
We arrved at the Radisson Hotel in Bloomington, parked the car, grabbed all our video/photography gear and headed for the doors. As instructed, we handed over our IDs to the guy at the door and a moment later each of us were given our laminated passes that served as out "ticket." You could come and go, in and out, as needed throughout the day, but you would need the pass to gain re-entry to the hotel. I looked my pass over as I slipped it around my neck, turning it over and discovering my pass was numbered 00092.
We took a few steps forward past the guy with the passes and another guy was handing out these cool, full color, 36 page miniature Convention tour books. We each grabbed one from the guy, took a few more steps and then I had a great idea. I grabbed one of my buddies by the shoulder and said, "Hey. We should go right back outside. Put these copies of the tour books in the car - wait 5 minutes - go back in and get another copy each." My friends agreed this was a brilliant plan - so out the door we go, to the car. Drop off the tour books. Wait 5 minutes. Then we head right back inside, wave our lamintes at the door guy and walk right past him like we own the joint and the guy handing out the tour books welcomes us once more, not recognizing us from Adam, and hands us each another copy of the tour book. We walk a few steps and my buddy says, "Lets do it one more time." Sounded like a good plan to me - you can never have enough extras when it comes to Kiss collectibles, so we repeat the process onece more: outside. Car. Wait 5 minutes. Back inside. Wave laminates and gain entry. Collect our 3rd tourbook each. This, we decided, was plenty. Later on in the evening I got my 3rd copy autographed by Gene, Paul and Bruce. I missed Eric somehow, which was strange as he was all over the place all day.
Obviously, I kept this copy for my persoanl collection. I sold the other two non-autographed copies a year or so after the convention for $25.00 each - so that was half my ticket price that I made back just on the two extra freebies. I knew having a few extras would come in handy. Anyway, back to the convention.
A bit later in the afternoon, on one of my trips past the entry area for a beer or bathroom break, I noticed an empty carboard box laying unattended by the area where the guy had been giving out the tour books earlier. There was no sign of the guy now or the tourbooks, but I happened to notice the label on the box that had been left laying there...it was one of the boxes the tourbooks had come in. I thought the label was a unique piece of paper ephemera, so I grabbed the box and ripped off the flap containing the label. Super Kiss geek behaviour? Yes. Guilty as charged.
We wandered inside and began taking a look around the huge convention room where probably about 20 to 30 dealers from all over the world were selling any and every imaginable Kiss collectible ever produced. Official and bootleg stuff from all over the world. I picked up a few business cards from some guys I recognized from some of the Kiss fan clubs that I was a member of back in those days. Yes, I was a memeber of not just one, but several, Kiss fan clubs. In those pre-internet days that was the best way to stay on top of what was hppening with your favorite band.
The merchandise room was like a dream...or a nightmare. There were t-shirts. And lots of vinyl. And CD's. And 8-tracks. And cassettes, VHS videos, jigsaw puzzles, board games, comic books, key chains, stickers, buttons, baseball caps, collectors cards, old magazines, pre-paid phone cards, tour books, posters, shot glasses, ashtrays, jewelry, action figures, model kits, trash bins and lunch boxes. There was even a highly sought after Balley's Kiss pinball machine in perfect working order.
And there was more...much, much more.
It kind of made ones head swim that there was THIS much merchandise out there. That was the day I really realized I'd never manage to get one of everything Kiss - it is just a physical and monetary impossibility. My friends and I spent a ton of cash trying though, a few hundred dollars each in this room over the course of the following hour or so while we waited for the Eric Singer drum clinic that would kick of the afternoon's events. I spent sparingly at first, wanting to look over everything a few times and find some good deals. One of my friends was nearly broke about an hour later. I wondered what he was gonna do about food and drinks for the rest of the day - I sure wasn't gonna borrow him any of my cash - friend or not - I was gonna need every dollar I had from the looks of things. I picked up 3 or 4 t-shirts, a few records, some cool old magazines, fanzines and posters, a couple CD's, a 1979 Dynasty tour book and a bunch of other crap I can't remember right at the moment. A while later after we'd spent money like it was water, we gathered up all our purchases and trudged them out to the car and carefully packed them away in the trunk.
On our way back inside, we spotted the guys from a Minnepapolis/St. Paul area Kiss tribute band called "War Machine." They were hanging out posing for photos with all the convention attendees who were interested. I asked them if they'd been invited to jam with Strutter later in the evening and the Gene Simmons guy said, with a hint of disappointment in his voice, that he didn't think so.
