– 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.