ace frehley

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Des Moines 11.29.1977 (2022)

Off the Soundboard – Des Moines November 29 1977 (2022 Universal)

We are now at the fourth Off the Soundboard series release from Kiss, and this is the most hyped yet.  It’s the second original lineup release in the series, but the first from the classic era.  This time we travel back with Ace, Peter, Gene and Paul to the Alive II tour.  Arguably the pinnacle before things began to slowly crumble, this Alive II show is unsurprisingly loaded with Kiss firepower.  However, with only one CD, it’s the shortest in the series so far.  It does appear to include everything they played that night.

Opening with the brand new “I Stole Your Love”, Kiss truly were on fire.  Playing fast, tight and enthused, this is the Kiss of legend, the Kiss we have heard stories of!  Unaltered Kiss live in their prime!  The sound is, as expected, bootleggy, but pretty solid considering it’s 45 years old.  Paul’s vocals are so good they can bring a tear to your eye, remembering the Starchild when he was bulletproof.

“King of the Night Time World”, still second in the set, benefits from Peter Criss’ trademark pitter-patter.  Ace is a bit shrill at the beginning, but it’s 1977 technology.  Star Wars was brand new and the Space Ace was in his element.  He always harmonized well with Paul, which he does on “King”.  Paul then invites the girls to meet ’em in the “Ladies Room”, which means it’s Gene’s turn to sing.  Gene messed up some lyrics:  “You say you like to play, well, yes you play with me anyway.”  Or something like that.  Sounds like his bassline is also off.  Doesn’t matter, in fact that makes it even more cool.  A snapshot of a moment in time.  It’s all more of less buried in the glorious noise they call live rock and roll.  The crowd certainly didn’t care.

Paul tells them that Kiss had a good feelin’ about comin’ back to Iowa.  Temperature’s rising, so they gotta call out the “Firehouse”!  A lot faster than album and more like Kiss Alive!, this version of “Firehouse” is incendiary for all its energy and flaws.  The only misfire is Paul’s intro to “Love Gun” itself.  He’s certainly done better.  “When it comes to shootin’, we ain’t gonna miss!”  You just did, Paul!  Fortunately the song is just as kicking as ever, with Paul absolutely roaring.  This is the Kiss I remember growing up with.  Unstoppable energy.  The power remains high on “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll”.  In a quaint blast from the past, Paul wants to see some lights in the crowd, some matches!  This is a song that always sounds best with Ace Frehley on lead guitar, and those who love the Spaceman will appreciate his fearless fretwork and signature technique all over it.

A chunky “Makin’ Love” is a set highlight, all riff and bass with Paul audibly jumping around haphazardly.  Peter is awesome on this.  “Christine Sixteen” is a bit clunky and awkward, as is Paul’s intro.  The less said the better.  “Christine Sixteen” falls into place on the chorus.  Their vocals here are an excellent example of Kiss’ ability to actually sing.  Then the moment you have been waiting for:  Paul says they got a surprise, and Ace Frehley’s gonna do “Shock Me”.  This version of “Shock Me” is up there with the better ones and of course Ace gets his big solo at the end.  It’s not just the Alive II solo, it’s a different beast and by the middle, Ace gets his Les Paul roaring.

The gentle intro of “I Want You” is just a feint, we all know that the song absolutely slams.  Ace’s guitar stings on the verses, and he gets to take an extra solo at the end just before Paul goes into his “I waaaa-aaa-aaaant!” tease with the crowd.  Then he queries whether everybody’s ready to take their medicine?  It’s time to call out “Dr. Love” and Gene is loving it.  “Shout It Out Loud” follows, at a fast tempo similar to its Alive II rendition.  The vocals are better though; you can really hear Peter Criss in the back.  His drumwork is manic too.  Great rendition of “Shout It Out Loud” and one of the best on CD.

Gene’s bass solo precedes “God of Thunder”.  It’s noise; just bass through a digital processor. Skippable noise.  “God of Thunder” itself is much better, containing a Gene/Peter groove that doesn’t always fall right into the pocket like this one does.  Then the Catman gets his drum solo, which is better and longer than the Alive II rendition.  (Gene’s vocals are also better, way more aggressive.)

“Rock and Roll all Nite” is the last song of the main set, the rock and roll national anthem according to Paul.  Like many of the songs, it’s faster too.  Very cool to hear both Ace and Peter on backing vocals quite clearly.  The Spaceman’s solo is sloppy stuttery greatness, and it’s hard not to enjoy this song that we already have live in dozens of incarnations.

Onto the encores:  “Detroit”, of course “Beth”, and the finale “Black Diamond”.  “Detroit” opens with a mistake and Kiss quickly recover, driving the thing into oncoming traffic with a reckless devil-may-care attitude.  By this point in the show, Kiss are playing on adrenaline and missing some of the parts.  Which is half the thrill.  As for “Beth”:  it’s “Beth”.  No more no less, though there is a lot of tape noise.  Peter’s vocals are so-so.  He struggles when he has to be tender, but he blasts on “Black Diamond”, which oddly opens with full band introductions which you rarely hear at a Kiss concert.  Paul gets a spotlight moment to play around with the “Black Diamond” intro on guitar before he starts singing.  Pound for pound, this is one of the best versions of “Black Diamond” by the original lineup out there.  From the vocals to the Ace soloing, to the explosive outro, this is one of the best renditions hands down.

