Kiss Debut at Madison Square Garden – 40 Years Later
Sometime in 1974 my friends and I learned about a new band that was about to release their debut album: Kiss. As with all teenagers, it was extremely important for us to be the “first” to discover and love a new band, and we were hooked very early on Kiss – way before the rest of the world discovered them after their “Alive” album.
A couple of my friends were lucky enough to score tickets to their show at the Beacon Theater in New York on March 21, 1975 (remarkably the concert was recorded and can be heard in its entirety on YouTube). I was quite jealous, so a couple of years later when Kiss announced their debut concert at Madison Square Garden, I decided to go all in.
Growing up just outside New York City, my friends and I were always frustrated with not being able to get decent tickets to the big concerts. For Kiss, I wanted to change that. One of our friends had a cousin who lived in New Jersey where the tickets brokers resided. With some finagling, we were able to score seats on the floor in the front, middle section. I still remember the chills I got as I walked to my seat and looked back – and up – at the rest of the arena. Madison Square Garden is big – seated 19,600 according to TheSpotlight for this show – so I knew how special it was to be on the floor.
I brought my Dad’s Pentax with a 50mm lens – my “go to” camera. Actually, it was my only camera, but I used it extensively over the years for yearbook pictures, covering sporting events for the local newspaper, and, of course, concerts. For film I had two rolls of Tri-X and one roll of Vericolor. Even though the Vericolor was slow, I really loved its color response – something that looked more natural than the other, faster films from Kodak at the time.
Sammy Hagar opened the show and was quite unremarkable. I don’t remember seeing it, but Hagar was so frustrated with the crowd that he exposed himself and then smashed his vintage ’61 Fender Statocaster (see UltimateClassicRock.com). During his show I was sitting on the aisle seat and, lo and behold, a drum stick came bouncing down and stopped at my feat. I pocketed it but due some events later in the show, never got it home.
Rushing the Stage
When the lights went down and Kiss took the stage, lots of people rushed to the front – including me. I spent at least half the show parked in the aisle about three rows back. I can’t imagine getting away with that today. Security would be all over the people in the aisle and would toss them back. However, talk about having a blast. What an experience! Through magazine articles and TV appearances I was intimately aware of Kiss’s choreography and knew their songs in and out, so I was patient with my shot selection. One of the shots I was dying to get was Gene Simmons spitting fire at the end of “Firehouse.” As luck would have it, I ran out of film at that precise moment.
At the end of the song I took a shot of Gene as he held the torch up towards the crowd (which turned out to be blurry because I was nudged just as I took the shot), then I couldn’t advance the film to the next frame – I had hit the end of the roll. I even tried to rip the film so I could cock the shutter to at least get a partial shot and maybe double expose part of the previous image, but couldn’t do it. Then Gene blew the fire and the moment was gone. Oh well.
When the band finished “Rock and Roll All Night,” Paul Stanley smashed his guitar on stage and tossed the pieces into the audience. One of the pieces came right to me. Everyone was standing on their chairs and I honestly don’t remember quite what happened, but I wound up on the ground right on top of the piece of guitar. I knew if I came up and showed it off that the crowd would over power me and take it, so I stuffed it down my pants. When I finally got up off the floor, a girl started pulling my camera stating emphatically that it was hers. We were yelling at each other. She said “It’s either the camera or the piece of guitar.” I held my ground and claimed I didn’t have the piece of guitar and that I was NOT going to let go of my Dad’s camera. She backed off. Thankfully.
I didn’t dare take out the guitar piece until we were walking back to the train station, so it was only then that I discovered that Paul smashed a fake guitar. That was when I also realized I lost the drum stick. What I had was one side of the guitar body and you could see the pre-cuts that were made to make the guitar easily brake apart. It was a little bit disappointing, but I could understand why. Many years later, I discovered that my Mom threw it away while I was at college thinking it was just a piece of scrap wood. I could understand that too. I never even took a photo of it. Today I would have taken several selfies and posted them on social media. Times have indeed changed.
Fairly recently I was able to find the audio for the full concert on line (audio of Kiss at Madison Square Garden February 18, 1977) and even some of the show on video (video of Kiss at Madison Square Garden February 18, 1977) – isn’t the Internet wonderful! In watching the video I realized the moment I took this picture of Ace Frehley. It’s at the 12:40 mark in the video during “Firehouse.” You can even see the video camera right in front of me!
Poor Negative Handling
When I realized the 40th anniversary of the concert was coming up, I decided to scan in a bunch of the photos to share on line. What I was horrified to discover was that they were scratched very badly. I thought I was good at maintaining the health of my old negatives, but these were clearly pulled in and out of the negative sleeves often and not handled with enough care. Consequently, I had to pour in a lot of hours in Photoshop to get these images back to something descent. Very disappointing. I looked at some of the original prints I made right after the show – some 16×20’s – and they look awesome.
Below are the best shots that I thought were worth restoring. It would have been awesome to have a telephoto lens. The 50mm from one location has the images looking a bit redundant. That’s probably why I brought a 200mm lens to Led Zeppelin concert a few months later. When I juxtapose these shots versus the ones I took of Peter Gabriel and Sting this past summer, I realize I’ve come a very long way as a concert photographer.
I hope everyone enjoys them!