box set

Marco D’Auria and Tim Durling are Creatures of the Night! Box set dissected, bootleg DVDs examined, and Harrison questioned!

Marco, Tim and I had a blast taking a deep dive into Kiss’ Creatures of the Night album, box set, and tour!  Marco presented a collection of four Kiss bootlegs from the Creatures era.  Tim brought the vinyl and cassettes.  He even had a related 8-track tape.  I dove deep into the Kiss box set:  the book, the goodies, the music, the stories and the packaging!  (For those asking me for a box set review, this is pretty much it!)  Additionally, Uncle Meat stopped by with his memories of seeing the Creatures tour at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.  Finally, “Ask Harrison” returned with two of the best questions for my Aussie co-host yet.  Harrison doesn’t have much in the way of Kiss but did present some interesting stuff in terms of Slade, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, and more.

“Ask Harrison” questions this time were asked by Lana (via Tee Bone) and our newest castmember, an actual Instagram influencer with 200,000 followers who discovered our Led Zeppelin list episode earlier this year, became a fan, and wanted to be a part of our little show herself! Please give her a big welcome.

Next week I’ll be doing a taping with Grant Arthur from Grant’s Rock Warehaus, but we’ll be back again soon.  Thanks for watching!

Creatures of the Night! Contrarians Marco D’Auria and Tim Durling Grab Stacks of KISS tonight with Mike and the Mad Metal Man! – 7:00 P.M. E.S.T.

GRAB A STACK OF ROCK…with Mike and the Mad Metal Man
Episode 5: Special guests Marco D’Auria and Tim Durling

Week five of Grab a Stack of Rock, and the Kiss Creatures of the Night box set has finally arrived!  And it’s awesome – the best Kiss box set to date.  We’ll tell you why tonight.  Additionally, Marco D’Auria and Tim Durling from the Contrarians will be on hand to show off some of their own Kiss goodies.  D’ya think Tim will have 8-track tapes?  What are the odds?

The popular “Ask Harrison” feature also returns, with two of the best questions yet.  Let’s hope our boy from Australia is ready!

Friday November 25 at 7:00 P.M. E.S.T. Enjoy on YouTube or on Facebook.

 

VIDEO: Christmas 2021 Village Tour – Judas Priest – 50 Heavy Metal Years of Music Unboxing

Enjoy a tour of the best Christmas Village I’ve seen yet — complete with carnage and baby Yoda. Or, skip ahead to watch the unboxing at 3:43!

Yes — it has arrived. Judas Priest’s 50 Heavy Metal Years of Music. 42 CDs of music. Limited to 3000 copies. And in 2022 we will be reviewing this monstrosity front to back.


A Very Animated Four Hours: An Epic LeBrain Train List Show

Going into this show, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’m not a big animation guy, as you’ll see.  But this was one of the most fun shows we’ve ever done in the umpteen months of this show!  The discussions were funny, insightful, and passionate.  The picks were diverse with some consensus on key animated films.  There was a little bit of CanCon and a little bit of Kiss.  And a lot of fun.

Thank you to our awesome panel this week:

I also did a an unboxing of the brand new RSD Triumph Allied Forces 40th anniversary box set (Canadian edition).  You gotta see this puppy.  Check that out right at the start of the broadcast.  After which, the lists commence!

Thanks for watching everyone, this was a blast from beginning to end!

 

DVD REVIEW: Blade Runner (1982) – Tribute to Rutger Hauer by Holen MaGroin

Guest review by Holen MaGroin


BLADE RUNNER (1982, 2007 Ultimate DVD edition, Warner Bros.)

Directed by Ridley Scott

The first time I saw Blade Runner, I was unimpressed. I didn’t believe it to be a bad film, but it inspired nothing inside me. However, something about it burrowed into my mind. It could have been the inspirational aesthetic, the cryptic atmosphere, or something operating deeper in my subconscious. Something I couldn’t place my finger on. Whatever it was, I had an undeniable desire to see the film again. When I acted upon that impulse, I fell in love with it. All the emotion and humanity that had eluded me on the initial viewing became elucidated the second time around. Since then, I’ve viewed the film many times. Each of my viewings reveals more secrets and offers new interpretations to this alluringly ambiguous picture.