Now that the vaults have been opened and we’re getting classic shows from the original lineup, the sky’s the limit what could come next.  This is the best one so far.  Let’s hope for an Eric Carr show soon.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Live at Donington August 17, 1996 (2022)

 – Off the Soundboard – Live at Donington (Monsters of Rock) (August 17, 1996 – 2022 Universal)

Third in the Off the Soundboard series, and we are gifted an original lineup show.  Reunion era, we add with a caveat, but an original lineup gig nonetheless.  This was a big one:  Monsters of Rock in 1996.  This gig is only 11 days after the Toronto show at which I saw Kiss, and the setlist is simply a shortened version of what we saw earlier.

Opening with “Deuce”, the reunited Kiss don’t sound vintage, but they do sound professional and hot.  The immediately noticeable flaw in the mix is an overly prominent bass.  Demon fans might love it!  Frehley’s guitar brings that almost-out-of-control quality that we miss today.

The simplicity of the drumwork on “King of the Night Time World” reminds us that the Catman Peter Criss is back on drums.  That’s all good.  After hearing Eric Singer on the past two instalments of this series, the Catman’s looser feel is refreshing.

Then an F-bomb from Paul:  “WOOO!  How you doin’ Donington!  You all ready to get a little fuckin’ nuts tonight?  You want a little rock and roll?”  Then it’s “Do You Love Me”, not usually one of those songs you go fuckin’ nuts on, due to its deliberate tempo.  I could usually skip it, but this version is pretty good.  That overloud bass makes it a bit heavier.  The backing vocals are also quite good.  “Dr. Love” has that patented Peter Criss pitter-patter on the drums that we can all admit we miss.

The Starchild seems to have a blast singing the word “Donington” over and over again just before “Cold Gin”.  Gotta admit this is a great album for Paul’s stage raps!  It’s Ace’s turn to shine, in that overdriven, on-the-edge style that nobody can copy.  It’s like chocolate it’s so good.  The Space Ace gets to sing a verse on his own, which is a perfect touch.  An album highlight.  Perhaps the best live version of “Cold Gin” available since the original Alive!

The original Kiss tear into “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll” and Gene’s voice is a bit rough at first…as it should be, 100% live.  There’s nothing like this song with Ace and Peter on drums.  Again, perhaps the best live version since the original Alive!  “Shout It Out Loud” is a bit more polished.  But if you want heavy, look no further than the thunderous “Watchin’ You”.  The vintage Kiss vibe is captured as they thump through this in a completely different way than they did four years earlier on Alive III with Bruce Kulick.  Another contender for best live version available since Alive!  Previously that honour went to the Alive III version.  Simmons is, pun intended, a monster on both tasty bass fills and meaty vocals.

“Firehouse” is simple fun, but once again, the Space Ace adds something that other guitar players do not have, which is nothing against any of them.  It is a matter of style, and the style that suits Kiss best.

Kiss turns the microphone over to Ace Frehley on “Shock Me”, which also doubles as his feature guitar solo.  You can hear every mistake, and even they are perfect in their own, flawed diamond sort of way.  This solo is pure smoke and fire, like a meteorite barrelling through atmosphere.  Perhaps the best stage version of “Shock Me” out there, arguably surpassing Alive II.

Over to disc two, it’s finally time for “Strutter”.  Paul’s stage rap is amusing if only because he says Kiss are having such a great time back together that they don’t know if it’s ever going to end.  Ah, hindsight.  This is a fantastic version only hampered by that overloud bass in the mix.  Vocals are outstanding.

Simmons takes center stage for his “bass solo” and “God of Thunder”.  A Simmons bass solo usually works best as a visual, not musical experience.  (Animalize Live bass solo notwithstanding.)  While you don’t necessarily want this stuff edited out of a live bootleg, it’s basically waiting for the song to start.  Gene is extra-growly on “God of Thunder” and Frehley is hotter than hell.  Stanley’s prominent backing vocals add an extra dimension.  And Peter’s got that beat nailed down like a beast.  He gets his drum solo on this track, a slow and tribal experience similar to, but not as energetic as, his Kiss Alive solo.

When Paul starts talking about size of his pistol, then you know it’s time for “Love Gun”.  Drowning in bass, but fiery hot.  Speaking of bass, “100,000 Years” is top notch too.  Do you feel alriiiiight?  Frehley’s soloing on the track is an essential ingredient.  The closing trio of “Black Diamond”, “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll all Nite” are somewhat predictable, but it’s bizarre that we had to wait this long to hear Peter Criss sing lead on something.  As for “Detroit”, easily one of the top five live versions on official release.

This set is pure electric vintage Kiss from 1974-1977, and nothing beyond.  No “New York Groove”, no “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.  No “Beth” either.  If you’re going to cut a track for time for the festival, “Beth” is one to cut.  Though sometimes hampered by the bass heavy mix, it is possible that Live At Donington is the best Kiss live album since Alive II.  The reunited lineup were certainly a lot better than I remember them being back in 1996, when I thought they sounded stiff.  With hindsight, though Peter is steadier than before, Frehley still provides all that danger that is necessary in a live Kiss show.  At Donington, the original Kiss brought it.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

#991: You Shook Me All Long Weekend

Jen and I took a Friday off so we could make a long weekend at the lake. With three days to ourselves, good food and good music were a given!

