The photograph was shot by the band’s longtime art director, Dennis Woloch, at a soundcheck before their Aug. 19, 1977, show in San Diego. It shows every pyrotechnic and hydraulic feature of Kiss’ stage set simultaneously in action; usually they would be spaced out throughout the show.
“We decided to take a shot during soundcheck at the San Diego Sports Arena with all our effects shot off at once,” Paul Stanley explained in his 2014 autobiography Face the Music: A Life Exposed. “Just blast the entire arsenal and have us all up on the hydraulic lifts. That never actually happened at the same time during a show, but it was an authentic documentation of the bombastic feel of the experience.”
In the 2004 book Kiss: Behind the Mask, Woloch revealed that the Alive II front cover proved to be more of a challenge than the gatefold. “We didn’t have any new pictures,” he recalled. “That’s why there wasn’t one big picture like on [1975’s] Alive!, one big shot. You never get a good band with four guys looking good. Alive! was posed to look live. I was looking around for another band shot but there just wasn’t one. So I just took four little shots and put them on the cover with the logo. Sometimes as a designer you have to solve those problems.”
Twenty-two years later, Kiss came close to replicating the pyrotechnic insanity of the Alive II gatefold photo. Before its March 12, 1999, stop in Bremen, Germany, on the Psycho Circus, the band was ordered by the local fire marshal to not use explosives during the show.
Kiss followed those rules – until the last 30 seconds of their performance, when they set off every explosive at once. You can see the resulting pandemonium at the 6:55 mark in the video below.