When a Kiss Reunion Under the Brooklyn Bridge Rocked MTV’s Video Music Awards
The dreams of Kiss fans everywhere finally came true in 1996 when the band’s original lineup returned after nearly two decades apart, donned their signature makeup and embarked that June on the year-long Alive/Worldwide Tour. When the opportunity arrived to perform on the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 4, Kiss jumped at the chance, performing one of the all-time classic on-air reunions, right back in their hometown of New York City.
With the Brooklyn Bridge towering over the band just to their right, the original Kiss—Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss—rocked a special five-song VMAs performance for several hundred lucky attendees. One track, the iconic “Rock and Roll All Nite,” was broadcast on TV.
Kiss has never won a VMA, and was only nominated once, in the Best Cinematography category for 1984’s “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose.” The last time Kiss had been on the VMAs was in 1991, which was former drummer Eric Carr’s final public appearance with band, before his death from heart cancer on Nov. 24, 1991.
The VMA gig was also the culmination of a series of high-profile appearances that were staged around the reunion, starting with a reveal in February at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards, where Tupac Shakur introduced the band—in full makeup and clad in their Love Gun-era costumes—to a wild ovation from attendees. The ensuing tour was announced in NYC aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid on April 16, and the press conference was simulcast in 58 countries.
So of course, the VMA event had all the fanfare you’d expect from Kiss, who canceled a date in Iowa in order to fit-in the MTV appearance, for a spectacle dramatically above and beyond the usual award-show faire. Blue and red tickets printed with a map were handed out to fans, with the intention of limiting to turnout; when you look back at MTV’s video of the show (embedded above), the crowd looks massive, but only because it was filmed with extreme wide angle lenses. If you were there, the NYC skyline provided a breathtaking backdrop, which unfortunately the TV cameras couldn’t properly convey.
It was the final segment of the VMA broadcast; an epic stunner to go out with a bang. Comedian Dennis Miller introduced the band, proclaiming, “Alright, what do you say we seal the show with a great, big, sloppy, tongue-in-the-throat, fireworks-exploding blood-spurting lip-lock, live from under the Brooklyn Bridge. You wanted the best, you got the best! It’s Kiss!”
Although those tuning in at home only got to hear the one song, the full set ran about 20 minutes and was a scorcher. In addition to “Rock ‘N Roll All Nite,” Kiss also played “New York Groove,” “Strutter,” “Calling Dr. Love” and “Love Gun” for a very fortunate crowd.
The energy and sonic boom of that performance was a perfect encapsulation of the Alive/Worldwide tour, which was the original lineup’s first tour together since the 1979 Dynasty tour. Staying true to the time period when that lineup was active, nearly all songs in the set hailed from the band’s '70s heyday; none of the non-makeup-era tracks were performed, and just one '80s cut—“Shandi” from Unmasked—made the set.
The reunion tour, which spanned 192 shows, ended up grossing more than $43 million, making it the year’s biggest draw and the most successful Kiss tour to date. The tour’s average attendance of 13,737 remains the highest in the group's history. As those watching below the Brooklyn Bridge on Sept. 4 saw, the 1996 run was not an event to be missed.
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