Music for the road trip up:

  1. Ace Frehley – Bronx Boy
  2. AC/DC – Power Up
  3. Deep Purple – Deep Purple

Upon arrival, I spun the usual Kiss on the porch, until 9:00 PM at which point I tuned in to Thursday Night Record Club with Brent Jensen and Alex Huard, discussing AC/DC’s Back In Black.

We filled the weekend with food (pork chops, steaks, trout, and veggies) and more music (lots of Kiss and Iron Maiden).  We enjoyed a few nice walks in the cool summer air.  Yes, it was a chilly one, but we still managed a game of Monopoly on the back porch, in the open air.  Our money never blew away once!

What did blow me away?  Listening to Iron Maiden’s Live After Death on the back porch.  It was like 1986 all over again, but only if 1986 had digital quality sound on the back porch!  We also played some music for Grampa Winter, who would have cranked Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits and “The Gambler”.  Except he did it on vinyl with some big old speakers mounted on the front of his bunkhouse.

Friday night I did an excellent live show with Rob Daniels and Harrison Kopp, showing off some incredible collectables.  This enabled me to do some stop motion with my new phone/camera, which turned out really cool.  The new camera is also finally capable of capturing some of the majesty of Kincardine sunsets.  I was impressed with the results and intend to use it frequently all summer.  Another feature is slow motion, which I used to capture some fire and waves.

It was over all too quickly.

Music for the drive home:

  1. Peter Criss – Out of Control
  2. Peter Criss – Let Me Rock You
  3. Criss – Cat #1 (Half)

I can’t explain why I chose those, but every once in a while, you need to listen to some Peter Criss.  So I did.

Please enjoy the video of the weekend, all the sound of Max the Axe, below.

#987: The Summer Awakens

RECORD STORE TALES #987: The Summer Awakens

It’s official:  the earliest swim on record for any summer at the lake is May 13!  If you don’t believe in global warming, then I can tell you that past weekends in early May, we were snuggled up in jackets and long pants.  This year, early May was as warm as early July used to be.  What an incredible weekend.  Clear and sunny until late Saturday.  By then we were indoors waiting for the Toronto Maple Leafs to once again exit the playoffs in the first round.  But I’m jumping head of myself!

Traffic was light but the music was heavy.  Albums for the drive up:

As expected, both were awesome on the road.  There was no clear winner.  Interestingly, Jennifer liked “Roots In My Boots” by Scorpions, which I considered a bit of a throwaway.  Regardless, both albums did well on the highway and rocked us safely to the cottage in two hours.

First music on the porch:

  • Kathryn Ladano – Open

Not a new release, but since the good Doctor was next door, it felt right to serenade her with some of her best music!

From there we settled in with the first hot dogs of the year, and I began to prep for my show that night (Top 11 Star Wars movies) by watching The Phantom Menace.  10 years ago, the only way to do that would be to bring a DVD and watch it on the laptop.  If we wanted to watch a Star Wars movie 30 years ago, we needed to bring the tape and a VCR!  Everything is so easy now, but dependent on a good internet connection.  That connection enabled me to do the first cottage show of the year, and a success it was.  I experimented with some new lighting and it worked way better than last year after sundown.  A successful show — and one of the best we’ve ever done.   Certainly one of my favourites.

It’s always hard to sleep after a caffeinated show like that.  I got four or five hours, and was up and at ’em early Saturday.  It was so quiet.  Most cottagers have not opened yet — their loss!  They were not able to listen when I rocked Kiss on the front porch on Saturday.  Kiss albums this weekend included Dynasty, Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, Peter Criss, and Rock and Roll Over.

I made fish for breakfast (trout) and went to go pick up my new bass from neighbor Donna.  Her brother was Don Simmons of Helix, and this bass used to belong to him.  It is my honour to play it on the porch in his memory.  Although I use the word “play” very loosely.  I have never played bass before and can only “barely” play guitar as it is.  It took some time to get used to the size of the body.  Even the neck felt huge.  But it sounded great and really rumbled the porch.

I made chicken and steaks on the barbecue and burned up a bunch of old wood — without losing my glasses this time.  After being on my feet all day Saturday, I took it easy in the evening, missing the bright orange sunset.  I had been on my feet all day and it felt good to rest up in the evening.

We departed for home early Sunday.  Albums for the road home:

These albums, Priest especially, gave me some serious retro vibes, as if I had stepped into a time machine and was 16 again.  I had this happen numerous times last year, and I wrote about that feeling in multiple previous chapters.  It’s a very intense feeling, as if I was no longer living in the year 2022, but had stepped into 1987 again.  It felt as real as the steering wheel in my hands.  Looks like this summer will be no different.  Lots of flashbacks in store!

An excellent start to what I hope will be an amazing year.

#951: Set Your VCR, It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

Special thanks to Jennifer Ladano for telling me to write this story down!