I’m not entirely certain why Blade Runner went over my head the first time. If I had to speculate, I’d guess that my mind was so overwhelmed by the sheer visual spectacle, that I had a difficult time focusing on the movie behind it. After becoming accustomed to the astonishing world in which the story resides, it became clear to me that much more than just the design was awe-inspiring. Underneath the electronic digital exterior was a human pulse, one that beat the strongest in the characters that weren’t even human. It poses the existential question of the definition of life, and makes us wonder who should have the authority to define it.

The events take place in the future world of November 2019. Earth has become an overcrowded, polluted, and commercialized urban environment. The Tyrell Corporation manufactures synthetic human beings known as replicants. They are just as intelligent as their creators, while also possessing superior physical abilities. They’re used off-world for slave labor, and are forbidden on Earth. Deckard is a blade runner, the best there’s ever been. His job is to take out stray replicants, a process described by the euphemism ‘retiring’.

 

When we’re introduced to Deckard, it’s clear we’re observing a broken man. He lacks purpose, and hides his feelings of worthlessness behind alcohol and a bitter attitude. Having quit his job as a blade runner, he drifts around going through the motions. He’s living a very shallow existence, numbed by whiskey, afraid to feel, and terrified of self-reflection. He’s called in to do one last job, and does so only after being threatened by his old boss, Bryant. Six replicants escaped an off-world colony, and four made it to Earth with their lives. They’ve travelled to Earth in an attempt to extend their lives, which have been set to approximately four years. Their leader is the tactical and ruthless Roy Batty, an imposing figure played by the recently departed Rutger Hauer (R.I.P.). Deckard’s job is to retire them, as they are considered a threat to the public.

Despite being artificial, these four replicants are the most compelling characters in the film. They possess real emotions, and you can’t help but empathize with their plight for life. Their methods may be cutthroat, but understandable given the abhorrent treatment they’ve received at the hands of humans. Not excusable, but understandable. Roy is the most viscous, yet he is also the one we learn to care for the most. The other three want more life only because of their fear of death. Unlike his companions, Roy is a pensive philosopher that questions the nature of his existence, and sees the artificial manipulation of his life expectancy as an injustice perpetrated by Tyrell, his creator.

Contrarily, Deckard is a classic noir archetype inserted into a science fiction world as a way of contrasting him with his supposedly ‘less than human’ targets. He has no raison d’être, no philosophy, he simply exists. The very machines he’s been commissioned to destroy contain more human characteristics than he does. He has learned to detach himself from his emotions because somewhere inside he knows that his job is immoral. As the film progresses, it’s a truth that he finds harder and harder to deny.

His path to realization begins when he visits Tyrell at the onset of his case. While there he meets the beautiful replicant Rachel and is immediately captivated by her. Rachel isn’t initially aware that she is a replicant, as she is part of a new generation that has been fitted with memory implants. She’s rather sterile and distant at first, but ironically becomes more emotional as she comes to accept the fact that she is indeed a synthetic human being. This coincides with Deckard’s own increased feelings of guilt and empathy towards these machines as he approaches the completion of his job. Both characters struggle with the concept of humanity in a dehumanizing urban environment, falling in love as they relate to each other’s fear and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Roy and the seductive Pris manipulate genetic designer J.F. Sebastian into leading them to Tyrell. Sebastian is afflicted with a disease that accelerates aging, allowing him to relate to and take pity on the replicants and their limited lifespan. Roy and Sebastian visit Tyrell during the dead of night, under the pretense of a chess game. Roy’s patience has been rewarded. He is finally able to face his creator. His resentment towards Tyrell for manipulating his lifespan culminates in the line “I want more life, fucker.” The profanity underscores the pent up rage. It’s an emotional slip for the previously silver-tongued devil, and a subtle hint for his surprising climactic decision at the end of the film. When Tyrell informs Roy that there is no way to extend his lifespan, he disposes of his creator and Sebastian.

