Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kiss Destroyer Tour 1976

This is the first post for this website, and I am going to start off with one of my favorite stage designs of the 1970's, and the one that really got me interested in stage design in the first place: Mark Ravitz's design for  the KISS  Destroyer and Rock N Roll over tours that toured America from July 1976 through April 1977. These tours marked two of the most successful tours KISS has ever had in terms of attendance, although people tend to remember and favor KISS's stage design for their Love Gun/Alive 2 tours.   Mark Ravitz was kind enough to talk to me about the design, his background and shared with me some blueprints and photos of the set.    One of the reason's that I am a big fan of the design is that it is very theatrical in nature and differed from KISS's previous tours that were compromised mainly of speakers and a drum riser.   With the exception of a few, mainly British artists such as David Bowie (who Ravitz had designed his 1974 Diamond Dogs Stage with Jules Fischer for), Yes, and American Alice Cooper, this was one of the first overtly theatrical sets to be taken on tour by a rock band. Jules Fischer was primarily known for designing sets for Broadway productions and looking at the model, it is obvious that this was KISS's most dramatic stage they have ever done.   Over 80 feet wide and designed to fit into large indoor arena's and stadiums, the stage was an impressive sight.

©Copyright Mark Ravitz
 It was also the first stage to feature raised platforms on either side of the stage which would be come a staple of rock concerts in the decades to come. Below are pre-show and show photos taken by mark Ravitz.
© Mark Ravitz
     ©Copyright Mark Ravitz
KISS had met with huge commercial and financial success in late 1975 with their live concert album ALIVE.  They had earned a reputation with America's teens as having outdone Alice Cooper with the wildest stage show around, which featured Peter Criss's levitating drums, Gene Simmons blood spitting and fire breathing,  and Ace Frehley's smoking guitar.  All accompanied by explosions, smoke, and 20 foot tall flame throwers. See Photo Below of their  1975 Alive Tour  Set:



For their next tour supporting their new album Destroyer,  they had a larger budget and they wanted to raise the bar, something KISS would consistently do for the next 35 years.  Some of the original road crew that had been with the band since the beginning were ditched by management, who claimed the band needed more "seasoned professionals" to handle the more complicated touring production even though they had designed some of the bands most impressive effects.   The Destroyer tour took its design from the album artwork and featured a  burned out apocalyptic city as the theme.  Based on their success not only on broadway but with their crossover work with David Bowie and the Rolling Stones , The Jules Fischer Organization was hired to produce the stage.   Mark Ravitz was hired to freelance this design, as Jules had been his professor during his time at the NYU theatrical design program.
Mark shared these blueprints with me:


         ©Mark Ravitz
    "The idea being that different portions of the stage would thematically correspond to a different band member's stage persona." (from Kiss Alive Forever)   It featured a multi-level design that had 8' x 3' platforms on top of the guitar amps and steps that descended from them to the main stage, a theme that would continue though 1980 in various forms. On either side of the drum riser, covering the large stack of guitar amps were theatrical flats that looked like destroyed buildings. See the blueprint here.



Foam pieces that could "crumble" off were attached to the flats but were also dropped due to the time it took to clean them off stage.  On the drum riser on either side were two large paper mache 6' cats with glowing green eyes that were themed with Peter Criss's "Catman" persona.
 ©Copyright Mark Ravitz
UPDATE:   At the load out of the August 29th show in Atlanta at the Atlanta/Fulton County stadium, the set of  cats were stolen.  An order was put in for a replacement set but the new ones had a diefferent design and were bulkier and thicker.   The original cats turned up as Halloween decorations outside an Atlanta suburb in recent years.    See below:

As you can see they looked a lot sleeker than the cats that replaced them as seen below:
Above Photo: Richard Galbraith

UPDATE: The second set of cats turned up in the mid 1980's at a Philadelphia area nightclub called Pulsations.  They were on display along with "Sam the Serpent" from Kiss's 1977/78 Love Gun Alive II stage during Halloween in the basement of the club.  See below: 



At the end of the show, the drum riser would elevate on a scissor lift that was hidden from view by a giant scrim with a snarling cat emblazoned on it.   See the blueprints here.Flanking either side of the stage were raised platforms that were accessed via stairs.  Ace Frehley's raised platform resembled a lunar mountain and on which he would solo from atop of.  
At the 3:41 point of the video below you can see Ace atop it:


 Gene Simmons raised platform was designed to look like an old gothic castle from which a bloody stake that would rise up as he did his spitting blood routine. Mark Ravitz shared this this blueprint for the stake that would also spew fog from perforated holes at the top of it.



