official bootleg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Virginia Beach 2004 (2022)

 – Off the Soundboard – Live in Virginia Beach (July 25, 2004 – 2022 Universal)

Some might question the logic of releasing a 2004 live release with the Stanley/Singer/Simmons/Thayer lineup in the official Kiss bootleg series.  Necessary?  We already have live material from this lineup, such as Kiss Rocks Vegas.  Fans could be forgiven for skipping this, the second instalment of the Off the Soundboard series of releases.  (It’s a little late now, but it would have been cool if Kiss numbered these releases!)

Opening with a sluggish sounding “Love Gun”, Paul Stanley is in good voice.  The cracks were beginning to show but there is no comparison to the Paul of today.  If you want vintage Paul, this is not the album for you.  If you want Paul before things went to hell, this is just fine.  Gene goes second with “Deuce”, also sounding a big sluggish.  Eric Singer is busy on drums, which will be either to your taste, or not.

It’s Tommy Thayer who fails to thrill in the night.  Something about his solo work here just falls short of lighting the spark.  It’s one of those things that’s not quite right, on the quantum level.  Your brain knows the solos, knows how they usually sound, and that’s with fire and a touch of reckless abandon.  Say what you will about Tommy Thayer, but nobody uses the word “reckless” to describe his playing.  Ace Frehley, on the other hand, had a song called “Reckless”.  You see where we’re going here.  It’s that touch of professionalism that these solos don’t need.  Tommy is welcome on backing vocals, where he helps thicken things up with Eric, such as on “Lick It Up”.

There are a few tracks here that are played live less often, which is one reason to pick up the disc.  “Makin’ Love”, “Tears Are Falling”, “Got to Choose”, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” and “Unholy” are fun when you get ’em, though “Unholy” always sounds a bit awkward live (Thayer butchers the solo).  One of the best of these tunes is “Got to Choose” which benefits from the backing vocals of the newer Kiss guys.  Creepy as it may be, “Christine Sixteen” is always fun, but Gene doesn’t need to keep augmenting the song with things like “I like it!”  And check out the sly Mott the Hoople melody in “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”!

We could all probably do without “I Love It Loud” at this point.  “War Machine” can be tiring.  As much as we love Eric Singer, he does overplay some songs.  “Shout it Out Loud” has a few fills that just don’t need to be there.  Yet somehow, “Psycho Circus” is refreshing and “King of the Night Time World” is never a bad thing.

There are two lengthy “jammers” on this album that make for good listenin’.  “100,000 Years” and “She” both steam on with the familiar Kiss instrumental bits that you know and love.  “Do you feel alriiiiiight?” screams Paul, and damn, he could still really sing.  Vocally, Kiss were really good at this stage.  Gene was kickin’ ass, Eric and Tommy were the solid backing, and Paul was still 90% there.

This lineup hadn’t been together long, and the members sound more comfortable in their roles today.  You won’t be reaching for Virginia Beach 2004 often when you reach for a live Kiss album.  It’s a good setlist for the most part though, and it’s good to have for that reason.  The sonics are also pretty decent, though obviously short of live album standards.  It’s an official bootleg, not Alive XIII.  You can hear every flaw and mistake, and that’s a good thing.  When you listen understanding that this is indeed 100% live, with Paul Stanley jumping around and his guitar banging erratically, then you realize, shit, Kiss are a pretty damn good live band!  A lot of the set sounds like the billionth time they’ve played the songs…but they don’t sound bored doing it.  There’s not a lot of that looseness, but plenty of excitement.

3.5/5 stars

 

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

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

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

Confusing?  Just know three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Bombay Calling – Bombay Live ’95

BOMBAYDEEP PURPLE – Bombay Calling – Bombay Live ’95 (2003 iTunes)

There are very rare circumstances under which I will pay for a download from iTunes.  I’ve made my case for physical product here over the years many, many times.  When it’s a band that I obsessively collect, like Deep Purple, I make an exception.  Bombay Calling is an interesting live release.  It says “Official Bootleg” right there on the cover art, but I’m not really sure what constitutes an official bootleg anymore.  I look at this as the soundtrack to a DVD that Deep Purple released in 2000, also called Bombay Calling.  That’s essentially what this is — the audio to Bombay Calling, the DVD.  In contains the entire show.

This concert was recorded on April 18 1995, which eagle-eyed fans will realize is well before the Purpendicular album.  Bombay Calling was recorded not long after “the banjo player took a hike” and Purple carried on without Ritchie Blackmore.  Joe Satriani stepped in for a short while, but it was Dixie Dregs guitar maestro Steve Morse that took the Man in Black’s place permanently.  This concert was recorded at the very start of Morse’s tenure, and features a few songs they would drop from the set a year or two later.  It also features a brand new tune they were working on called “Perpendicular Waltz”, later changed to “The Purpendicular Waltz” on the album.

There is one earlier concert available from this period, which is Purple Sunshine in Ft. Lauderdale Florida, exactly two weeks prior.  That one is truly is an official bootleg, taken from audience sources and released on the 12 CD box set Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000.  The setlists are slightly different.  When they hit India for this concert, a new song called “Ken the Mechanic” (retitled “Ted the Mechanic”) was dropped, as was “Anyone’s Daughter”.  They were replaced by long time favourites “Maybe I’m a Leo” and “Space Truckin'” from Machine Head.

Special treats for the ears on Bombay Calling include Steve Morse’s incendiary soloing on “Anya” (which would be dropped from the set in 1996).  His feature solo leading into “Lazy” is also excellent, and of course very different from what Ritchie used to do.  Jon Lord’s keyboard solo is among the best I’ve heard, and even features a segue into “Soldier of Fortune” from Stormbringer.  The solo segments that Deep Purple did often allowed them to play snippets from songs from the David Coverdale period of the band, and this one was unexpected and brilliant.

I love a good, raw live performance captured on tape, and Deep Purple don’t muck around.  This one is kind of special, coming from that transitional period when Steve Morse was just getting his feet wet.  Considering how different he is from Ritchie Blackmore, this smooth switcheroo is quite remarkable.  The band had changed, but into something just as good.  How many other groups can make that claim?

3.5/5 stars

Since you can’t take a picture of a non-physical product, here are pictures of the 2 CD set that I burned from the iTunes download!