Deckard learns of the deaths of Tyrell and Sebastian on his radio, and decides to check out Sebastian’s place. What follows is the infamous final confrontation between Deckard and Roy. Deckard offers absolutely no challenge to Roy. Roy’s methodical killings of before are replaced by a sadistic playfulness. Driven past the point of caring upon the realization of his inevitable mortality, he plays cat and mouse with Deckard. In the middle of their game Roy’s hand begins to seize up; his time has come. Deckard attempts to jump from one building to the next to escape, but doesn’t go the distance, grasping the edge hanging precariously high above the ground. Roy catches up to him and easily makes the jump to the next building, standing above Deckard as his fingers slip. But just as Deckard’s grip fails, Roy grasps Deckard’s arm and hoists him up onto the building, saving his life.

In this moment Roy realizes that the most human gesture he can make before death is forgiveness. Saving Deckard even after he killed all his companions was an act of mercy and forgiveness that made his final deed a human one. Roy has reached the stage of acceptance, and ponders in his death soliloquy that once someone dies, all of their memories are lost. All their experience is gone forever. As he puts it, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” An immortal line written by Rutger Hauer himself, it fixes an image to the human fear that we won’t have a legacy, and that all we’ve learned and experienced will be lost forever. Roy believes that with the loss of his experiences, humans will remain ignorant of the nature of replicant life, and that humans will continue to view them as objects to be used instead of living creatures. As he dies peacefully, a dove ascends out of the oppressive city. The shot seems to suggest that Roy does have a soul, and the dove symbolizes something pure and innocent. Roy has redeemed himself by saving Deckard, and his purified spirit ascends to heaven.

Blade Runner is a pensive film. It takes its time unravelling to give the viewer a chance to think along with it. It’s about a man that learns to embrace his humanity from the very machines he’s expected to kill. He even falls in love with one. It makes us wonder what truly constitutes life, and what value a life has after it’s gone and forgotten. Blade Runner is moody, stylized, and very open to interpretation. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but for the people that enjoy when movies offer more questions than answers, there are few that have done it better.

5/5 replicants

Version Guide

There are five distinct cuts of Blade Runner available on Blu-ray, so I figured I’d do a quick version guide and offer my opinion on the best version of the film (it’s not the Final Cut).

  • Work print (1982) – The original work print shown to test audiences. It is a few minutes shorter than the other cuts, which are practically all the same length. It contains different opening credits, and one instance of voice over narration during Roy’s death scene different than the one heard in the theatrical cuts.
  • U.S. Theatrical Cut (1982) – Voice over narration was added that elaborates on certain plot points and offers background information. This version also contains a happier ending.
  • International Theatrical Cut (1982) – Identical to the U.S. Theatrical cut, only it has a few instances of unedited violence.
  • Director’s Cut (1992) – This version removes all voice over narration, and the happier ending. It also inserts a unicorn dream that heavily suggests that Deckard is a replicant. This version doesn’t contain the extra violence.
  • The Final Cut (2007) – Everything in this cut is cleaned up. The visuals, the sound, etc. Visible wires were removed from the flying cars, and an obvious stunt double’s face was digitally replaced with the actress’s face. Includes a longer unicorn dream, no narration, Roy apologizing to Sebastian before killing him, a different background for the dove shot, the violence from the international cut, and green color grading. Roy also says “I want more life, father.” This is the only version besides the work print where he says father instead of fucker.

My favorite (short version): The director’s cut.

