16 April, 1996
The USS Intrepid had seen it all. Known as The Fighting I, the aircraft carrier battled her way through the Pacific, during World War II, surviving various kamikaze attacks, including one that killed over 60 of her crew. Later, in 1965, the Intrepid was responsible for picking up astronauts who ditched in the ocean following space flights, while in the late ‘60s, came involvement off the coast of Vietnam. Eventually, decommissioned, she found a home at Pier 86, in New York Centre. Where, on May 16, 1996, four strange looking creatures boarded the carrier, intent on total world domination. They answered to the name of Kiss.
In truth, the story had begun a short while earlier, at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards on February 28, where Tupac Shakur took the stage and announced: “You know how the Grammys used to be - all straight-looking folks with suits. Everybody looking tired. No surprises. We tired of that… we need to shock the people… so let’s shock the people!” And suddenly alongside him were Kiss, in full make-up and Love Gun-era stage outfits. It was the first time in 13 years that anyone had seen them in full cartoon-hero guise and the crowd went ape. After stunning the Grammy audience, the band announced that they would reveal all at a press conference, where every question would be answered.
Which is why, on that April day, the foursome, appeared on the Intrepid in full make-up, proclaiming that for the first time in 15 years all four original members - Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss - would put their differences behind them and embark on a comeback tour that would kick off at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium on June 28. “We look as silly as we did 15 years ago,” Ace Frehley proclaimed as he opened proceedings.
The band’s new manager Doc McGhee had broken into the world of such major rock bands as Motley Crue and Bon Jovi following management chores with James Brown and Isaac Hayes. He maintained that he would probably have struck up a relationship with Kiss earlier, had they not dropped their super hero personas in 1983. But by 1995 things had changed. When McGhee’s query, “are you going to put your make-up back on?” was met by a silence, he realised that a return to past, theatrical ways was in the offing. At which point he struck a deal with them.
And so the foursome, plus a media megaforce and a requisite number of hardcore fans, found themselves aboard the USS Intrepid, answering a flood of questions. What kind of music would be performed on the tour? Would Kiss include some of their solo items? Would they include sounds from their unmasked period? The fans needed to know.
Gene Simmons had the answers. “We’re open to all kinds of things… we’re going to give the fans exactly what they want,” he said. “They wanna hear Rock N Roll All Night that’s what we’ll do, if they want to hear songs from a certain period, we will do that.” The outfront Kiss Army yelled their delight.
Simmons kept the shriek-level high by adding, with empire-building bravura, “We’re gonna visit every country that’s formed, or about to be formed.” A trifle less grandiloquent, Stanley promised, “We’re not going to finish till we’ve hit every city, every country. We’re committed to this for a year, two years, whatever it takes… we will not be wearing flannel shorts or shorts onstage.”
“We’ve had our differences. So fuckin’ what. The magic is back.”
More yells of appreciation. The Demon and the Starchild were really turning it on. News that Stone Temple Pilots would be kicking off the tour with Kiss at that Detroit opener was almost lost amid the furore. “We’ve always taken great pride in taking the best of the best as our opening acts,” said Simmons graciously, as the band named past support acts AC/DC, Rush, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty and Bob Seger. “We’ve had our differences,” he added. “So fuckin’ what. The magic is back.”
Nearly 40,000 tickets for that first show went on sale on April 20. They sold out in 47 minutes after which Kiss burned a trail that encompassed 192 shows and made the band the biggest concert act in the States at that time. In the wake of the tour launch Doc McGhee smiled knowingly. The Intrepid had once more made it into the history books. And nobody, but nobody, had got seasick.