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.