Now with our shopping mostly out of the way, we took some time to look around at all the great stuff from Kisstory that the band had brought with them on this special tour and set up on display for the enjoyment of the fans. There were full costumes from each era of the band carefully set up on face-painted manequins. There were odd bits of incomplete costumes...the stray piece of jewelry or platform boot. There was a makeup case once owned by Peter Criss. There was Peter's 1975 drum kit from the "Alive" album cover. There were several guitars that any Kiss fan was immediately familiar with from seeing the band in videos, magazines, or if they were lucky enough, live in concert. There was a huge display with hundreds of magazine covers on which the band had appeared on over the past few decades. And some very rare 70's era merchandise like a Kiss record player, a Kiss beach towel, a Kiss trash can and a Kiss bedspread and curtain set. There were old concert posters and advertisements, original business documents, original Kiss artwork. It was amazing all the stuff they brought along for the fans to enjoy. Here are just a few of the cool things that were on display...
Gene Simmons 1977 Love Gun Tour costume
Ace Frehley 1974 Hotter Than Hell Tour costume
Paul Stanley 1979 Dynasty Tour costume
Peter Criss 1976 Rock & Roll Over Tour costume
Unused Eric Carr "Original" Hawk Makeup design/costume
Prototype of the infamous Gene Simmons designed Axe bass
1979 Paul Stanley Ibanez Iceman guitar
Another of Gene's many custom bass guitars
1988 Eric Carr Floor toms - with Peter's 1975 Alive era kit in the background
Original rough draft of "Destroyer" LP cover art
The original oil painting of the "Love Gun" cover art. It still looked wet.
Random Gene Simmons artwork
Early 70's concert posters. $4.00 to see Rush open for Kiss in 1974. Fuckin' A, I was born too late!
Poster for a 01/18/77 Kiss/Uriah Heep concert in Duluth, MN
About mid-afternoon we decided we'd head into the other convention room where the stage was set up and waiting for the band. There were a few fans in here waiting already too...
We milled around for a bit and waited for Eric Singer to begin his "drum clinic." A short while later he walked out on the stage and began a very informal 20-30 minute drum clinic, taking questions from fans on his performance techniques and his career prior to joining Kiss. After answering questions for the better part of a half an hour, Eric climbed behind his kit and played a brief series of drum fills and beats along with a tape of pre-recorded music featuring Gene and Bruce on guitars and bass. To wrap things up, Eric called out several random laminate/ ticket/ pass numbers and if he called your number you won a pair of drumsticks or A CD or a t-shirt or some other cool small item. He gave quite a bit of stuff away.
Eric Singer drum clinic/Q&A
Almost immediately after Eric left the stage, Bruce Kulick walked out and fiddled around with his guitar for a few minutes before taking his turn with a 30 minute guitar clinic/Q&A. He played a few songs and a bunch of bits of different guitar solos.
Bruce Kulick guitar clinic/Q&A
After the clinics/Q&A's were over we had a bit of time before the full band came out to do their group Q&A, so we wandered through the merchandise room one more time. I made a few more purchases and hurried them out to the car then came back in just in time to settle in for a lenghty B.S./Q&A session with the band. A few crew guys with microphones walked around the crowd, passing the mic to anyone who wanted to ask a question. This went on for around an hour or mybe just a little longer.
Kiss meets their fans during a lenghty and informative Q&A
The band eventually ended things by saying they could keep answering questions all night...or...they could shake hands and sign sign some autographs. The crowd seemed most in favor of the second choice. Gene and Eric went one direction and Paul and Bruce went the other. Half of the fans in the room followed each pair of Kissers and an absolute clusterfuck ensued as people jockeyed for position to get to the front of the line (if you could call it a line at all...). The whole thing was a completely disorganized mess and not much fun. I did manage to get a few atographs from each of the guys but it wasn't easy and I know I heard at least a few people complaining that they'd missed one or more of the guys. I felt bad for those people as an autograph from each band member was kinda promised with the ticket price. But whatever...I got mine.