The blood spitting spectacle can be seen from this video taken at Cobo Hall Detroit in January of 1977:
                   
Behind and on either side of the stage were three electrical towers, that Ravitz had designed to look like the numerous towers that were on the New Jersey Freeways.  They acted as light towers from which par cans and a spotlight and operator were mounted and from which KISS Army banners would drop at the end of the show.

According to the Kiss Alive Forever book, Rick Munroe the band's lighting designer was upset when he saw that the design only had back lighting from these towers and the only front light came from spotlights in the area.  This was subsequently changes during the next tour.  The electrical towers also had chaser lights that looked like christmas lights that connected them and ran out into the balcony of the arena.
© Mark Ravitz
As seen in the model above the floor was covered in a design that looked like a lunar surface on Ace Frehley's side of the stage, and parched, cracked earth on Gene Simmons' side.  Frontman Paul Stanley had initially been designed a multi-colored jewel and mirror encrusted area at the front center of the stage that can be seen in the photos of the model.  However, according to Ravitz, the band was unhappy with it and upon first seeing it at dress rehearsals, destroyed most of it while the tech crew looked on in shock. The front center area also featured a ramp that descended slightly towards the audience but that was removed after the first several shows.

Here are some rare photos of it:


In this rehearsal video taken in June of 1976 at the Stewart International Airport where the band was testing the new stage you can clearly see the ramp:
 Hanging above the set were several large clouds and lighting bolts that hid confetti machines behind them and occasionally acted as a video screen, one of the first uses of the then-brand new technology that is now commonplace at all arena sized shows. Ravitz designed the lighting bolts to mimic the S's in the KISS logo and had them painted red, white, and blue in honor of America's 1976 bicentennial that summer.   A blueprint of the clouds and thunderbolts can be seen here.
One of my favorite touches to the set was a decrepit tree that looked like it came straight out of a horror movie cemetery.  It stood on Gene Simmons side of the stage, and rumor has it that it was originally designed to spin around on a revolving turntable but no photos of video can be found of that effect. In photos the tree looked to be about 15 feet tall and was supposedly made of rubber.

 Ingo Floren shared with me this lighting list (Page 1, Page 2) which detailed all the channels for the lighting board.  Mysteriously the "God of Thunder Machine" is listed and I have heard various rumors about what this actually was because no videos or photos exist of it.   Mark Ravitz claimed to have not remembered anything about it while Curt Gooch and Jef Suhs in Kiss Alive Forever say that it was originally designed in 1931 by Ken Strickfadden for Frankenstein.  It was supposedly a giant Tesla coil that would emit colored beams of electricity but reportedly got dropped from the tour early on due to its weight and unreliability. If anyone has any information about it, please forward it on to me.  
I found this little news piece in Rolling Stone Issue 222 from 1976 where Jules Fischer gives a brief synopsis on the stage:


Unfortunately, there are few pro shot videos that show the stage in its full glory.  
However, Serpent3D on Youtube created a fantastic 3D render of the stage so one can get a feel of how it would have looked like in person.

Here is one of the few pro shot videos that exist featuring the closing song Black Diamond,  filmed at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, CA in 1976.


In closing I want to give a big thank you to Mark Ravitz for taking the time to talk with me and share his blueprints and photos.  I also want to thank Inglo Floren of the Flaming Youth   Kiss website.  for sharing info about the stage on their site, to Richard Galbraith for kindly sharing his photos and also to Curt Gooch and Jeff Suhs authors of KISS ALIVE FOREVER, an amazing book detailing all of KISS's tours and shows. 

 Check back for the next feature which is a detailed look into Pink Floyd's Animals tour.

15 comments:

Kenn said...

Incredible! I have been a KISS fan since 4th grade back in 1977 ans I had always wondered why so few photos/videos of this setup existed. Even the pro-shot shows show very little and until now I never really took it all in. Thanks for the time you put into this...looking forward to more!

Tim said...

What an incredible stage set. Although KISS is remembered more for the Love Gun era set, this one to me, is probably the best. Again, as mentioned it is a shame that there are not as much video/pics of this stage available. Great, great job on putting this together. I didn't know much about this stage setup until now. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing!!!!

Tim said...

I've seen lots of KISS tour sets, but why there are so few pics of this is somewhat of a mystery. Arguably, the best stage set they ever had. Great job in putting this together. Good, good stuff, most of which, I had never seen before. Thanks!!!!

Coolnesski said...

Thanks for putting this together!

Randy Hammill said...

I know you posted this a while ago, but as Skeeto5000 points out, in the rehearsal footage (13:12) you can see the 'God of Thunder Machine' in action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHZC4sLWZ-s

Che Allen said...

