classic rock

REVIEW: Styx – Caught in the Act – Live (1984)

For Deke’s review at Arena Rock, click here!

 

STYX – Caught in the Act – Live (1984 A&M, 2018 BGO reissue)

“Hey everybody it’s Music Time!”

Sorta, anyway!  Styx were just about toast after “Mr. Roboto“, and Tommy Shaw didn’t want to sing any more songs about androids.  (Mars, however, was fine.)  He departed to check out some Girls With Guns, but not before Styx put out one more product before hiatus.  That would be the traditional double live album, which was actually Styx’s first.

Styx have lots of live albums now, but only two with Dennis DeYoung.  Caught in the Act is essential for a few key reasons.  It sounds great although there are clearly overdubs in places.  It is the only one with the classic lineup of DeYoung/Shaw/James “JY” Young/Chuck Panozzo/John Panozzo.  And it has plenty of classic Styx songs that still shake the radio waves today.

Like many live albums, Caught in the Act contained one new song.  Dennis DeYoung wrote the uppity “Music Time”, a very New Wave single without much of the punch of old Styx.  Shaw was so nauseated that he barely participated in the music video.  “Music Time” isn’t one of Styx’s finest songs.  It’s passable but clearly a misstep.  No wonder it was a final straw of sorts for Tommy Shaw.

With that out of the way, on with the show.  Styx opened the set with “Mr. Roboto”, a mega hit that got a bad rap over the years until nostalgia made it OK to like it again.  Fortunately only two songs from Kilroy Was Here were included, the ballad “Don’t Let It End” being the other.  Live, “Roboto” pulses with energy, far more than you would expect.  The disco-like synthetic beats complement the techno-themed lyrics.  Every hook is delivered with precision.  With the human factor that comes out in a live recording, “Roboto” could be one of those songs that is actually better live.

Styx have always been a diverse act, and this album demonstrates a few sides of the band.  Shaw and Young tended to write rockers, and “Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Miss America”, “Snowblind”, “Rockin’ the Paradise” and especially “Blue Collar Man” are prime examples of the best kind.  Long nights, impossible odds…yet a killer set of rock tunes.  Then there are the ballads.  “Babe” is a slow dancing classic, and “The Best of Times” is even better.  Finally, the tunes that verge on progressive epics: “Suite Madame Blue”, “Crystal Ball” and “Come Sail Away” have the pompous complexity that punk rockers hated so much.  This album is a shining live recreation of some of rock’s most beloved music.

The 2018 CD reissue on BGO Records sounds brilliant with depth, and has a nice outer slipcase.  You’ll also get a nice thick full colour booklet with photos and an essay that goes right up to 2017’s The Mission.  BGO is a well known, respected label.  This reissue is a must.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: Queen – Hot Space (2011 bonus tracks)

QUEEN – Hot Space (Originally 1982, 2011 Hollywood 2 CD set)

Once upon a time, a band called Queen put a note in the credits of their first album: “And nobody played synthesizer”.

By 1982’s Hot Space, this credo was long gone.  In its place, a slick new sounding Queen that did not resonate with Americans the same way old Queen did.  Hot Space still bore a fair share of hits, though very different sounding ones from the olden days.

“Staying Power” opens the album with blasts of horns and funky synths.  On tracks like this, without any bass guitar, John Deacon played rhythm.  “Staying Power” represents the shape of Queen to come.  It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1989’s The Miracle.  The horns give it the needed punch.  Then Brian May’s “Dancer” slinks over, a disco rock tune with some (just some) trademark layers of Queen guitars.

If you feel like gettin’ down on the dancefloor, then “Back Chat” is the song for you.  It’s in the same vein as disco Kiss, but with the kind of funky authenticity that Queen can bring to the party.  “Back Chat” is the album’s first completely memorable song, provided by John Deacon.  Fortunately it has real bass, to keep that groove dirty.  As a single, it didn’t perform as well as “Body Language ↑⬱”, though it’s a superior song.  “Body Language ↑⬱” is all synth with no meat.

Roger Taylor’s funk rocker “Action This Day” boasts a cool sax solo, but the synth drums are lifeless.  It’s much better live (find this version on CD 2) with real instruments.  Brian May’s “Put Out the Fire” is a welcome return to traditional Queen instrumentation.  “Put Out the Fire” is the only song that sounds like “classic” Queen.  If you heard it for the first time, you sure wouldn’t assume it was from Hot Space.  It’s what you would call a “stock” Queen rocker.  No embellishment, no quarter.

Going topical, Freddie tackled the difficult subject of the recently murdered John Lennon.  “Life is Real (Song for Lennon)” is composed like a John song, with piano being the main musical support.  May’s solo is one of his most tender and warm, but the song is not their most memorable.  Taylor’s “Calling All Girls” is far catchier, and would probably be considered a classic if it were better known.

Brian’s ballad “Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)” received worldwide attention at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992, performed with Zucchero Fornaciari. In this case, the synths work with the song and not against it. They create a dreamy landscape, perfect for Freddie’s plaintive singing. This fantastic ballad is up there with the more famous Queen classics.

“Cool Cat” was recorded as a duet with David Bowie, who was unsatisfied. Although the Bowie mix made it to a test pressing, it was removed from the album and has yet to see a re-release. A dusky, slinky tune like “Cool Cat” would sound neat with Bowie aboard. David’s there for “Under Pressure” (obviously), which doesn’t need discussing because everybody knows that song. Or should. Immediately. It is rock magic, born of a jam between the five musicians. When magic happens, it can create songs as perfect as “Under Pressure”.