RECORD STORE TALES #951: Set Your VCR!
It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

When thinking back about my earliest rock and roll discoveries, it’s important to recall the order in which I got the albums, or first heard the tunes.  It seems like I had always known “Rock N’ Roll all Nite”, but since my first Kiss albums were Alive! and Hotter Than Hell, those were the songs I knew best.  And I barely knew them!  I got my first Kiss in September of ’85.  But I was learning slowly.  Eventually I’d get Asylum, and gradually tape Kiss albums from my neighbour George.

Something else happened that exposed me to Kiss in a new way, that I sometimes forget about.  It was the first time I saw Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

Everybody knew about Kiss Meets the Phantom, but few of us were old enough to have seen it.  When it showed up in the TV guide one week, on some Buffalo station, it seemed like every kid with access to a VCR set it to record.  It was being shown at something like 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday.

Upon waking, I got my sister up early and we raced downstairs to watch.  We did not have time to watch the whole thing that morning.  It was winter, possibly the tail end of Christmas holidays, and we were off to the lake for one day.  We watched some, went to the lake, had lunch at the Embassy, and came home to finish the movie.

I noticed there were far more ads to fast forward through on late night TV than during the day!


Actual ads from the actual tape of the actual night.

My sister recalls liking Kiss Meets the Phantom; my memories are quite different.  I was bored to tears any time Kiss wasn’t on screen, and you had to wait through, like, an hour (with ads) for Kiss to arrive at the bloody park!  I didn’t know who this Anthony Zerbe fellow was, but at age 13 I considered him possibly the worst actor I had ever seen.

It was my first time seeing Peter Criss on video and not just still photos, and I was surprised at his voice.  I told everyone, “Peter Criss sounds like Aquaman.”  I had the show right, but the character wrong.  Michael Bell did the voice of Peter Criss in Kiss Meets the Phantom, and Wonder Twin Zan in the cartoon Superfriends.  Legend has it that this was because Peter didn’t show up to loop his lines in post-production.  Whatever the case, it led to a different urban legends:  that Peter Criss had given up rock and roll, and taken up a lucrative career as a cartoon voice actor!

I thought Gene’s distorted voice was tiresome after a while, and Paul seemed the coolest.  My sister liked that Kiss were like superheroes with powers.  On the other hand, I didn’t like that.  If Paul Stanley couldn’t shoot a laser beam out of his eye in real life, I didn’t understand why he would in this movie.  They were still Kiss, still playing the same Kiss songs, but also super-powered.  My rigid brain couldn’t reconcile the two.

As for the music, the movie contains several songs that I heard for the very first time that day.  “Beth” (acoustic, no less), “Shout It Out Loud”, “God of Thunder” and “I Stole Your Love”.  (“Rip and Destroy” doesn’t count.)  Now, because I didn’t know these songs, and there were no captions, I had to guess at the titles.  “Shout It Out Loud” was the easy one.  But these were the live versions taken from Alive II, fast and reckless.  Not to mention we were hearing it on a TV with mono speaker; state of the art for the time, but not for proper music listening.  So that’s why, for that day at least, I thought “God of Thunder” was “Not a Doctor”, and “I Stole Your Love” was something that sounded like “I Ho-Jo-Ho”.

The process of discovering Kiss was so memorable because it’s so fun.  The superhero character aspect appealed to my sister and there’s no denying that it had something to do with why I loved Kiss too.  But hearing the songs and albums for the first time can only happen once.  And I can clearly remember a tinge of sadness when I finally acquired Rock and Roll Over, the last original Kiss album I needed to finish my collection.  I was starkly aware that I was having this experience for the last time:  hearing a classic Kiss album, guessing who was singing the songs by the title alone, and discovering hidden favourites.  As I learned when Crazy Nights came out, hearing a new Kiss album was simply not the same as discovering the classics!

Kiss Meets the Phantom was a struggle to sit through then, but fortunately I saw it at an age when Kiss still seemed larger than life.  Objectively, it is a pretty terrible film, best enjoyed as a trainwreck.  The best parts are the concert scenes, which was the closest I got to seeing Kiss live at age 13.  It was my first exposure to some really important songs even if I wondered why Gene was singing about being “Not a Doctor”!

#930 Pour Some Sugar On ’88

RECORD STORE TALES #930: Pour Some Sugar On ’88

Ah, 16!  The age you’re supposed to get your driver’s license and go on dates with girls.  Maybe even get a part time job.  Except I did none of that.

The summer of 1988 was much like any summer.  It was marked by new music, trips to the cottage, and another visit from Captain Destructo, my cousin Geoff.  Predator was in the movie theaters and WWF wrestling was hot.  Summer was not going to suck.

Super Mario on the NES

I was well tanned from days at the beach, and when Geoff and family rolled into the cottage that July, Geoff brought his new toy:  a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  This was a whole new world for us.  I had never seen Super Mario Brothers or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.  I sure saw a lot of them when Geoff came to visit.  Saw.  Not played.  I played a little bit, but Geoff monopolised the game.  I’ll never forget when he was playing Punch-Out and he was down to the second last boxer.  He thought he was going to knock him out and move on to Mike Tyson.  However my dad walked in front of the screen, Geoff started screaming, and lost the game.  You would have thought he lost the invasion at Normandy for all the fuss.  Me, I just would have liked another turn at the game.