This site is a real inspiration! Please keep updating it. This set is my favorite. I'm really into stage design, and these are some of te best.

Ostin Torre said...

This Blog is so well compiled, I would definitely welcome the opportunity to see and read more. I never considered the KISS Destroyer stage set a favorite, however after reading this feature my opinion has truly been revised!

Thank you for all your research and efforts, much appreciated.

The Peddler said...

I guess I was one of the lucky ones to have seen the giant Tesla coil in action during the 1976 tour.
I was at the 08/02/1976 Kiss/Bob Seger Bullet Band concert at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, IN.
I can verify the giant Tesla coil was used that night because it was a most memorable part of the show for me.
When it turned on, it was an incredibly loud high voltage sound and all the lights on the stage dimmed.

It had two parts. One part was a giant 20 foot mesh steel screen, square and suspended in the air by wires going up to a boom.
It was between Gene Simmons and Peter Criss in the left part of the stage area.
The second part was a basketball sized sphere also suspended by wires.
It lit up giant and very long bright blue lightning bolts from the sphere onto the mesh screen through the air.
It was only used briefly during one song. Can't remember the song though.

After 3 joints and a half bottle of wine that night... mind blown when I saw and heard that thing kick in :^)

I've put together a webpage of crazy concert stories here;

http://llamamusic.com/concerts/concerts.html

There's a great story about this same KISS concert under the heading
- - - - Some Amazing Things I've Seen At Concerts - - - -
It's the "fire spitting duel" story.

Sagedrummer said...

The Peddler, thanks for your comment, you are the first person who I have come across who saw the Tesla coil in action and that is pretty awesome! Thanks for the description of it and hopefully a video may one day surface. I will definitely check out your website. Thanks for visiting!

Randy Hammill said...

I thought I had posted this before, but...

In the rehearsal footage at 13:12 you can see the God of Thunder Machine in action. Not real clear, but there it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHZC4sLWZ-s

Randy

WVHillbilly said...

Several pictures of what could be the God of Thunder machine with its builder, Ken Strickfaden.

http://electrotherapymuseum.com/TTRCOM/history_Strickfadden.htm

Johnny Davis said...

I was at the 1st show of this tour, July 3rd 1976, Norfolk VA. Scope Arena. Still had some bugs in the set. At one point during a flash pod explosion on stage, the material they used (looked like 3" foam spray painted) for some of the burned out city look, was blown over by the explosion in front of Gene's speaker cabinets & started smoking. Crew came out, used a fire extinguisher on it & put it back up. Me & my best friend were front & center, 10' from the stage!

Sagedrummer said...

Johnny Davis, wow! I am vey jealous, would have loved to have seen this tour in person but I wasn't even born yet. There was actually an effect where the city walls exploded and fell apart. They only used it early on in the tour but there is no footage of. It was deemed to much of a pain in the ass for cleanup. Thanks for sharing your memories of the show. I wish KISS would do a tour where the stage actually goes through all the classic stages from the 70's. With the technology available today it is possible and Rush did something similar on their last tour.

Larry McNeil said...

February 18, 1977 was my first concert was kiss at Madison square garden also playing there the first time ! It was the rock 'n' roll over tour but they still had the destroyer stage. The lightning bolts and everything was there except the tesla coil Frankenstein/God of thunder machine. Also Paul Stanley's destroyer costume was altered so it looked like alive on top with the Ginny T top but destroyer bottom. I took a boombox with me and recorded the whole show and when they came back later that year with the love gun tour I recorded that show also! The first show at the garden in February was awesome I read somewhere that their families were in the audience and Peter Chris's family were in tears as he was singing Beth! I was 12 years old and was totally blown away as it was a life changing event especially with all the weed smoke! LOL !
from there I knew what I wanted to do with my life and it was going to be with music ! So I went to school and got my audio engineering degree but instead of going into the studio I got a job working with David Bowie guitar teching for Earl slick and from there I went to work with many bands like Alice in chains, Soundgarden, Red Hot chili peppers, Metallica, Pantera, suicidal tendencies and white zombie to name a few. I just did shows at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey which was Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, guns and roses, and also got to jam with Paul McCartney's band!! My old band, sardonica, got to tour for Geffen records opening up for the misfits in Europe. But all this had to do with that first concert and my favorite band at a time which was kiss!!

Elliott/tikilovegod said...

There is a version of the 1976 Houston, TX show that show a bit of the Lightning/God of Thunder effect. Look at the left side of your screen near the KISS sign after the drum solo. https://youtu.be/uN6VeBFtfeU