"A lesser band might have been humiliated" - the story of the first Kiss show

Kiss onstage at the Popcorn Club
(Image credit: Yan Parreiras)

The Popcorn Club, Queens, New York, January 30, 1973. It's a bone-chilling Tuesday night in Queens as Kiss roll up to the Popcorn Club for the load-in at their first official show as Kiss. They've previously performed as Wicked Lester, who've been signed (and subsequently dropped) by Epic Records after recording a still-unreleased album.

“Paul and I weren’t happy with the record,” Gene Simmons told Classic Rock. “It had a West Coast American hippie sound. We looked at each other and decided to form a new group, which was Kiss.” 

The name change came at some point between the booking of the Popcorn show and the performance itself. 

“We didn’t have a manager,” Simmons remembered. “So I called the guy. ‘You won’t believe this band, Wicked Lester. They do original material and, if you want, we’ll stick in a Wilson Pickett song or an Otis Redding song.’ Over the phone I sold the band to him for thirty-five dollars. Never mind that getting the truck to move our equipment and all that was going to cost more, we just wanted to flex our muscles.” 

"I remember very clearly when our picture went up on the outside of this club, Ace [Frehley] took a marker and wrote our new name right on the picture," Simmons wrote in his memoir Kiss and Make-Up. "The way he drew it was pretty crude, but it resembled our logo, with the two 'S's like lightning bolts at the end of the word."

Kiss had already amassed a clutch of original material, including Deuce, Firehouse and Black Diamond, and they had also committed to the idea of giving audiences something visually stunning to accompany the music. 

“We didn’t sound like what we looked like,” Gene admits. “One day we went down to Woolworth, which was a chain of department stores, and bought long mirrors – fifteen bucks or something like that – and bought clown make-up, God knows why, and started putting make-up on our faces; there were no make-up artists or anything. And designs on the whiteface. Nobody could point to a reason why or what the spark was that started the fire. I don’t know. There are things in science called ‘singularities’ – they just happen.” 

And so, before a small but supportive audience of less than 10 – and even then mainly girlfriends and friends – four local dudes wearing face paint ripped into Deuce

"I could laugh at the absurdity of it all, even as I looked out over the 'crowd' and spotted not a single unfamiliar face," wrote Ace Frehley in his book No Regrets. "A lesser band might have been humiliated to the point of quitting, but we weren't deterred in the slightest."

It's probably fair to say that music would never be the same again. 

No footage of the band's first show at the Popcorn Club is known to exist, but look on YouTube and you'll find grainy black and white footage of a performance at the same venue filmed later that year. 

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.

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