Video games were exciting, but nothing was better than playing outside.  With Predator hot in the cinemas, and lots of plastic guns to play with, we scattered into the forest hunting for the stealthy alien.  Geoff insisted he was Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger).  That made me Blain (Jesse Ventura).  We forced my sister Kathryn to play Hawkins (Shane Black), the worst character and first one to die in the film.  Eventually we let her play Billy the tracker (Sonny Landham).

I love how this trailer gives away the whole movie.

Leaping, dodging, climbing.  We owned that forest.

There is so much joy running through the woods with plastic guns pretending to hunt a space alien.  And the best part was, in the movie the Predator was invisible for most of the time:  we didn’t need anybody to play the bad guy.  It didn’t take much imagination to pretend to see movement in the forest.  We were a team of three on a quest.  I know that this is one of the happiest summer memories for all three of us.

After a few days at the lake, we returned home to Kitchener, with Geoff still in tow.  We hung out in the basement watching WWF and the Pepsi Power Hour.  Cinderella were hot with “Gypsy Road” and I had to get that album.  Long Cold Winter was an odd title for a summer album, but it was most definitely a summer album.  I could not wait to get it but I had a birthday coming and I wasn’t allowed to buy stuff for myself until after.

For what was probably the last time, we went with Geoff to his grandfather’s huge property for an afternoon in the pool.  One last splash, in the bright figure-8 shaped pool.  That giant pond behind us in the background.  Maintaining that summer tan.

The three big albums for me that summer were Long Cold Winter by Cinderella, Second Sighting by Ace Frehley, and Ram It Down by Judas Priest.  I loved it for all its flaws.  It was heavy and I thought it had five potential single-worthy songs:  “Ram It Down”, “Heavy Metal”, “Hard As Iron”, and “Blood Red Skies”, in addition to the already-released “Johnny B. Goode”.  Only the Chuck Berry cover made it to music video form.  I waited all summer for a music video for “Blood Red Skies” to finally hit.  I could always predict the next single, and I just knew it had to be “Blood Red Skies”.  Week after week, I waited. I dreaded missing it during vacation at the cottage.  I just knew it would be any week now.  I had a dream one night of what it would look like.  There Priest were on the bridge of some kind of spaceship, hovering over the landscape beneath the blood red skies.  It never came.  I thought if Priest released a video for “Blood Red Skies”, it would chart.  Into the fall, Priest never released another single.  A disappointment and a mistake.

Into August, I finally got my copy of Cinderella.  After one listen correctly predicted that “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)” would be the second video.  I always looked forward to the new videos by bands, but like Judas Priest, Frehley disappointed me by never releasing a second video for Second Sighting.  I thought there were a number of potential hits, such as “Fallen Angel”, “Time Ain’t Running Out”, “New Kind of Lover” and “Juvenile Delinquent”.

In Stratford, visiting my Aunt and Uncle, I picked up Live + 1, also by Ace Frehley.  The Space Ace had two releases in 1988, with one being a live/studio EP.  This weekend was the first time I experienced strong insomnia.  I remember tossing and turning the entire night, not falling asleep once for even a minute.  Seeing the sun come up.  I was getting more and more upset that I couldn’t sleep, which made it worse.

Another cassette picked up that summer in Stratford was High ‘N’ Dry, which became an immediate favourite.  Def Leppard were the biggest band in the world that summer.  Hysteria was selling like hotcakes.  It didn’t take off in ’87, but when “Pour Some Sugar On Me” hit, that was all it took.  Many nights were spent listening to the radio at the lake, waiting for “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.  Hysteria‘s singles were harder to predict.  I didn’t expect there to be seven of them, but I definitely thought “Love and Affection” would make it before “Rocket” did.

We visited with our friends the Szabos, we played games, and we listened to a lot of music.  I had my heavy metal, my sister had Glass Tiger and was starting to get into Def Leppard.  Our Walkmen came with us everywhere.  As the summer drew to an end we made a trip up to Tobermory to take the S.S. Chi-Cheemaun to Manitoulin island.  I loved boats and islands but the trip was a bit of a bore.  The gift shop didn’t have a lot to keep us entertained.  I bought one of those black and white wrestling magazines, and a wooden postcard to send to nobody.  It took a while for me to get my sea legs.  I felt nauseous and wasn’t sure I could eat.  Eventually the rocking of the boat became fun.  The wind on the top deck was exactly like the “Jack, I’m flying!” scene in Titanic.

There was more, much more, but who can remember it all?  Watching Rob Halford interviewed on the Pepsi Power Hour, recording it, and watching it over and over again.  Seeing new Van Halen (“When It’s Love”) on TV.  Suffering through rumours of Kiss breaking up.  Looking for the latest Def Leppard 7″ singles at Zellers.  So many memories, jumbled and out of order, hard to keep all straight.

The summer ended on a high, but what I didn’t know is that was only a precursor to my happiest school year, grade 11.  Hair metal was peaking but it was about to get even bigger in ’89.  Everything was in sync.  Summer, music, school — all extraordinary in 1988.