Hot Space is a bit wobbly, but the bonus disc evens things out a bit.  A soul ballad B-side called “Soul Brother” might have worked better on the album than some of the songs that made it.  The single remix of “Back Chat” gives us a chance to revisit the album’s most addictive song.  Check out the fast, very dexterous live version of “Staying Power”.  It is pretty impressive even if it’s not one of Queen’s greatest songs.  The performance on the live take is a lesson by the masters on playing live, so listen up.  Similarly, live versions of “Action This Day” and “Calling All Girls” get an injection of life on the stage.

Hot Space shouldn’t be too high on anyone’s Queen want lists, but it shouldn’t be ignored either.  Check out the 2 CD version for the worthwhile additions.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004)

STYX – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004 A&M)

Styx need to get their albums remastered and reissued pronto.  In the meantime, you can Come Sail Away with The Styx Anthology.

The great thing about the Styx Anthology is that it covers virtually all Styx history, even the first four albums on Wooden Nickel records.  Each one of those early albums is represented by a track (two for Styx II).  Those early albums had some good material on them that usually only diehards get to hear.  “Best Thing” and “You Need Love” are bright and rocking, just like you expect from Styx.  “Winner Take All” and “Rock & Roll Feeling” are consistent toe-tappers.  The jovial harmonies, and lead vocals (by Dennis DeYoung and James “JY” Young) on these tracks could easily be mistaken for later, more famous Styx.  Don’t forget the original version of “Lady” from Styx II, their first big ballad.  Styx’s flair for the dramatic was there right from the first.  (Remember “Lady” as performed by the Dan Band in the movie Old School?)

Shortly thereafter Styx signed with A&M.  1975’s Equinox boasted hits galore.  You should know “Light Up” and “Lorelei”.  But Equinox was their last with founding guitarist John Curulewski.  He was replaced by a guitarist with prodigious talent and a voice to go with it:  Tommy Shaw.  Shaw’s “Crystal Ball” is one of the best songs from the album of the same title.  “Mademoiselle” and “Shooz” are not far behind.

Styx enjoyed an abnormally long period of great, classic albums in a row.  After Crystal Ball came The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.  With a solid lineup they continued to crank out radio staples.  Their music became grander and more conceptual thanks to Dennis DeYoung.  Tommy Shaw and JY tended to provide balance with rockier songs.  Songs like Dennis’ “The Grand Illusion” are balanced out by Young’s “Miss America” and Shaw’s “Renegade”.  Sure, Shaw could write a ballad or two, but his are more rootsy like the acoustic “Boat on a River”.

Through “Come Sail Away”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time on My Hands”, it is impossible to understate how hit-laden this CD set is.  “Blue Collar Man”, “Rockin’ the Paradise”…it’s seemingly endless!

Until it ends, right after “Mr. Roboto”.  Though their lineup was stable, Styx were volatile.  DeYoung was fired at one point for being too controlling.  Shaw threatened to quit if the song “First Time” was ever released as a single (it wasn’t and it’s not on here).  It came to a head for real with “Roboto”, from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.  Though it went to #3, the tour did poorly and the band were not happy with DeYoung and his rock operatics.  Tommy Shaw stated that he couldn’t get into songs about robots (long before he wrote an album about Mars).  The Styx Anthology cuts you a break by not subjecting you to their last single before splitting, “Music Time”.

When Styx reformed in 1990 it was without Shaw, who was doing very well in the supergroup Damn Yankees.  He was replaced by singer/guitarist Glen Burtnik.  Burtnik’s single “Love is the Ritual” is a jarring change.  The seven years between it and “Roboto” are audible, as Styx forged a clear hard rock sound with the single.  Sporting synth bass and shouted “Hey!’s”, you couldn’t get further from the core Styx sound than “Love is the Ritual”.  With the new member singing, it’s hard to hear any similarity to Styx at all.  Dennis’ “Show Me the Way” has proven to be a more timeless song.  Although it resonated with Americans at the time of the Gulf War, today it is just a great song about keeping the faith.

Styx split again, but reformed with Shaw in 1995.  Unfortunately, founding drummer John Panozzo died from years of alcohol abuse and was replaced by the incredible Todd Sucherman.  “Dear John” is Sucherman’s first appearance on the disc, a tribute to Panozzo.  The somber Tommy Shaw ballad (from 1997’s Return to Paradise) simply had to be included on a Styx anthology.  The only Styx studio album ignored on the set is 1999’s Brave New World, and rightfully so.  Instead we leap ahead in time for the final song, featuring yet another lineup change, and one of the most significant.  Dennis DeYoung was let go and replaced by Canadian solo star Lawrence Gowan.  This has proven to be a fortuitous undertaking for both Styx and Gowan.  Gowan plays keyboards on “One With Everything” (from 2003’s Cyclorama), an epic six minute Tommy Shaw progressive workout.  It’s a brilliant song, and a perfect indication that for Styx, a whole new chapter had opened.*

Do yourself a favour. Go and buy Styx’s new album The Mission, and put The Styx Anthology in the basket too.  Then enjoy, and congratulate yourself for a great start on your Styx collection!

5/5 stars

* Two more lineup changes:  when bassist Chuck Panozzo fell ill, he became a part time bassist for Styx.  Glen Burtnik returned on bass this time and played on Cyclorama.  When he left again, he was replaced by Ricky Phillips from Coverdale-Page.