My favorite (long version): The green color grading of The Final Cut is awful. It buries the spectacular world and neon colors in a gross green. Using CGI to replace a face and cover up wires is also a bit too revisionist for my tastes as well. I also think the assertion that Deckard is a replicant ruins the theme of the movie. Therefore, I don’t like the unicorn dream. I also don’t like Roy apologizing to Sebastian, it’s out of character. And father just isn’t as powerful as fucker, even with the God complex connotations. As for the theatrical cuts, the narration isn’t all that awful in my eyes (it’s performed pretty badly), but it is a better film without it. It has some interesting background information, but it ruins some of the ambiguity. I do like that the theatrical cut doesn’t push the idea that Deckard is a replicant, because it’s missing the unicorn dream. The happy ending is inconsistent with the movie’s tone though. So my ideal version would be the international theatrical cut without the narration, and without the happy ending. But since we don’t have that cut, my preferred version is the director’s cut, with the international cut coming in a very close second. You should watch both of those cuts just to get the full experience. I switch back and forth depending on my mood.

This review is dedicated to Rutger Hauer. Thanks for the films, man. We’ll miss you.

 

REVIEW: Queen – On Air (6 CD box set)

QUEEN – On Air – The Radio Collection (2016 BBC 6 CD box set)

Go big or go home.  Why buy the 2 CD version of Queen On Air when you can go for the 6 CD smorgasbord?  If you love Queen, it is the only way to do it.  Having said that, if you only “like” Queen and wouldn’t give your own blood to buy a box set, then the simple 2 disc standard edition will probably suffice.  The first two discs in this set are the same as the standard edition.  Everything else is a bonus.

The contents of the first two discs are The Complete BBC Sessions, 24 songs in total plus some disc jockey chit chat.  Because these tracks come from multiple BBC appearances, some songs are played more than once, such as “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the epic “Liar”.  Most of the recordings are from the very early 70s — 1973 and 1974.  Queen were a rough and ready beast back then, but these versions are really not too far off from the original album tracks.  Because it’s the BBC, the recordings and fidelity are excellent.  This is a treasure trove of early Queen, all the best tracks, captured perfectly.  Any fan of the first three Queen albums will be more than satisfied with these discs.  Then, there’s a gap.  After the Sheer Heart Attack (1974) era, there is nothing until 1977’s News of the World.  That album is represented by four of the best tracks:  the fast and guitar-heavy version of “We Will Rock You”, plus “It’s Late”, “My Melancholy Blues”, and “Spread Your Wings”.

According to the liner notes, even though they were a new band, Queen were afforded unusual leeway at the BBC.  Everyone knew they were talented and capable, and so when Freddie Mercury demanded very high standards and everything just so, he was accommodated.  The pay off is that these recordings are stunningly good, and rival the official album versions for quality.  Apparently the BBC sessions were heavily bootlegged, and you will understand why.

Disc 3 contains portions of three concerts.  Shame it’s not the full shows.  I’m sure those will come one day.  In the meantime, enjoy this CD.  You will hear highlights from concerts in 1973, 1981 and 1986, again recorded by the BBC.  This makes for a diverse listen, including guitar solos and covers.  The 1981 recording from Sao Paulo, Brazil is the weakest in terms of sound, but still perfectly listenable.  The 1986 material from Germany is fabulous.  Freddie dropped an “F” bomb in “Under Pressure” as he was being recorded for radio!

This might be where most listeners have to check out.  The final three CDs are interviews with all four members of Queen — 210 minutes of interviews.  Did you know Freddie Mercury could speak Japanese?  Full concerts would be better than interviews, but here they are.  Also among the interviews is a chat with producer Roy Thomas Baker.  The interviews range from 1976 to 1992 and the tribute concert.  Queen never reveal too much, but the timeline of interviews provides a lot of detail surrounding Queen’s most celebrated albums.

The problem with the interviews isn’t so much the quality, but a matter of “when am I going to listen to all this” and “how often”.  The music is the meat of it.  This box set can be found affordably, so be aware of what’s inside and don’t pay too much.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Max Webster – The Party (2017 box set)

MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)

Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually.  Three of the eight discs have already been covered here:  Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album).  The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.

The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering.  The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny.  Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first three albums with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest?  I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest.  It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered.  And now we have The Party in hand as proof!

The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg.  Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies.  The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album.  It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.

If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party.  It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep.  They didn’t go for loudness.  This is all very good.  You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.