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Tokyo 2001 (2021)

 – Off the Soundboard – Tokyo 2001 (Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan, March 13, 2001 – 2021 Universal)

Hell yeah, Kiss have started releasing official bootlegs.  Proving that they “get” the concept, the first in what we hope will be a long series, is a lineup never before heard on any official Kiss release.  After the lengthy reunion and Psycho Circus tours, Kiss embarked on a “Farewell Tour” that really wasn’t.  It was just the farewell to the original lineup, and specifically Peter Criss.  Ace Frehley stayed on board for the time being and Eric Singer was brought in as the new Catman.  This lineup lasted until Frehley left and Criss came back for the Kiss Symphony, but was never documented in any official capacity.

Confusing?  Just know three things:

  1. This is really valuable to fans.
  2. ACE FREHLEY, LEAD GUITAR!
  3. Paul Stanley was still in great voice back in 2001.

Alright, Tokyo.  You wanted the best, you got the best.  Let’s have a listen.

An electrifying “Detroit Rock City” opens, and immediately you can hear the pitter-patter of the new Catman making itself evident.  Stanley is in fine form, high energy.  And the sound is damn decent.  Sure, you could wish the vocals were mixed louder and the bass a little lower, but the “official bootleg” is a more honest experience than a polished-up Alive album.  And Paul really nails it.

“Deuce” has plenty of those Frehley solos and fills that we miss so much today.  Gene is fully engaged and frankly, you don’t miss Peter.  Paul says a quick hello in Japanese, and teases the crowd in expert frontman fashion.  Then it’s “Shout It Out Loud”, a pretty standard version.  Frehley’s “Talk To Me” from Unmasked is the real treat.  It is not the first live version released (there was an earlier live take on The Box Set with Eric Carr) but it is rarely heard.

Paul always asks the crowd “How we doin’ so far,” and the pace is slowed down for “I Love It Loud”.  This version has particularly good backing vocals in comparison with others.  Then Paul needs to know if the crowd is having a good time, just before he pulls off some impressive soulful bellowing.  It’s time to call the “Firehouse”, another solid version.  Eric Singer’s drumming is noticeably more regimented but the fills are big and bold.  It’s just great to have Ace on lead guitar.

Kiss setlists are often safe, and a steady stream of Kiss standbys roll out:  “Do You Love Me”, “Dr. Love”, “Heaven’s On Fire” and “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”.  It’s a Kiss concert; none of these songs vary much from night to night.  None of them suck; Kiss were sounding good and Eric Singer helps beef up the vocals.  The extended intro to “Heaven’s On Fire” really highlights what a truly exceptional singer Paul Stanley was.  Gene on the other hand is pretty ragged on “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”, not being able to decide what voice he’s singing in.  Great to hear Ace take a long solo on it though, all the while Eric Singer filling the backdrop with snares n’ toms.

Frehley takes the spotlight once more on “Shock Me” with his feature solo.  Gimme a Frehley version of “Shock Me” any day over a Tommy version.  Ace does a weird “Shock Me-ee-ee” thing on the chorus.  After telling the crowd that “Tokyo rocks,” he blasts through the fanfare of “Also sprach Zarathustra” on his Gibson.  It was indeed the year 2001!  Frehley’s solo (almost 10 minutes of it) is a CD highlight for those who miss the Spaceman.

Ending the first disc, “Psycho Circus” was the only track from the most recent Kiss album left in the set.  It is always reliable, sounding like classic Kiss, even more so when Ace plays the lead solo (which he didn’t on the album).  Continuing on disc two, “Lick It Up” makes its appearance.  This is a track that that rules completely with Ace Frehley.  “Lick It Up” has always been, let’s face it, a bland song.  When you add Ace soloing on it, it’s got some flavour.  Could be that the Tokyo Dome version of “Lick It Up” is the best available take out there.

Gene’s bass break is boring without the visuals, but “God of Thunder” is pretty hot, Ace throwing in some squeals that remind you why the real thing was special.  This track also includes Eric’s drum solo.  Momentum is built on “Cold Gin”, and the monolithic “100,000 Years”.  Raw and heavy Kiss with vintage Frehley?  Again, outside of Kiss Alive itself, these are probably the best versions you will hear.  Paul’s usual sing-a-long in “100,000 Years” is part of the party.  “Do you feel alriii-iii-iight!”  Nothing is edited out, even when Paul is busy handing out T-shirts and all you have is Eric keeping the beat.  Fans appreciate that authenticity.

There’s still plenty of heavy tonnage rock left to go.  “Love Gun” can’t be left out, fireworks blasting as Paul flies out over the crowd (which is why the song has an extended intro without vocals).  Once Paul’s on his platform in the middle of the arena it’s off to the races.  No place for hiding indeed!

The surprise is “I Still Love You” from Creatures of the Night.  The only ballad, and a track that was rarely played after the reunion.  It has always been a big Paul moment, and this is performed solo without Simmons, Frehley or Singer as part of the intro to “Black Diamond”.  Speaking of which, “Black Diamond” is also an album highlight; a version with Eric Singer on lead vocals and Ace Frehley on lead guitar!

The pairing of “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and “Rock and Roll all Nite” are an odd one, but that’s the closing duo that got the Tokyo crowd screaming.

