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30 Years Ago: Kiss Play Their First Show Without Makeup

Phil Dent, Getty Images

On Oct. 11, 1983, Kiss performed the first-ever show without their trademark facepaint. The change helped revitalize the band’s sagging commercial fortunes, but also marked the beginning of an extended “troubling time” for founding member Gene Simmons.

This inaugural live unmasked appearance — in the unlikely and remote setting of Lisbon, Portugal — came just three weeks after Kiss, long famous for hiding their identities in public and onstage behind elaborate costumes and makeup, first revealed their real faces on national television during a special MTV appearance.

Of course, by this point, only two of the group’s original members were around for the unveiling, with founding drummer Peter Criss having departed in 1980 and guitarist Ace Frehley following him out the door in 1982. The former “hottest band in the land” had also fallen far from the height of their massive ’70s commercial fortunes. This was partially because of the lineup changes and most certainly also because they spent the early ’80s dabbling in disco-influenced rock or making a much-derided concept album.

Even when they did get their act together — and how! — with 1982’s thunderous return to form ‘Creatures of the Night,’ the public barely took notice. Despite new guitarist Vinnie Vincent’s insistence that it was “time to grow and change” by unmasking, the move was most likely borne at least partially to try and garner a higher level of attention for their highly deserving new album, ‘Lick It Up.’

The change (and the often-underrated music they made during this time) helped Kiss regain some, but certainly not all, of the popularity they had lost during their last few years. However, it also signified yet another shift in the already fractured band’s power dynamic, with Simmons finding himself uncomfortable in his new non-Demon persona.

As he details in his book ‘Kiss and Make-Up,’ Simmons “didn’t know how I was supposed to act, because the non-makeup version of the band was an entirely new idea. Paul (Stanley) was in his prime. He was very comfortable being who he was, because in some ways Paul is the same offstage as onstage.”

This dilemma can be seen in footage of the band’s first non-makeup show. Stanley doesn’t seem to have lost a step in terms of fulfilling his sex symbol/frontman duties, while Simmons’ outfit and monster-stomping routine seems a little bit more awkward without the greasepaint.

“For those couple of years it became his (Stanley’s) band,” Simmons continues. “Paul was always the guy who spoke in the interviews. When you saw photos of Kiss, they tended more and more to be photos of Paul.” As Simmons jokes himself, things would get worse, not better, in later years, clothing-wise: “My reaction was to try to muscle my way back into the spotlight by buying some truly outlandish androgynous clothing… it just made me look like a football player in a tutu.”

Perhaps this shift led to Simmons seeking fulfillment in other avenues, as he spent much of the mid-’80s pursuing film roles, managing other bands and operating his own record label. Stanley was often forced to fill the vacuum left by his partner’s divided focus, dominating the songwriting and production duties on albums such as ‘Animalize,’ ‘Asylum’ and ‘Crazy Nights.’ It was nearly a decade before the first Simmons-fronted single of the non-makeup era (1992’s ‘Unholy’) was released.

Still, somehow Stanley and Simmons managed to keep the good ship Kiss afloat. The band would continue to perform au naturel for the next 13 years. They released seven albums during this time, several of which went platinum and spawned hit singles such as ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ and ‘Forever.’

Guitarist Vincent, who had taken over for Frehley only a year earlier, would soon depart the band, being replaced even more briefly by Mark St. John and more permanently by Bruce Kulick. The band’s universally beloved second drummer, Eric Carr, would remain in the lineup until his death in 1991.

In 1996, the group once again donned the makeup — and welcomed back Frehley and Criss  — for a hugely successful world tour. The pair would depart again a few years later. Simmons and Stanley made the controversial decision to hire new members (guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, who also played on the last two “unmasked” Kiss albums) to wear the iconic cat and spaceman facepaint. The group released their 20th studio album, ‘Monster‘ on Oct. 9, 2012.

Next: Top 10 Kiss Without Makeup Songs

Watch Kiss Open Their First Show Without Makeup

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