The Bootleg will be the main draw for many.  It does not disappoint.  In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more.  Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.

Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”.  It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show.  Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever.  Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa.  “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air.  Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”.  These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.

The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums.  Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party.  Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different.  Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement.  It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good.  It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.

Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max!  It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress.  There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979.  Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level.  “Walden 5” just needed some editing.  A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing.  Kim fans will love it!  Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.

The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one.  Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated.  In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.

Oh, one last thing:  The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set.  So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down.  Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture.  Just a word to the wise.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Hard Road: The Mark I Studio Recordings 1968-69 (5 CD box set)

scan_20170123DEEP PURPLE – Hard Road: The Mark I Studio Recordings 1968-69 (2014 Parlophone)

It’s fantastic that old mono recordings are getting the CD treatment.  The original mono mixes of the old Beatles albums were a revelation to those who had never heard them before.  The original mono versions of Deep Purple’s Shades Of and Book of Taliesyn are less surprising, but still a welcome addition for completists who want to hear it “as it was” in 1968.  Comparisons are difficult, but both albums sound like they were meant to be in stereo.  Unlike the Beatles pop rock compositions, Deep Purple’s featured a lot of solo work and even full-blown orchestral movements.  The stereo separation makes that easier to appreciate.  Only Purple’s third album, 1969’s self-titled Deep Purple, did not receive a mono mix.  It is presented here in stereo only.

Now, these three Purple albums all received the deluxe edition treatment (single discs) in the year 2000.  Those versions on Spitfire (links in above paragraph) are still excellent ways to get this early Deep Purple music.  They are fairly common, have great liner notes and pictures, and feature the stereo versions plus 14 bonus tracks combined between them.  There is also a compilation CD called The Early Years featuring more bonus tracks, including 2003 remixes and live takes.  Where Hard Road fails is in replacing these previous four CDs completely.  One would hope you would get  all the associated bonus tracks from this period in one handy-dandy box.  Sadly this box is not quite so dandy.  Here is a list of tracks missing from Hard Road that were on the remastered single discs:

  • “Kentucky Woman” (alternate take on The Early Years)
  • “Hard Road” (BBC session on The Early Years and The Book of Taliesyn remaster)
  • “Hush” (live from US TV)
  • “Hey Joe” (live BBC recording from the remastered Shades Of).
  • “It’s All Over” and “Hey Bop-a-Rebop” (unreleased songs, live BBC sessions from The Book of Taliesyn)

The live BBC songs above can also be found on the double CD BBC Sessions…except for “Hard Road”.

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Of course there is plenty of material on Hard Road that is not on those earlier discs, making things that much murkier.  In addition to the original mono versions, these include:

  • “Kentucky Woman” remixed in 2003
  • “Playground” in a non-remixed version
  • “River Deep, Mountain High” and “The Bird Has Flown” (single edits)
  • A fresh 2012 stereo mix of “Emmaretta”
  • The isolated single B-side version of “April (Part 1)”
  • An early instrumental version of “Why Didn’t Rosemary”

Irritating, yes.  But only to completists.  For just about anyone else, Hard Road will satisfy their need for pretty much all the Deep Purple Mark I they can handle.  It’s not as complete as the title would let on, what with that live “Hush” and alternate take of “Kentucky Woman” missing in action.  Instead you will receive a large booklet with plenty of notes and a new 2013 interview with producer Derek Lawrence.  He was on board early, before they were in Deep Purple.  He describes an early version of the band called “Roundabout” (with Bobby Woodman on drums and Chris Curtis on bass) as “bland”.  When Ian Paice and Nick Simper joined, they sounded better, but to Lawrence clearly Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice were the stars.