 

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Hot Wire (1991)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 5 in his KIX series

KIX – Hot Wire (1991 Atlantic)

It took the almighty Kix three years to follow up their commercial breakthrough Blow My Fuse. When they did, they had a new record contract, and an assload of debt from their first three albums. Being that this was 1991, the clock was ticking before that putz from Seattle would change the face of rock music forever by replacing talented musicianship and fun with glorified punk songs about deodorant. The resulting album Hot Wire was the band’s heaviest album to date, with their hard rock influences taking over their sound completely. While Hot Wire is still an entertaining listen, it’s not as consistent as the albums that preceded it, and is a little derivative at times.

Hot Wire is jumpstarted by the title track, which starts off with a riff that sounds like Ted Nugent’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, and ends with a loving homage to “Have a Drink on Me”. The sonic annihilation in between is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and has Kix playing some of the most aggressive music of their career. Steve Whiteman in particular is taking no prisoners with an absolutely electrifying vocal performance that commands attention and respect. The song juggles the head banging verses with a trademark melodic Kix chorus that will blow your mind. Maybe Kurt Cobain was listening to this when his Kurt Cobrains hit the floor in April of 1994. It’s a great choice to open the album with, as it dispels any notion that Kix has become less hungry as a result of their platinum success.

Kix follows it up with what could only be described as a tribute to AC/DC’s “Big Balls”, complete with a Bon Scott impression. In lead single “Girl Money”, Whiteman channels Scott while talking about a woman of low moral fibre across the bar. The chorus is an absolute explosion of melody, literally. If you listen carefully, you can hear cannons going from the left to the right speaker after the lyrics “bang boom party”. The attention to detail is not only amusing, but it reflects the sonic identity of the record. The production on this album serves to polish the rough edges while retaining all the sonic power that Kix have to offer. It sounds good, but there are no frills to be found. This is a rock and roll record, and the band is going to treat it as such. No more Cool Kids new wave pandering, the group is out to rock your world.

 The fourth slot on the album is left to “Tear Down the Walls”, a weak ballad that was probably recorded to capitalize on the success of “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. It’s pleasant enough, but one can’t help but compare it to superior ballads on past Kix records. While it’s not nearly as iconic or enjoyable as “For Shame”, “Walkin’ Away”, or “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, it’s still a much better decision to listen to it than to marry Courtney Love, in my opinion only of course.

Kix only has one ballad again, and gets away with it by preceding it with the hook laden “Luv-A-Holic”, which has a similar structure to “Get It While It’s Hot” from the previous record, done in a heavier style that is more representative of the Hot Wire sound.  It’s one of the best songs on the album, and the deal only gets sweeter when “Rock & Roll Overdose”, (a song title I believe Kurt took too literally) greets the listener after the lacklustre ballad. One of the heaviest tunes Kix have ever done, it’s a nice ode to rock and roll itself with Whiteman bringing back his powerful raspy vocals from the title track. Guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe really get to shine on this track with each getting a chance to show off their solo chops. It’s much more enjoyable than listening to nursery rhyme melodies over three chord punk songs and pretending like you hate any band that has reached any kind of success, including your contemporaries that praise you.

What sinks the album is a sense of monotony. Some of the lesser tunes begin to sound the same, and some of them are lyrically lacking. “Hee Bee Jee Bee Crush”, “Bump the La La”, and “Same Jane” were in desperate need of penmanship reform. There’s also not as much variety as you would normally expect from a Kix album, as they seem to be firmly rooted in a hard rock sound. Choruses lack some of the staying power that they had on earlier albums, and the songs begin to run together.

While by no means a bad album, Hot Wire comes as a bit of a disappointment after the quality of the two previous outings. Unfortunately, due to shifting (shitty) tastes, Kix would only release one more album on their major label (1993’s appropriately titled Contractual Obligation Live!) before being pushed to the indie world. The mighty titans would regroup for one more studio album with the original lineup.  They disappeared for the better part of twenty years before reemerging with a new bassist as strong as ever.  As for Hot Wire…

3.5/5 stars

Authors note: I don’t really hate Nirvana, but they’re just so easy to poke fun at. I would take Badmotorfinger, Ten, & Ritual de lo Habitual over Nevermind any day of the week though.

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Blow My Fuse (1988)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 4 in his KIX series

KIX – Blow My Fuse (1988 Atlantic)

When Kix released their fourth album on Atlantic, the band would finally receive the recognition and popularity that they deserved. Blow My Fuse is one of the most fun hard rocking albums of the late ‘80s without the guilty feeling that you get listening to the other “hair bands” that were dominating MTV. You could blast this record in a way that you couldn’t with say, Warrant, and not care who heard you, because Kix aren’t a hair band. They’re a hard rock band. These glorious Maryland hicks with a collective explosion fetish crafted a glorious hard rock album in the mold of AC/DC, with the pop hooks necessary to get proper attention on the radio, without ever watering down the rock. Produced by Tom Werman (with help from Duane Baron and John Purdell), Kix finally teamed up with a production team that knew how to turn their material into charting hits without diluting it.

