Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley backstage, Brisbane Nov 25 1980. Image: Brett Bartlett
Kiss hysteria had taken over Australia by 1980.
The face-painted New York hard rockers known for their explosive live shows, blood spitting, flaming rockets, and extravagant stage design had a rabid following. But the announcement of their first Australian visit as part of the Unmasked Tour sent the hysteria into hyper-drive with the kind of merchandising and media coverage never seen before in Australia.
A Countdown special interview introduced new drummer Eric Carr who’d replaced Peter Criss, and included typically awkward Molly Meldrum questions such as “Did you form in Brooklyn or the Queens?”
Brett Bartlett was 14 when he first came across Kiss performing on TV in late 1976. But it wasn’t until he bought their 1977 album Love Gun and a week later their first self-titled album that he became hooked. Bartlett attended the final show of the Australian tour at Brisbane’s Lang Park on November 25 and met the band backstage. Though he’s been to over 40 Kiss shows in numerous countries since, he says nothing comes close to meeting his idols for the first time.
Noisey: How frenzied was Kiss mania in 1980?
Brett Bartlett: They were everywhere. Newspapers, magazines, record stores, t-shirts, jewellery, hats, school bags, underwear, ice creams. It was truly a magical time that I don't think any fan born after could ever really understand. They can read the stories and watch the video reports but that can't capture the feeling or the constant buzz in the air.
What do you remember about the Brisbane show?
When they rose from beneath the stage the air became electrified. Nothing, even to this day, beats that rush at the start of a KISS concert. There were the bombs, the flames, the blood, the rockets and all the awesome songs.
There was one malfunction when Gene was stuck hanging mid air on his flying rig, luckily it was only momentarily. At one point Gene was standing on the scaffold just after spewing his blood. A storm was rolling in off in the distance. I can remember seeing him up there with lightning flashing behind him. It was perfect timing and looked so cool.
Brett Bartlett as Peter Criss in Kiss cover band The Kiss Clones 1980. Image: Brett Bartlett
Were many in face paint?
At least a quarter of the 20,000 crowd was in make up and/or costumes
And you got to meet the band?
Yes, in 1980 I was a member of a local Kiss look-a-like group the Kiss Clones and we were eagerly awaiting the November tour. Then it was announced that Peter had quit the band to be replaced with Eric ‘the Fox’ Carr.
I immediately wrote to Eric to welcome him to the band and to offer my support. I came home one day to find a letter for me postmarked from Rome. The first lines almost knocked me off my feet."Hi, it's me. Eric of Kiss". Eric Carr had answered my letter, this just doesn't happen! He said that he'd like to meet me when they got to Australia so I immediately set about contacting anyone I could who may be able to help me get to Kiss.
Brett Bartlett & Eric Carr. Image: Brett Bartlett
How did you end up backstage?
The Australian KISS Army arranged for me to meet the band just prior to the Brisbane show. At 7:30pm we were led backstage to a blue and white marquee and there they were standing left to right Eric, Paul, Ace & Gene! We exchanged some very brief hellos, I got my photo with Eric and a couple of others of the band and before I knew it I was back out in the crowd telling people "I just met Kiss"... but no one believed me of course!
What was it like backstage? Was there much booze and girls?
It was very sedate actually. I recall seeing many empty 'Popper' fruit juice containers, but not a single booze bottle. One area had three or four pinball machines lined up. As for girls, the only notable one I saw was Penthouse Pet Tracey Wallace who had been 'hanging out' with Paul Stanley for some of the tour. She was wearing the same green cat suit that she had worn in the magazines.
Susan Chee Quee was only 13 when she camped outside Kiss’ Sydney hotel and went to both concerts at the Sydney Showground’s on November 21 and 22.
Noisey: What do you remember of the two Sydney shows?
Susan Chee Quee: It was outdoors, general standing area and it was great to see our idols up close after so much build up and media coverage. I remember one concert was with makeup and one was not. My two best friends and I slept on the footpath waiting to go into both shows because as soon as they opened the gates - it was madness. Everyone running towards the stage to get a position. An older guy fainted next to us.
We had t-shirts made with our favourite member's name printed on the back. There was craziness and I still have a part of Gene Simmons' towel that he threw out to the audience with the fake blood on it. A few of us caught it and agreed to divide it up (ha!)
Susan Chee Quee (as Peter Criss) on the right. Images: Susan Chee Quee
I cried at the end when the helicopter transported them out. This concert was the start of rock n roll for my closest girlfriends and I and we have remained Kiss fans eversince.
One thing I cherished was while waiting in line for the Sydney 1980 concerts, some of the fans would put on parades in their costumes and we would all be singing Kiss songs. A gold Trans Am with the Kiss logo on the front was giving fans rides up and down the strip outside the venue. It was so much fun and build up. Yes, there was underage drinking, smoking and maybe drugs, but no fights, no hassles as we were all there for the same reason - to see Kiss for the first time.
Images: Susan Chee Quee
Who was your favorite?
I was obsessed with Paul Stanley. What he stood for and his on stage charisma was mesmerising for a 13 year-old.
What did your parents think of you sleeping outside their hotel?
My mother had no idea where we were! As rebel teenagers, we said we were staying at friend's houses. When we arrived at Kings Cross we went into a newsagent and there was Gene inside with a security guard outside. We went in and said hello. Even though I had a camera, being a Kiss fan, it never crossed my mind to take a picture of them unmasked.
Kiss at Sydney Town Hall. Images: Susan Chee Quee
Gene said that allowing children to see their show would be no different to allowing them to see the circus. Parents now get upset by Miley Cyrus shows etc. Has much changed?
I have two young children. Kiss’ music is clean as is the language. There is innuendo but it’s all is old-fashioned stuff. You don’t get the feeling of "I want to grow up quickly” like you do with Miley. There’s no swearing. That was evident at one of the concerts they did with Motley Crue two years ago. I feel for the parents that had taken their kids to see KISS and to have Motley support and swear and carry on was awkward and I am a Motley fan.
How did the show in 1994 compare to the 1980 show?
The excitement was definitely still there even being older but the show was bigger, grander and musically the band has just gotten better. It's magic that I can still go with the same two girlfriends from 1980 to their concerts now and appreciate them more musically rather than as idols as a teenager.
Susan Chee Quee (as Paul Stanley) with her two friends who attended the 1980 show, with their daughters before the 2013 Kiss concert. Image: Susan Chee Quee