Since their early days, KISS have been known for their live performances. One song—one moment, in particular—has played an important role in THE KISS SHOW, a larger-than-life spectacular consisting of flashing lights, flamethrowers, explosions, fire breathing, smoking guitars, and levitating drums. It’s a moment in their concerts that’s designed for maximum entertainment by overwhelming the audience with sights and sounds.
“Firehouse” was written by Paul Stanley when he was just sixteen years old. One day in 1968, Stanley was listening to a radio program that focused on British music, when he heard the new single by the Move, “Fire Brigade”.
What I was doing at that point in terms of song writing was taking inspiration from songs I remembered from the radio. When I heard “Fire Brigade,” I loved the concept. So I sat down and began to hash out a song of my own using the same idea. I hadn’t heard the song enough to actually copy it musically, but I had grasped something that I really liked. (from Face the Music: A Life Exposed)
Stanley would later bring “Firehouse” to Wicked Lester, the pre-KISS band he was in with Gene Simmons. When KISS formed, it became one of their earliest songs, and was played at their first show, which took place at club called the Coventry in Queens on January 30th, 1973. That September, it was their closing number during a showcase performance for Casablanca Records, the label that would soon sign them. A heavy track with a Black Sabbath-like tempo and a killer groove, “Firehouse” was among the numerous standout cuts from KISS’s self-titled debut.
The original KISS lineup, which existed as a live act from 1973-1979, played “Firehouse” on every tour. The song appears on Alive (1975), the double live album that went multi-platinum and made KISS a success. Part of the appeal of Alive was that it had enough audible effects, like the sirens heard at the end of “Firehouse,” that listening to in your bedroom was the next best thing to being at a KISS concert.
As the sirens are blaring, the band holds the last note for a while. It goes on for so long that it’s borderline hypnotic. It sounds really cool, but also had a purpose in a setting. As KISS collectively sustain that note, Gene Simmons (as The Demon), ambles off stage, grabs a flaming torch, lurches back out, readies himself—as fog covers the floor, lights flash, and sirens continue to blare—and then breathes/blows/spits fire into the air, before spiking the torch into the stage floor. The song ends and the tension is broken. Paul Stanley (as the Starchild) comes back to the mic: “FIREHOUSE! WOO!! AWW, AYE.” It’s quite a moment—an audio/visual assault on the audience’s senses and unlike anything else seen or heard in rock-n-roll. The very fact that KISS usually plays “Firehouse” early in their set—usually the fourth or fifth song—is a testament to their confidence and faith in THE KISS SHOW.
The jaw-dropping gatefold for ’Alive II’ (1977).
We’ve assembled the best live clips of “Firehouse” from KISS’s heyday. Each video will start just as the song is amping up. For maximum cacophony, play ‘em all at once!
The Coventry, December 22nd, 1973. As he executes the stunt, Gene actually seems a little timid, perhaps due to the fact that the club’s ceiling was only about fifteen feet high. The video of this show is the earliest circulating footage of KISS.
Dick Clark’s In Concert, which aired on ABC on March 29th, 1974. This was KISS’s first major TV appearance.
Hotter Than Hell tour, Winterland, San Francisco, January 31st, 1975. And the crowd goes wild!
Alive tour, Cobo Hall, Detroit, January 26th, 1976. Look closely and you’ll see that Gene’s hair catches fire, as it has periodically throughout the years during this bit.
Destroyer tour, Anaheim Stadium, August 20th, 1976.
Rock and Roll Over tour, Cobo Hall, Detroit, January 29th, 1977.
Same tour, Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo, April 2nd, 1977. Dig both the crowd’s reaction when Gene brings out the torch, and the Demon’s intense facial expression before he does the deed.
Love Gun tour, Tarrant County Convention Center, Fort Worth, September 5th, 1977. Audio only, but the ending is so amazing I’m including it. Taken from a soundboard recording that was recently leaked.
Alive II tour, Capital Centre, Landover, December 20th, 1977. This seems like a good one to end with, as KISS reached the pinnacle of their popularity during this tour, with the biggest stage they used during the ‘70s. A full (and full-on) performance of “Firehouse.”
In 2015, we told you about the time KISS played “Firehouse” on The Mike Douglas Show (read/watch here). That appearance, as well as some of the above clips, can be had via the essential first volume of the Kissology DVD series. The Coventry show is on volume three.