Album opener “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” displays Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant reclaiming his territory after an Anton Fig substitution due to a broken arm on the end of the last album. Pounding away with a simple but effective beat, he sets the stage for the duo of Brian Forsythe and Ronnie “10/10” Younkins to blanket the track with midrange guitar goodness. The production on this album is really outstanding. The power of Kix clearly shines through, but with a new sheen to polish some of the rough edges. Steve Whiteman builds anticipation with restraint in his singing at the beginning of the song. Kix are masters of both tension and dynamics. They know just how long to string the listener along before delivering the heavy payoff. The twin guitar duo comes in with the song’s main riff, and Steve Whiteman pumps on the gas taking his vocals full throttle with rasp and power. Note the background vocals before the chanted chorus, which add some killer harmonic melody to the blistering hard rock. A call and response section between the harmonica and the guitar build off each other to end the song leaving the listener with his ass bruised and sore from being kixed for four euphoric minutes.

After taking a minute to ice the destroyed rectum, “Get It While It’s Hot” starts with a synthesizer run and some backwards vocals that recall their new wave roots. However, this is a clever ruse. Soon the guitars come in and betray the intro. This is another full on rock tune with the drums really in the driver’s seat during the verses. The guitarists play a few chords, rest, and then play a few chords, then rest; each phrase expanding upon the last to complete the picture at the end of five measures. It’s a tension building technique Kix would use again. The chorus drastically changes things up, but the energy level doesn’t dip at all. At this point we’re greeted by the song’s hook. With some era appropriate multi-tracked backing vocals, it drives the point across well.

Even with all the fantastic tunes, the reason that this album went platinum was because of the ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. A number eleven hit in America, the song put the band on map, and on MTV. However, it wasn’t originally released as a single. When Kix were on tour with Great White, their manager Alan Niven asked the band why the song hadn’t been released as a single. Niven, despite being the manager for Great White, called up Doug Morris (president of Atlantic Records at the time) and told him they were sitting on a massive hit. They released it, and the rest is history. As for the song, it’s not a typical fluffy power ballad of the late ‘80s. It has more in common with “Dream On” than it does “Home Sweet Home”. The song is an anti-suicide PSA, a reassuring topic that proved Kix had more on their mind than just sex and explosions. It’s a great song, haunting and emotional. The lyrics and the conviction with which Whiteman sings them makes the hairs on your arm stand up. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is a powerful song that has probably saved more than one or two lives as well, and is one of the most respectable power ballads of the 1980s.

But who cares when they’re singing about sex when the music backing it is of such high caliber? “Cold Blood” was the first single, and it sold much better after “Don’t Close Your Eyes” became huge. This song deserved to be a huge hit. It’s a stone cold classic. Starting out with a riff sounding like Electric-era The Cult, and progressing to total pop harmony payoff, this one is definitely one of the band’s best tunes. It also received moderate MTV airplay, and became the band’s second most popular song, a place only challenged by the album’s title track. A very fun and electrifying number about singer Steve Whiteman getting his fuse blown, his tower shook, his wires crossed, his hair lit up, his senses overloaded, and his juice felt. The lyrics speak for themselves; this one is another genre classic.

The album is rounded out with several other dynamic hard rock tunes, and a supernatural ability to insert pop melodies into them without diminishing the power one iota. There is no filler on this album, every song is a keeper. A 30th anniversary edition remixed by Beau Hill was announced earlier this year. Start off with the original that has been serving the public well for three decades now. If you were only to buy one Kix album, this is the one.

5/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Midnite Dynamite (1985)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 3 in his KIX series

KIX – Midnite Dynamite (1985 Atlantic)

In 1985, Kix returned after two commercially unsuccessful albums, with what they consider to be their magnum opus, Midnight Dynamite. This is where the new wave styles of the first two records take a backseat to the hard rock influences. Later on, they’d completely shun their new wave influences by kicking them out of the car, and making new wave watch hard rock shag its girlfriend. For now, the blend was still somewhat apparent, but with the mix changed.

Produced by Lebrain’s favorite producer of all time (Beau Hill), Midnight Dynamite definitely sounds like its era, much more so than the debut or Cool Kids. For the first time we get some electronic percussion thrown into the mix and it is the first album by Kix to feature synthesizers in a prominent role. This could have been disastrous, but luckily Kix utilizes them to color the sound and they don’t diminish the hard edge of the guitars one iota. This is a hard rock record first and foremost, and with Ronnie “10/10” Younkins back in the mix, the guitar duo of the first album is reestablished. Pressured once again to work with outside writers, the primary guy for the job is Bob Halligan Jr. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because he wrote two songs for Judas Priest (“Take These Chains” & “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”), and co-wrote with Icon on their second album Night of the Crime. Boasting some impressive credentials, the songwriting takes a step up this time around. Nearly all the songs are collaborations between bassist Donnie Purnell and Halligan.

The album is jump started by the title track. A slow and heavy number, it was a bold choice to open an album with.  Fortunately for Kix, it completely works. The intensity of the verses builds up tension for the ridiculously catchy harmonies in pre-chorus, where we finally get the big payoff during the chorus. This is melodic hard rock done right, without the frills that are usually associated with AOR or other bands of the time period. Kix made sure that the material had balls, something that many other bands of the time period eschewed for chart success. The intensity of the title track is followed by the erotic “Red Hot (Black & Blue)” with a sleazy stuttering riff. The production on this song is a little heavy handed with the reverse reverb in the verses, but it’s nothing that ruins the impact. Another song with dynamics, the verses stutter along with spunk, until the chorus where that Kix fire is unleashed. Some pretty cheesy lyrics, but if you weren’t prepared for that then why would you be reading a Kix review?

