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.