Each disc comes in its own LP-style sleeve.  It’s a gorgeous set.  It sounds fantastic, and was assembled with the usual care that goes into a Deep Purple album.  A few niggling missing tracks aside, this is highly recommended to those looking add the first three Purple to their collection.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Journey – Time3 (1992 box set)

scan_20161015-2JOURNEY – Time3 (1992 Sony 3 CD box set)

Very few box sets satisfy the way that Journey’s Time3 satisfies.  When it was released in 1992, Journey wasn’t even a functioning entity anymore.  Sony’s box set still represents the kind of care and attention to detail that makes for an extraordinary listen.  It is arranged (mostly) chronologically with ample rare and unreleased material.  What is most remarkable is how great this rare and unreleased material is.  Aerosmith did a similar looking box set in 1992 as well (Pandora’s Box), but their set isn’t as steady a listen as Time3 is.  Time3‘s ample wealth of worthwhile rarities rank it easily as the superior set.

From start to bitter 80’s breakup, every Journey member from 1975 to 1986 is included.  George Tickner, Aynsley Dunbar, Robert Fleischman, Randy Jackson, Mike Baird and anybody else you may not have known were in Journey are represented in this box.  There are ample liner notes and photos explaining the roots and branches.  (Humorously the notes claim the early Journey instrumental “Nickel & Dime” may have been the prototype that Rush ripped off for “Tom Sawyer”.)  Valuable early rarities include the unreleased jazz rock number “Cookie Duster” and an excellent vocal track called “For You” recorded  with Robert Fleischman singing.  Fleischman might be best known as the original singer for Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion a decade later, but in Journey he turned in a pretty powerful pop rock song.  This was just before Steve Perry joined the band as its first full-time lead singer.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie took care of the vocals before Perry joined, in addition to performing several smoking organ solos included herein.

There is a distinct change between the early progressive jam rock tracks and “For You”.  When they hired on a lead singer, it was with the intention to get a big break, and Steve Perry was the final ingredient.  With Perry they recorded brilliant classics such as “Patiently”, “Anytime” and the unforgettable “Wheel in the Sky”, which unfortunately is only included here as a live version.  Indeed, the Journey box set’s only weakness is a substitution of (non-rare) live versions for studio originals.  “Lights” is another such substitution.

Just as the band were making this prog-to-pop transition, drummer Aynsley Dunbar left.  His style was more progressive and frankly too highbrow for the direction Journey were going.  He was replaced by another total pro, the feel-oriented Steve Smith, a jazzbo at heart who can play R&B like nobody’s business.  “Too Late” from 1979’s Evolution is a perfect example of what he did to the Journey sound, as things simplified.

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With Smith behind the kit, the hits kept pouring in.  “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” (also included live), “Any Way You Want It”, “Line of Fire” and many more burned up speakers across America.  The band very quickly went from “point A” to “point B”, but also with several exceptional looks backward.  Some of these lesser known gems include “Little Girl” from a rare Journey soundtrack album called Dream, After Dream done for the Japanese market.  There is also the live “Dixie Highway” from Captured that shows off some serious instrumental chops.  A rare highlight is the soulful and unreleased cover of “Good Times”, with full-on horn section, from 1978.  It’s one of the songs that make it worth buying a box set like this.

Rolie left after Dream, After Dream and did not appear on the one new Journey song on Captured:  “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  This brilliant pop rocker pointed the way towards the next era of Journey.  From The Babys came new keyboardist (and sometimes guitarist and singer) Jonathan Cain.  Cain forever brought Journey into the 1980’s, with modern keyboard accompaniment and serious writing abilities.  He has since become an indisposable member of the band, as important as founding guitarist Neal Schon himself.  Jon Cain’s first was the Escape album, which has sold nine million copies to date.  Not a bad little debut.  With “Don’t Stop Believin'” , “Stone in Love” and the smash ballad “Open Arms”, Journey ascended to the top of the mountain.  These tracks are all included as their studio originals.