One of Beau’s buddies Kip Winger earns himself a writing credit on track number 3, “Bang Bang (Balls of Fire)”. As you can tell by the title, it’s one of the more generic rock songs on the album. It’s one of the least substantial, but it’s still an enjoyable tune. “Layin’ Rubber” is much better, as all the elements that make up the Kix sound are blended masterfully. Obviously more hard rock orientated than material of the past, the track features bubblegum pop chants before launching into a hard rock riff, while the intensity of the music elevates as the song goes on. Each section of the song’s structure is composed to perfectly transition into the next. One of the best tracks on the album, it manages to be damn brutal, and also catchy as shit.

The rest of the album proceeds in this manner, blistering hard rock tunes with undeniably catchy melodies that are never too sugary enough to make you sick to your stomach. There is only one ballad “Walkin’ Away”, which is built on synthesizers, but has enough of a kick to be enjoyable. “Cold Shower” was the other single, which features some rap like vocals in the verses and singer Steve Whiteman hitting some glass shattering notes before the chorus. It’s one of the most eccentric tunes on the album, and I’m surprised it was picked as a single.

Surprising songs or not, this album is one of the most underrated of the era. It’s a mystery as to why it didn’t sell better than it did. Label indifference? If you’re a fan of the rock music, you owe it to yourself to pick up this album and the even better follow up Blow My Fuse.

4.75/5 stars

A note for Kiss fans, Anton Fig plays drums on the last two tracks because Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant had broken his arm.

#690: Unholy Kisses

GETTING MORE TALE #690: Unholy Kisses

Kiss’ Revenge album (last discussed in Part 43 of the Kiss Re-Review Series) was an album that I had been waiting for a long time.  Not just in terms of the three year gap between it and Hot in the Shade.  I loved Kiss, but it had been a long time since they put out an album quite as solid as Revenge.  I wore my Kiss shirt with pride.

I can still remember the day I got my Revenge shirt, in Kincardine Ontario of all places.  My parents bought it for me at a local now-defunct clothing store.  As we browsed my dad asked, “Did you find a shirt, son?”

“Yep,” I answered.  “This one is cool, because it has the new Kiss member on it.”

“Yeah,” my dad said with a disapproving smirk.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that bearded guy before…”

But the new guy wasn’t Gene Simmons, silly dad.  It was the blonde Eric Singer, the first guy to break the Kiss hair colour code.  Yeah, I was proud to rock that shirt.

The parents were good to us.  Any time there was a record show (or record faire) within an hour’s driving distance, they would take us.  You usually had to drive to either Guelph or London.  Sometimes they’d even help us out with a little cash.  No matter how much you budget for a record show, you’ll never bring enough cash.  The treasures are far too numerous and tempting.

One has to learn to categorise and quantify things in order to successfully navigate a record show on a limited budget.  I have really distinct memories of one in Guelph; the one where I found the indispensable Kiss Unholy Kisses bootleg.

I knew going in that I wanted to buy a bootleg on CD.  I had a few on cassette, but never a CD before.  Record shows always had a table or two with guys selling CD bootlegs.  They were never cheap and you could typically expect to pay $40 for a single CD.  That’s how I budgeted it out.

I did plan to buy a little more than that, so I brought extra cash.  My first buy was a 7″ single for “From Out of Nowhere” by Faith No More, a UK import.  It had two live tracks on the B-side (“Woodpecker From Mars” and “Epic” recorded by the BBC).  I was trying to get a decent Faith No More collection so I picked that one early.

Meanwhile my sister found Bryan Adam’s first single, “Let Me Take You Dancing”.  Bryan started as a Disco artist, and his voice was sped up in the mixing in order to make it higher.  He has since disowned the song, and a CD release in any official capacity is highly unlikely.  She definitely found something of value to her.  As an added bonus, the record came with a story.

“I tried to get Bryan Adams to sign it,” said the vendor.  “I handed it to him and he refused.”  So my sister owns a record that Bryan Adams actually refused to sign and we both think that is pretty hilarious.

One thing about record shows that you need to be aware of:  there are always some vendors who are assholes.  It’s just part of the scenery of a record show.  As my sister and I looked around, one of them shouted out at her.

“People will think you stole that,” he said pointing to her Bryan Adams record.  “It’s not in a bag.”

We explained that she bought the record from another vendor.

“You need a bag.  Buy something from me and I give you a bag.  People will think you steal.”

“Here, put it in my bag,” I said to my sister.  “No thanks,” I added to the vendor, as we made sure not to buy anything from him.  He didn’t have anything we wanted anyway.

But what about bootlegs?  That decision had to be weighed.  There was so much to choose from.  The Black Crowes?  Black Sabbath?  They had a CD of early Def Leppard tracks with Frank Noon on drums.  That one was sorely tempting.  Leppard were another band I was trying to collect.  What I really hoped to find though, was Kiss.

There it was:  Unholy Kisses.  Recorded live in San Francisco April 23, 1992.  Revenge wasn’t even out yet when it was taped.  Although other Kiss bootlegs were present, I chose Unholy Kisses for a number of reasons.

  1. My first live versions of “Unholy” and “Take It Off”.
  2. My first live Kiss with Eric Singer.
  3. My first live version of “I Was Made for Loving You”, the old Kiss Disco classic.
  4. A host of other Kiss oldies they hadn’t played live in ages.

I chose wisely.  Unholy Kisses is a great fucking bootleg.

The club setting provides for a very loud concert recording.  It only amplifies the raw heavy new sound of Kiss.  Bruce Kulick nailed a greasy toned and Eric Singer?  Holy shit, did the oldies ever sound amazing with him behind them!  Yes indeed, the new Kiss lineup was excitement personified.  God bless Eric Carr, who will forever have a place in every fan’s heart.  With Eric Singer, Kiss found a credible way to carry on.  Any new member brings their own style and influence to Kiss.  When a drummer is a talented and versatile as Eric Singer, it enables a band to really play.