Besides the couple rarely played songs, the cool thing about this Tokyo setlist is the pacing.  It starts with a bang, and it never really lets go.  Even the solo breaks are really just big intros or outros that amplify the moments around them.  Then the whole show manages to even pick up the excitement at the end with stellar performances of “Love Gun” and “Black Diamond”.  It is also encouraging that Kiss are realizing the value of past lineups, and official bootlegs.  As long as they remain willing to highlight songs and band members from nooks and crannies in the band’s history, then the Kiss Off the Soundboard series is a promising one.

4.5/5 stars

Sunday Screening: Trailer for KISS Off the Soundboard: Tokyo 2001

Just a quickie for you this Sunday.  In rather cool news, KISS announced a new series of live soundboard albums.  The first of these is Tokyo 2001, one of Ace Frehley’s last shows with the band.  The lineup is one never before represented on any official releases until now:  Stanley/Simmons/Frehley/Singer.

The vinyl can be purchased on black or “exclusive 3LP crystal clear vinyl with bone swirl”.  Or for those of us not made of money, plain ol’ CD.  Check it out.

 

1. “Detroit Rock City”
2. “Deuce”
3. “Shout It Out Loud”
4. “Talk to Me”
5. “I Love It Loud”
6. “Firehouse”
7. “Do You Love Me”
8. “Calling Dr. Love”
9. “Heaven’s On Fire”
10. “Let Me Go Rock & Roll”
11. “Shock Me”
12. “Psycho Circus”
13. “Lick It Up”
14. “God of Thunder”
15. “Cold Gin”
16. “100,000 Years”
17. “Love Gun”
18. “I Still Love You”
19. “Black Diamond”
20. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”
21. “Rock and Roll All Nite”

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Best of Solo Albums (Japanese CD)

  Best of Solo Albums (Originally 1979, 2020 Universal Japan CD)

Third review for this Kiss compilation here, but why?  A couple reasons.  For one, it’s the first-ever official CD release of this album!  It took 41 years for them to finally put out a CD, and yet only in Japan.  More remarkably, there is one track here that I’ve never heard before in this particular version.

That song is the incredible Paul Stanley epic “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.  On Paul’s solo disc, it fades away at the end of side one at 5:35 in length.  Here, it goes to 5:48, no fade, right to the end of the track.  It’s an ending I’ve never heard before.  This song isn’t even on the more common European version of Best of Solo Albums, just the Japanese.  And apparently the CD has an unreleased version without the fade.

“Oh boy!” you exclaim.  “I have to buy this import just to get 13 seconds of music I never heard before?”

No.  You don’t have to buy it.  I did, because I wanted a copy of this album on CD.  When I discovered the longer version of the track, I was ecstatic to unexpectedly get something extra for my money.

There’s no need to review this album track by track again.  I’ve done it twice, and I’ve also reviewed all four solos albums twice each.  There’s really no need to run through all the songs again, although this tracklist is quite different.  Unlike the European version, these songs are not arranged in three-track blocks for each member.  Additionally, seven of the European tracks were substituted with others.  That’s more than half the album!

Gene Simmons:  Instead of “Mr. Make Believe” and “See You In Your Dreams”, Japan used “See You Tonite” and “Living In Sin”

Paul Stanley:  “Move On” was replaced by the unreleased version of “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.

Ace Frehley:  “Speedin’ Back to my Baby” was removed in favour of the instrumental “Fractured Mirror”

Peter Criss:  All three of the Cat’s songs – “You Matter To Me”, “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, and “Hooked on Rock and Roll” were replaced!  I guess Japan didn’t care for those as much as they did “Don’t You Let Me Down”, “Rock Me Baby” and “I Can’t Stop the Rain”.

For me, I prefer the running order that Europe used, with each member of the band getting three songs in a chunk.  However, there are plenty of songs that I prefer on the Japanese version, such as “See You Tonite”, “Take Me Away (Together As One), “I Can’t Stop the Rain” and “Don’t You Let Me Down”.

It’s interesting that the solo albums are by and large panned by the masses, but nobody can agree on the “Best Of“.  Maybe those albums weren’t so bad after all, at least when you distil them down to the essential tracks.  The Japanese CD will become my preferred listening experience for two main reasons:  it sounds better than the vinyl, and I like more of the songs.  It would sound even better if I had an MQA decoder, a new-ish hi-resolution CD format from Japan, which will unlock an even better sounding version of the album, if you have a few grand to spend on upgrading your system.  If not, enjoy the disc and stellar packaging, with not one but two different covers to display.

4/5 stars

 

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Unmasked (1980)

Back for Round Three.  For the first two Unmasked reviews, click here and here.

  Unmasked (1980 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster)

This has been a weird year.  Comforting, nostalgic sounds in the age of Covid have dominated at LeBrain HQ.  There are two Kiss albums that have been absolute joys this summer for blowing the blues away.  They have been Dressed to Kill, and Unmasked.  Originally rated 2.5/5 stars, I was definitely wrong on Unmasked.  The band may have disowned it, and it might not be hard rock, but reviewing it is not as “Easy As It Seems”.  This album definitely has “Two Side of the Coin”.  It might not be “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” but this summer, I just want to say one thing to Kiss Unmasked:  “You’re All That I Want”.