There are a number of notable and great rarities from this period included in Time3.  “Natural Thing” was the soul-laden B-side to “Don’t Stop Believin'”, but feast your ears upon “La Raza Del Sol”, which snuck out as the progressive flipside of “Still They Ride”.  This blazingly recalls the arrangements of the early years with an unusually contemoplative lyric.  Check out Schon’s flamenco guitar solo.  There is the understated and brilliant rocker “Only Solutions”, from the 1982 Tron soundtrack.  These are valuable songs, that any Journey fan should enjoy completely.  Moving forward, “All That Really Matters” is a synthy demo with Jon Cain on lead vocals.  It doesn’t sound like Journey, but Cain fans will find it interesting.  Two more soundtrack songs are indispensable:  “Only the Young” from Vision Quest, and “Ask the Lonely” from Two of a Kind (both 1983).  Each song was significant enough to include on 1988’s Greatest Hits, so fans are well acquainted with both.  It’s incredible to think that Journey had songs of this quality to give to soundtracks.

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Towards the end, as bands often do, Journey began falling apart.  Steve Perry had a hit solo debut Street Talk (1984) and he returned to Journey more confident, imposing a soul/R&B direction upon the band.  Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were out.  Randy Jackson and Mike Baird were in.  Raised on Radio took forever to record and underwhelmed fans upon reception.  A live version of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” with the new members indicates that Journey had sanded off the rough edges.

Even at the end, there were still interesting happenings.  The liner notes reveal that even as the band was ending, they were winning awards.  Journey performed at the 1987 Bay Area Music Awards with a different singer — Michael Bolton.  One has to wonder where that could have gone.  The last music on this set chronologically comes in the shape of two unreleased instrumentals called “With a Tear” and “Into Your Arms”.  They were recorded in 1986 but not used for Raised on Radio, and so they were finished in 1992 by Schon and Cain for this box set.  Sadly these instrumentals are better than most of the tracks on Raised on Radio.  One is a ballad, and one is a rocker, but both are exceptional.  Journey started life with instrumentals, and so it’s fitting that Schon and Cain polished off the box set with a couple as well.

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This box set was reissued a number of times, but for the money you can’t beat the original 1992 printing with the long box and large booklet.  The liner notes are ample but the rare photos may even top them.  From the earliest days there are pictures of the band with original guitarist George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince.  Prince was invited to join permanently, but chose to join the Tubes instead, a band he found more creative.  He was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar who recorded the first LP.  Also pictured within are some truly impressive hair styles, clothes, and moustaches.

With tracks this strong from start to finish, great packaging, and such a wealth of rare material, it seems Time3 should be an easy 5/5 stars.  However, that niggling issue of live tracks (particularly “Wheel in the Sky”) replacing studio cuts is really devious.  It’s unnecessary.  It all but forces casual buyers to also own Greatest Hits for the studio versions.  It seems very calculated.

Otherwise, proceed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: KISS – Kiss Rocks Vegas (3 CD/1 Blu-ray Japanese import)

Two reviews for the price of none! For Deke’s review of Kiss Rocks Vegas, click here!

NEW RELEASE

KISS – Kiss Rocks Vegas (3 CD/1 Blu-ray Japanese import, 2016 Eagle Rock)

Kiss put on a hell of a show for their nine gig run in Las Vegas.  You could argue that spectacle is 50% of the Kiss experience.  That said, the audio has to hold up, and it does.  I gave it two spins before review: one at home and one in the car, and only after that did I put on the Blu-ray.  As expected, Paul Stanley’s voice is the chink in the armour.  But it is the only one.  This is one of the most musically capable versions of Kiss ever, and vocally they can’t be touched.  When Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer, and Gene Simmons start to harmonize together, it becomes a far stronger beast.  This is how Kiss have adapted to Paul’s current vocal shortcomings, and on a whole it works.  Check out “Tears Are Falling” for a version of a song that gets a serious boost thanks to these guys singing backup.  Now get ready to rock for the next 80 minutes.  Of note, some of Paul’s stage raps are trimmed for time on the CD version, as is Gene’s “bass solo”/blood spitting/flying.  The video has the whole enchilada.