And strangely enough, during the Singer/Kulick era, one could make serious arguments for Kiss becoming a player’s kind of rock band.  Kulick, for certain, is one of the most talented guys to ever play guitar in Kiss, up there against Vinnie Vincent.  Kulick can play absolutely anything and strove to do new things on every Kiss album.  Whatever Bruce wrote, Singer could play.  This would spill onto the next studio album.

The Kiss Re-Review Series does not require another Unholy Kisses review.  It is bang-on.  For your convenience, you will find the full review below.

If you are even just a casual Kiss fan, pick up Unholy Kisses if you find it in the wild.  There are few official live Kiss albums as good as this.


KISS – Unholy Kisses (Audience recorded bootleg, 1992 Flashback)

“You know who we are, let’s kick some ass!”

That’s how Paul Stanley introduced the legendary Kiss on their stripped-down 1992 club tour, April 23 1992 in San Francisco.  The Revenge album was a “reboot” of sorts, out of necessity.  New drummer, new attitude, and a return to the producer (Bob Ezrin) who helped make them huge.  A return to the clubs without the lights, stage show, and costumes helped Kiss transition into the 90’s.  If this one bootleg CD is any indication, then the club tour was a huge success.

Eschewing their normal opening routine, the band entered to the sound of “Love Gun”, but heavier than ever.  Many fans consider the Simmons/Stanley/Kulick/Singer lineup to be among their best, and this live bootleg proves why.  In fantastic voice, Paul leads this devastating lineup to demolish the clubs in their wake.  Full of adrenaline, “Love Gun” is faster than its studio counterpart, and Bruce Kulick creates his own individual guitar solo that fits the track.

Gene’s next on “Deuce”, the new lineup infusing it with menace.  The CD, though obviously a bootleg, sounds great.  Even though the drums are a bit distant you can hear that Eric Singer has come into the band paying homage to the drum parts he inherited.  Then Paul takes a moment to tell the audience that they’ve been so fired up about the way Kiss have been sounding, that they just got to come down to San Fransisco and play.  A rough opening to “Heaven’s On Fire” is a mere hiccup after they get going on the hit single.  For the first time you can clearly hear new guy Eric Singer singing background vocals.

“You ready to hear something old? One of those Kiss klassics?  Bruce – let ’em have a taste.”  Then the shocked audience picked up their jaws as Kiss slammed through “Parasite” for the first time since 1976.  Returning to songs like this was critical for a band who spent the 80’s largely ignoring the deep cuts.

One thing I love about bootleg CDs is the chance to overhear some audience chatter.  “Shout it Out Loud” however is marred by one nearby fan who keeps singing “You got to have a party,” even when that’s not the current part of the song!  Minor beef, as “Shout it Out Loud” rocks and is another song that was tragically ignored during most of the 80’s.

“How many of you people have Kiss Alive?  Gene must know this one.  Gene’s got Kiss Alive.  Goes like this!”  There begins “Strutter” (also from the first Kiss album) and the crowd goes nuts.  “Dr. Love” follows, with Eric Singer showing off some fancy footwork on the double bass drums.

Fans who were shocked by these old tunes must really have lost their minds when “I Was Made For Loving You”, heavy as hell, tore through the club.  “I Was Made For Loving You” was re-imagined as a chugging metal track and in the club environment, it’s only more raw and aggressive.  Then Paul lets another bomb drop when he introduces “100,000 years” from the first album.  “Oh my God!  I don’t fucking believe it! I do not fucking believe it!” says one nearby fan, obviously excited by this rarity.  It’s incredible how well Bruce and Eric adapted to the sound of old raunchy Kiss.

But what of new Kiss?  The band weren’t ready to start unveiling all the new songs, as Revenge hadn’t even come out yet.  They did roll out two: the first single “Unholy”, and album cut “Take it Off”.

“We got a new album about to come out,” begins Paul.  “And I’ll tell you something, this album is the shit.  I’ll tell you, this album is our fuckin’ Revenge and when you hear the album you’ll know what I’m talking about.”  Indeed, as promised the new songs kick ass, though “Unholy” is kind of awkward in the live setting.  “Take it Off” is more like Kiss.

It’s all oldies from here.   Aside from the new Revenge songs, the most recent track that Kiss played here was “Heaven’s On Fire” from 1984!  (Note: this CD is not the full concert and 1985’s “Tears are Falling” was also played that night.)  I think it’s safe to say that Paul and Gene understand some of the errors in direction they made over the last 10 years, and successfully steered the ship back on track.  “Firehouse” and “Cold Gin” from the first album are present. “I Stole Your Love”, “Detroit Rock City”, and “I Want You” close the CD.  “I Stole Your Love” with the backing vocals of Eric Singer is top-notch!

The songs played that night that aren’t on this CD are “God of Thunder”, “Lick It Up”, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” (its live debut), “Rock and Roll all Nite” and the aforementioned “Tears Are Falling”.  Too bad this is only a single CD bootleg, but bootlegs were so expensive that a double would have cost at least $60-80.  If it was a double, I never would have bought it and heard what I have of this awesome show!