One reason I may have judged Unmasked harshly before is that first impressions are strongest.  In a case of Classical Conditioning, my first impression was not good.  In fact, for the first two years of hearing Unmasked, my copy was all but unlistenable.  In the beginning, I taped my first Kiss albums from next door neighbour George.  He fancied himself a bass player.  While he was recording Unmasked for me, I sat in his bedroom while he played bass along to it.  Every song.  Unbeknownst to him, his bass bled onto my tape.  Every time I played the album, it was like a remix with George overdubbed on bass, and I had the only copy.  Sometimes he continued playing well after the fade, other times he came in prematurely.  Either way, my first two formative years with this album were awful.  Even after buying a proper copy on cassette, I couldn’t hear the album without the auditory illusion of George’s bass ringing in my skull.  Though not the only factor, that had to be one of several reasons for my dislike of the album.  A dislike which in no longer:  in 2020, it’s love.  Just a fun anecdote to colour in some history, nothing more.

“Is That You?” asks Paul Stanley on the opener, a Gerard McMahon song that boasts grinding verses and a killer chorus.  Piano tinkles quietly in the background, but the guitars are nice and rich, especially Paul’s solo.  His lead vocals absolutely rip, while a sultry Gene sings the backgrounds.

A second Paul vocal follows, and it’s the big hit “Shandi”.  Listening with 20/20 hindsight in the year 2020, it’s amusing to ponder how anybody thought this was Peter Criss on drums.  It was a secret that Anton Fig played on Unmasked and Dynasty, but it’s really obviously not Peter Criss.  That disco groove is too impeccably perfect to be the Catman.  Paul is, in fact, the only Kiss member to play on “Shandi”.  And while this song is a softie, it ain’t a baddie.  It’s clear that Kiss were not the rag-tag rock and roll beast they once were.  They had evolved.  Temporarily, at least.

If the first two tracks were light on Ace Frehley, that’s not indicative of the album.  Three lead vocals for the Spaceman this time, including the single “Talk To Me”.  Shiny and chromed-up, Frehley’s songs are among the best on Unmasked and “Talk To Me” could be the top track.

I always had problems with “Naked City”, but part of that might be that I can still hear George come in early on the bass.  Gene Simmons makes his album vocal debut here, and while the chorus and riff are still not top-notch, the verses are excellent.  Songs like this also demonstrate that Gene is an underrated singer.  He’s more versatile than people realize.

Paul strikes a cool riff on “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”.  He often talks about how the album had good songs, but they should have sounded different.  This one sounds like it could have turned out more like the first three albums.  You can imagine how the riff would have been more prominent.  As it is though, it’s one of the most unabashedly catchy songs Paul’s ever written, and his guitar solo is simply delicious.  You can slag Paul for doing something so pop, but can you slag him for doing it so well?

Side B’s opener is “Tomorrow”, with Paul’s vocals cleanly produced as per the pop trends of the day, with slapback delay and airy EQ.  But like “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, this is pop rock done really well.  The keyboards are too prominent, but at least Ace gets a tasty solo here.  As Kiss songs got catchier, so did the Spaceman’s solos.  Frehley’s next lead vocal follows on “Two Sides of the Coin”, the song title which inspired a podcast (“Three Sides of the Coin“).  Y’see, Ace just can’t pick a girl!  But he has to.  “Two sides of the coin to choose from, I’m getting weary.  Which one should I choose?  I need time.”  He insists that the girls don’t mind, but I question that assertion.  But he has to pick a mate because he’s “tired of all those dates”!  Silly words aside, Ace has knocked out two top-notch songs on Unmasked so far.

Gene’s back on “She’s So European”, a song about a girl with a French accent who drinks pink champagne.  I’ve softed my stance on this one too.  You can certainly hear the rock n’ roll riffiness that it could have been.  That’s been replaced by keyboards and slick beats, and it’s fine.  “Easy As It Seems”, a Paul song, really sneaks up on you.  It disappears into the fabric of the album until one day you just can’t get it out of your heard.  Paul lays down another fine solo, and weaves a plaintive tapestry with his incredible voice.  What range he had.

An album highlight is the third and final Frehley concoction — a weird little number called “Torpedo Girl”.  Surf rock meets the Space Ace.  The guitar lick is a tricky little off-beat riff, but with Anton Fig behind on drums, Kiss could do complex stuff like this.  Especially since that’s Ace playing the bouncy bass part too.  It’s also one of Frehley’s most entertaining lyrics.  A submarine with a pretty girl on the bridge has surfaced in the bay!  Better go check it out.

The final track, “You’re All That I Want” is a Gene number.  Like “Easy As It Seems”, one day it just catches you.  Especially Paul’s “answer” vocals in the outro.  One thing (among many) that made Kiss truly special is the multiple lead singers.  And unless you’re a Catman diehard, you don’t really miss Peter in that mix.  Frehley more than made up for the lack of Criss.  While four singers is better than three, remember that Kiss only had three lead singers for their first five studio albums.

I don’t want to have to three-view the entire Kiss catalogue but it is amazing how Unmasked just opened up to me this summer.  I’m enjoying more than ever, with that nostalgic glow for days gone by.  The “good old days” were not always good, but at least the music was.

4.5/5 stars