The audio is clear; Gene’s bass nicely audible and in the pocket.  With the 5.1 surround sound cranked, let’s dive into the Kiss Blu-ray, a fine shining example of hi-def rock video.  You can try to count the sparkles on Paul’s guitar, when they open with “Detroit Rock City”.  Their stage looks like a cross between the Creatures-era tank stage and a Dalek.  Giant screens ensure everybody gets a good view, which is a good thing since there is so much going on.  From “Detroit” into “Creatures” itself,  and then “Psycho Circus”, Kiss started the show with three of their classic openers from three different eras!  On screen it’s clear Paul Stanley is still in excellent physical shape.  He doesn’t look like someone who’s had a double hip replacement.   He hops around a bit, plays guitar between his legs, and dances up a storm as always.

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Kudos must be given to Tommy Thayer, who takes many of the flashier solos from 80’s Kiss and adapts them to the style of the 70’s that Kiss tend to ply most.  Tommy’s re-imagining of guitar solos and giving them a Frehley-like vibe is one reason to check out new live versions of these Kiss classics.  Never to be underrated is Eric Singer, a talent to be reckoned with in this band.  His beats are always perfect, but so is his voice.  As usual, he sings “Black Diamond” towards the end of the show, with respect and class.

Other setlist highlights:

Gene’s “War Machine” from Creatures (Gene blows fire at the end).  Paul’s “Tears are Falling” from Asylum (“Some of you weren’t born in 1985!” says Paul, accurately observing his audience).   “Lick It Up”, featuring Kiss’ sometimes-segue into “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.  “Hell or Hallelujah”, from Monster.  “God of Thunder” with its flying Gene, and playing way up high on a tiny little platform.  Paul running out to sing on a catwalk suspended over the crowd on “Love Gun”.  All of this is served up with lights, lasers, explosions, levitating platforms and larger-than-life sparkle.  Kiss still deliver it.

Admittedly, when there is so much great live Kiss from the past out there, it’s hard to get excited about a new one.  (Why watch a 2016 live version of “War Machine” when you can watch one from 1983, 1984, 1988 or 2004?)  The added bonus that makes the whole thing hard to say no to is a seven song acoustic set.  This is a makeup-free event in a packed conference room.  A few more rarities are served up here, such as “Love Her All I Can”.  The loose atmosphere is refreshing.  They goof around a bit on “Christine Sixteen” (in harmony!) and Paul helps with some forgotten words on “Goin’ Blind”.  Just don’t go and compare these with the acoustic ones on MTV Unplugged.  That was 20 years ago.  Controversially, Eric sings “Beth”.  The mitigating factor is that this is a small event for fans and not part of the main Vegas concert.  It’s worthwhile to get a version of this release that contains the acoustic portion on the bonus CD.

The Japanese release is an interesting one.  Instead of one CD, the Vegas concert is split over two.  This is probably because the concert is close to the 80 minimum maximum that a CD can hold, and the Japanese usually adhere to a higher manufacturing standard.  They also included a nice T-shirt in a shiny, embossed box.

As usual, any time Kiss release new product, fans will bitch that they’re over the hill.  They’ll complain that there are only two original members left, and that Paul’s voice is but a shadow of what it once was.  While these things are indeed true, Kiss have found a way to continue on with two talented members helping Paul out with the vocal burden.  If you don’t like it, fair play.  But let the rest of us continue to enjoy Kiss without your negativity.

3.5/5 stars

CD 1
1. “Detroit Rock City”
2. “Creatures of the Night”
3. “Psycho Circus”
4. “Parasite”
5. “War Machine”
6. “Tears are Falling”
7. “Deuce”
8. “Lick it Up”
9. “I Love it Loud”

CD 2
1. “Hell or Hallelujah”
2. Tommy guitar solo
3. “God of Thunder”
4. “Do You Love Me?”
5. “Love Gun”
6. “Black Diamond”
7. “Shout it Out Loud”
8. “Rock and Roll All Night”

CD 3 – Kiss Acoustic
1. “Comin’ Home”
2. “Plaster Caster”
3. “Hard Luck Woman”
4. “Christine Sixteen”
5. “Goin’ Blind”
6. “Love Her All I Can”
7. “Beth”