4.5/5 stars

UNHOLY KISSES_0003

CD KISStitics

Songs:

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Purple Chronicle – The Best Selection of 25th Anniversary (3 CD Japanese box set)

DEEP PURPLE – Purple Chronicle – The Best Selection of 25th Anniversary (1993 triple CD Warner Japan box set)

Here is something clearly designed for the archivist, not the casual listener.  Purple Chronicle is a strange but in-depth collection of singles, album cuts, B-sides and rarities.  With tracks spanning 1968 to 1976 (Deep Purple’s original run) there is much to cover.  There are even two mono mixes that are still unavailable on CD anywhere else.

The first two discs comprise a chronological look at the most key Deep Purple tracks.  Five songs are earmarked to represent the Rod Evans era, including the big one “Hush” and Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”.  It’s a mere brief glance at the three albums they did with Rod, but there are more rarities on Disc 3.

The classic Deep Purple Mk II era featuring Ian Gillan takes over on the next 11 tracks.  From “Speed King” through to “Fireball” and “Strange Kind of Woman”, the big hits are here.  Who Do We Think We Are from 1973 only has one track present (“Woman From Tokyo”).  “Into the Fire” is pleasing to find here, as one of Deep Purple’s short and sweet heavy metal stomps.

Deep Purple Mk III and IV (featuring David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes behind the microphones) are given 12 tracks to stretch out.  They don’t anything as long as Gillan’s “Child in Time” which exceeds 10 minutes, so this is still fairly proportional.  The best songs, both rockers and ballads, are laid out from their three records.  They include the unforgettable “Burn” and “Stormbringer”, the extended blues “Mistreated” and underappreciated gems such as “You Keep on Moving” and “Comin’ Home” with Tommy Bolin on guitar.

All of the songs on the first two discs would have been available on standard Deep Purple CDs at the time.  The third disc has a bunch of tracks that were (and some that still are) harder to come by.  It is dominated by B-sides, single edits and assorted rarities.  “Black Night” appears for the first time, as a single edit and live B-side.  Indeed there is a lot of repeat of Disc 3.  “Speed King” for example is here twice more, with both of its extended intros (noise plus keyboards, or just keyboards).  These weren’t on the typical CD release of Deep Purple In Rock at the time.  There are single edits of “Woman From Tokyo”, “Highway Star”, “Lazy” and “Burn” (two edits!).  And there are lots of rarities galore, culled from B-sides and Purple’s outtake album Power House.  Some, such as Rod Evans’ “Emmeretta”, and Gillan’s “Painted Horse” and “Cry Free”, are true unsung Purple classics.  “Coronarias Redig” is notable as the only instrumental of the Coverdale era.

The two tracks that are still true rarities today are the mono mixes of “Smoke on the Water” and its live counterpart.  More versions of “Smoke”?  Yes indeed, but unless you have heard them in mono before, you have not heard them all.  These are not “fold down” mono mixes made by just converting the stereo track to mono.  These are audibly different in subtle ways.

This is the kind of set that will be difficult and expensive to track down.  If you spy it somewhere, be aware of the value to collectors.  (I was fortunate that a copy in great condition just dropped in my lap for cheap.)  Consider it if collecting Purple is your thing.  Includes full booklet and poster with family tree.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Eric Carr – Unfinished Business (2011)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 42:  Eric Carr solo #2.

EC_Unfinished_Business_2011ERIC CARR – Unfinished Business (2011 Auto Rock Records)

Even though 2000’s Rockology compilation released a treasure trove of unheard goodies for the fans, there is always more to sell.  For the 20th anniversary of Eric’s passing, another batch of tracks were unearthed.  Some are mere filler, some are pretty decent.  Fans of the beloved  drummer will have to sift through the bad to get to the good.

There are a couple Kiss songs here for the diehard fans.  “No One’s Messin’ With You” is yet another demo of what would become “Little Caesar” from Hot in the Shade.  A third called “Ain’t That Peculiar” was released on the 2001 Kiss Box Set.  This is an almost completely different set of lyrics, although it does have the “Hey Little Caesar” chorus.  In chronological terms, this version probably falls between the other two, with lyrics still a work in progress and a different verse melody.  Then there’s “Shandi”, from Eric’s Kiss audition tape, with brand new acoustic backing music.  Unfortunately, Eric’s shaky voice (or a warbly tape) makes this totally unlistenable.

One of Rockology‘s highlights was “Just Can’t Wait” which was crying out for a lead vocal to finish it off.  This was completed by Ted Poley of Danger Danger.  Though the backing track lacks the fidelity of a proper Kiss recording, the song has taken shape as the shoulda-coulda-been hit that it is.  Eric would have been proud and very happy to hear it as a finished song.

The unfinished “Troubles Inside You” is a demo with regular Kiss collaborator and Beatlemania member Mitch Weissman.  It was recorded at Gene Simmons’ house, but the old cassette must have deteriorated pretty badly.  The music is barely audible, though hints of a good song shine through.  Two more Kiss outtakes include the legendary “Dial L For Love” and “Elephant Man”.  These were written for Crazy Nights and Revenge, respectively.  Neither were finished by Carr.  “Dial L For Love” has the bones of a good song with a unique riff.  Eric only managed to finish the lyrics for “Elephant Man”, but here it is given music and life by a group of musicians including the late A.J. Pero of Twisted Sister, and ex-Europe guitarist Kee Marcello.  Singer Bob Gilmartin did a great job of it, turning “Elephant Man” into a cross between ballad and rocker, and something Kiss totally could have done on Revenge.  “Midnight Stranger” is another unfinished riff.  Ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John was slated to overdub brand new solos for this instrumental, but he too passed before he could finish.  This is the original cassette demo.  The riff sounds like a brother to “Carr Jam”.  They are definitely related.