After the chaos of the autograph session wound down, one of the crew members appeared on stage and announced the band would be taking a short break and then would come back out and begin their unplugged set. My friends and I once again wandered over to the merchandise room and looked around even though we were mostly broke by this point. I still had a few dollars left to eat though, so I grabbed a hot dog and a beer from one of the food vendors, scarfed it down and stepped down the hall and used the bathroom. All the necessitries taken care of, my friends and I made our way back into the stage room and pushed our way as close to the front as we could manage to get, eventually coming to a stop only a few rows back from the stage...a nice spot to sit and witness what promised to be the highlight of the evening - Kiss accoustic!
A short while later the band reappeared on the stage, tuned up for a few minutes and then began their set.
I was just a few rows back and it sounded great. I shot a few rolls of film. My buddy had decided to go back and set up his video camera near the back of the room to get a better, wider shot. He managed to get some pretty good film but his battery died about half-way through the set as he'd used it up earlier in the day during the Q&A session and guitar and drum clinics. Luckily, I ran into another guy I knew at the convention and I made arrangements to get copies of his video a week or two later. He shot the entire day and still managed to get the full unplugged set on video too. Unfortunatley, I have yet to convert these VHS tapes to digital and who knows, I may never do so...
The band played for just over 90 minutes. The set was loose but structured roughly around a setlist they played throughout the convention tour. But they did take requests and the entire time they played people yelled out requests for their favorite obscure Kiss tunes. The band did attempt a few of the fans requests. The setlist was as follows:
Comin' Home/ Christine Sixteen/ Take Me/ A World Without Heroes/ Shandi/ Nothin' To Lose/ Do You Love Me?/ Domino/ Got To Choose/ Calling Dr. Love/ Love Her All I Can/ Sure Know Something/ Rock & Roll Hell (Partial)/ Crazy Crazy Nights (Partial)/ Mr. Speed (Partial)/ Platster Caster/ Hard Luck Woman/ Burn Bitch Burn (Partial)/ Black Diamond/ Rock Bottom/ Hide Your Heart/ God Of Thunder/ Unholy/ C'Mon & Love Me/ Heart Of Chrome/ Spit (Partial)/ Goin' Blind/ 100,000 Years/ I Still Love You/ Heaven's On Fire/ Cold Gin/ I lOve It Loud/ Lick It Up
And after 95 minutes or so, the band thanked us for coming, spent a few more minutes shaking hands from the stage and then they disappeared, leaving about 800 of their most hardcore fans feeling quite satisfied with the whole experience. I got up from my spot and wandered to the back of the room to find my friends. I finally spotted them and eventually I reached them as the crew hurriedly set up the equipment for the final part of the evening - the full-on electric set by one of the better Kiss tribute bands of the era, Strutter. Within about 15-20 minutes after Kiss had left the stage, Strutter was on, doing their spot-on interpretation of a 70's era Kiss concert, minus a few special effects. Seems the Radisson wasn't about to let some Kiss tribute band blow the place up or set the roof on fire with an indoor pyro display, so there was none of that. But there was about another 45 minutes of great classic Kiss rock and roll. My friends and I had seen Strutter a few times previously so we decided we'd better take one last cruise through the merchandise room pretty much just to drool over all the cool stuff one last time. The vendors were starting to pack their stuff up but some were still selling stuff at a rapid clip. A few minutes later, as we were wandering around we ran into Eric Singer. Seems he was in here, like us, trying to find a few rare Kiss items he'd been trying to locate for several years. He was extremely friendly as we chatted him up for a few minutes and took one last photo...
...and as Strutter finished up their set and things really began to wind down, most people were starting to head for the doors, dragging piles of assorted Kiss merchandise with them, calling it a day after nearly 12 hours of complete Kiss overload. We lingered around until almost the last minutes of the convention, the parking lot was nearly emptied out when we fianlly pulled away and headed for home at nearly 1:00am. It had been a long but rewarding day...a once in a lifetime kind of thing to be sure. There was talk that the band would do another convention tour at some point in the future - but with the original band lineup getting back together in early 1996 for a long wished-for Reunion Tour, this idea was quickly forgotten.
The following morning I was up early again, despite not having gone to bed until after 3:00am. I picked up a copy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to see what they had about the Kiss convention...
07/17/95 Minneapolis Star Tribune
...and the following Wednesday, the Mpls/St. Paul area free weekly arts and entertainment paper City Pages had this recap...
07/19/95 City Pages Magazine
*The photos printed here are just a sampling of the shots I took that day. You can see my full set of over 100 photos and scans from the Bloomington, MN Kiss Convention HERE.
Video of the Q&A and Unplugged Performance.