“Carr Jam 1981” is, unfortunately, not the original unaltered Elder demo.  It is a cover by drummer Joey Cassata, and a very authentic one at that.  Same with “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”.  Just a cover, not a demo, by Cassata’s band Z02. Pretty good stuff, at least.  New backing music was recorded for “Eyes of Love”, a song previously released on Rockology.  The Rockology version with Bruce Kulick on guitar is superior.

Finally, some real serious archival treasures:  an Eric Carr drum solo basement tape (same as his live Kiss solo), and a 1967 recording by Eric’s first band The Cellarmen!  That’s Eric on lead vocals too.  It definitely sounds of its time. Added filler include a few interview bits and clips, including one with former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin about Eric.

If the first Eric Carr CD release was best left to hardcore fans, it’s doubly true of the second one.  This is a fans-only release, period.  It is highly unlikely anyone else would get much enjoyment from this low-fi set.

2/5 stars

Although Carr’s loss was devastating to both fans and the band, there was no question Kiss would carry on with imminent Revenge….

 

RE-REVIEW: Eric Carr – Rockology (2000)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 41Eric Carr solo #1.

It’s back and picking up right where we left off:  the death of Eric Carr.  The previous chapter of this series was posted November 8 2017, with the intention to talk about Eric Carr’s demos next, before moving on to his replacement.  When Eric died of cancer in 1991, he left behind several tapes of unreleased material that have since been issued on CD.  Likewise, the Kiss Re-Review Series was derailed by Mrs. LeBrain’s cancer diagnosis, but will carry on now that she is well.  Thank you for your patience!

ERIC CARR – Rockology (2000 EMI)

The late  drummer Eric Carr was frustrated towards the end.  He was writing good material, but it was always being rejected by Paul and Gene.  In the press, Eric would tow the company line and explain that everybody else had such good songs, that there was no room for his.  In his heart, he was hurt and felt shunned.

Eric Carr wasn’t just a drummer.  He could sing lead, and he could write.  Kiss’ single “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” was an Eric idea.  He co-wrote “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” with Bryan Adams.  Although his writing credits on Kiss albums were sparse, he had plenty of material in the can.  2000’s Rockology is a series of those demos, some in a near-finished state and some left incomplete.  Much of this material was intended for a cartoon Eric was working on called The Rockheads.  10 years later, Bruce Kulick finished recording some guitar parts and mixed it for release.  He also wrote liner notes explaining the origins and Eric’s intentions for each track.

Eric didn’t have a particularly commercial voice, falling somewhere south of a Gene Simmons growl.  There’s no reason why Gene couldn’t have sung “Eyes of Love” from 1989, which has more balls than a lot of Hot in the Shade.  This demo has Eric on drums and bass, and Bruce Kulick on guitar with a solo overdubbed in 1999.  It doesn’t sound like a finished Kiss song, but it could have been tightened up to become one.  Same with the ballad “Everybody’s Waiting”.  It sounds custom written for Paul Stanley.  But it was 1989, and nothing was going to displace “Forever” from the album, nor should it have.

Many of the demos have no words.  “Heavy Metal Baby” features Eric scatting out a loose melody.  This heavy and chunky riff would have been perfect for the later Revenge album, had Eric lived.  In a strange twist, several of the best songs are instrumentals.  The hidden gem on this CD is the unfinished “Just Can’t Wait”.  It could have given Journey and Bon Jovi a run for their money.   Eric, Bruce and Adam Mitchell wrote it for Crazy Nights, and you can almost hear a killer chorus just waiting to leap out at you.  This potential hit could have been the best song on Crazy Nights, had it been finished.

“Mad Dog” has nothing to do with the Anvil song of the same name.  The chorus is there but the verses are a work in progress.  This hard rocker from 1987 was probably too heavy for what Kiss were doing, though it would have added some much needed groove.  “You Make Me Crazy” is in a similar state of completion and boasts a tap-tastic solo by Bruce.  Apparently this demo was originally called “Van Halen” and you can hear why.  Two versions of a song called “Nightmare” exist, including a really rough one without drums.  This incomplete song could have really been something special.  It has a dramatic feel and different moods, and was probably too sophisticated for Kiss, though any number of 80s rock bands would have been lucky to have such good material.

The last batch of tracks show off the Rockheads material.  Whether Eric’s cartoon idea ever would have happened or not, the advent of bobble-heads and Pops would have made marketing easy.   The songs are virtually complete though the drums are programmed.  “Too Cool For School” is a little cartoony, which is the point, right?  For keyboard ballads, “Tiara” showed promise.  It’s not the equal of “Reason to Live” but it demonstrates a side to Eric unheard before.  Next, Bruce says that they always wanted Bryan Adams to cover “Do You Feel It”.  It would have fit Adams like a nice jean jacket.  Not that Adams really needed the help, it would have been awesome on Waking Up the Neighbors.  The set closes with “Nasty Boys”, nothing exceptional.  It sounds like a song called “Nasty Boys” would sound…or anything by 80s Kiss really.

Before you spend your hard-earned dollars, remember that these songs are definitely unfinished. They are as polished as possible given some of their rough (cassette) origins. Eric’s talent still shines, but you have to be a fan.  Especially a fan of 80s Kiss.  They will find it to be a crucial companion piece to their collections.

Long live the Fox!

Today’s rating:

3/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2014/04/24