Judge Dennis Prince still wants to party ever-y day.
"You wanted the best…"
Unfortunately, you didn't get the absolute best unless you consider this latest offering from the KISS vault as the best way to maximize profits through paving a path to double dipping, triple dipping, and only Gene knows how much more.
It has never been easy to be a KISS fan.
Back in 1975, I emerged from a pop-radio pre-pubescence to unwillingly confront the inescapable hard rock and acid rock demands of my peer group. While I would just as well tap my foot to the sounds of Elton John, Paul Simon, and Wings while happily poring over a growing collection of monster movie magazines, I realized this wouldn't stand in the locker-lined hallways of teen uncertainty. I offered up Side 2 of the Kinks' Schoolboys in Disgrace but to no avail. Endless power chords, blistering guitar solos, thunderous backbeats, and rebellious lyrics were needed in my musical alignment yet of a sort that could somehow bridge my undying fascination with the horror film genre. If only there were an ongoing act that could take the best elements of Phantom of the Paradise yet without the talented-but-despised Paul Williams.
The answer: KISS!
Hey, these guys were loud, had a bank of amps that reached to the on-stage lighting rigs, had an explosive pyrotechnics show that punctuated their appeals for cold gin and hot women, and they certainly looked like creatures of the night. And, as a final signature of apparent approval, I couldn't help but trip over stacks of the KISS Alive! album whenever I ventured into the local Tower Records store. Although the music was harsher than I was used to and the vocals were rather monstrous in their own right, I nonetheless jumped in with both feet. At last, I had made it. I had found my way into the circle and merely awaited my peers' word of affirmation.
"Hey man—KISS sucks!!"
Although I carefully reviewed my hard rock checklist of minimum requirements and reaffirmed that KISS had seemingly satisfied those, I quickly learned they had been castigated as the bastard offspring of the "accepted" rock acts (with Led Zeppelin held up on high, every 13-year-old around me struggling to master the intro to "Stairway to Heaven"). I had backed the wrong horse and now could only backpedal to save face. Then again, I determined it was time I make a stand, even if it meant I would be subject to the slings and arrows of endless teenage taunting.
"Ooh-ooh-ooh, got ta' choose…"
I chose KISS and found myself faced with one of the toughest uphill battles a 13-year-old could endure. But rather than become a closeted KISS fan, I let it be known—in spades—that this was the rock act I subscribed to. I joined the KISS Army ('natch), sported a shimmering KISS belt buckle, and donned a different KISS t-shirt for each day of the week (no kidding!). Some of my peers were amused, some were apathetic, some were angry. I fended off the Zep-heads, made peace with the Frampton fans, and generally avoided conflict. Along the way, I quickly got caught up on the KISS catalog of records, praising Rock and Roll Over as an incredible platter of wax, and plastered my bedroom walls with every KISS poster I could get my hands on. This fascination continued for several years, even when new material was difficult to get out of the band (let's see, another live album, KISS Alive II, followed by a greatest hits release?!). Then came the solo albums, an interesting way to sell me four albums rather than just one. Well, all right, I guess. The knife in the back, however, came within the grooves of Dynasty in an abomination called "I Was Made for Lovin' You." Damn—that's disco! The band had really gone and done it: it showed its true colors (shades of green) in the most heinous of all sell-outs.
"I'm done," I said, and I was.
I had zero interest in the band from that point on, even when a different drummer (Eric Carr) and new guitarist (Vinnie Vincent) came along. The makeup, the band's iconic shroud of mystery, was then sold off for a gimmick, and I barely noticed. Subconsciously inspired, I also sold off a large portion of my KISS paraphernalia—posters, pictures, buttons, but not the records; never those, for some reason. I graduated from KISS and found the improved works of the Scorpions, Def Leppard, UFO, and Rush, and all was fine. My KISS records were well preserved deep in my record stack though I never gave thought to give them a spin since, that is until 1996.
When the big buzz across the media was that the original band was back together and putting on the old show (the Unplugged gig passed by me unnoticed), I lit up. As if something had been patiently sitting idle within me, I exploded with giddiness at this news, dug out the old albums, and readied myself to become reunited with those four incredible performers. The show was magnificent, everything I remembered from being a kid, this time with many beers added to enhance the impact. When the re-formed (and reformed?) band then announced a new studio album, Psycho Circus, I found it to be an excellent production, far beyond their previous works and tinged with a pervasive thread of "the things we said and did back then" sort of regret. Along came the next tour and the world was right again. Troubles seem to bubble up again, or so I read, and perhaps it was the case that oil and water still couldn't mix (read: Peter and Ace vs. Gene and Paul). The ticket-office take was great, though, and the band decided to travel the career path forged by the Who—a farewell tour. I was there, had a blast, and waved goodbye. Thanks for a second great ride, guys.
That was nearly eight years ago as I write this and I've kept an eye on the band only to the point that I've watched, dismayed, as their marketing machine runs into overdrive. It all looks so silly and frivolous now and I haven't a bit of interest in any of it…until you wave a bit of nostalgia my way. That, patient reader, is how I arrived at this new DVD of KISS: KISSOLOGY, Vol. 3 (1992-2000) and how I greeted it: nostalgically.
The third of its kind, this latest boxed set focuses on a period of the KISS saga, this being the years of 1992—2000. While I mentioned I'm not a follower of the non-makeup years, this date range includes the point where I re-engaged in the KISS experience, a latter day indulgence where I dropped loads of cash into the KISS coffers but had a blast doing so. This set, then, would faithfully capture that "second coming" that which both the band and I embarked upon. Well, as I soon found out, this wasn't such a faithful return to this recent past of which I speak and, while there's much good going on here, there seems to be a host of the same old tricks aimed directly at my billfold.
Like the previous volume, this is another four-disc set released a mere four months after its predecessor. Disc One starts this third leg (?!) of the KISSOLOGY journey with a look at the end of the non-makeup years with the 11/27/92 show at Detroit's Palace of Auburn Hills arena, this being the tour in support of the Revenge album. With the tragic passing of former drummer Eric Carr in 1991, in comes Eric Singer, highly accomplished with a resume that includes stints with Black Sabbath, Badlands, Alice Cooper and others. Fair-haired, Singer's inclusion in the "family" is heralded as a new era for KISS, a band that relies on its music, not hair color, to define itself. Lead guitarist Bruce Kulick is still around since joining back in 1985 at the time of the Asylum album's release, officially replacing predecessor Mark St. John. Of course, puppet masters Gene and Paul still pull the strings of the veritable KISSCorp. This particular concert, recorded for the KISS Alive III album, is incomplete as delivered on this disc, research showing the setlist also included performances of "Strutter," "Hotter Than Hell," "Firehouse," "Shout It Out Loud," "I Want You," and "Forever," all excised from this presentation. The 16-song offering, then, runs a ridiculously trim 1 hour, twenty minutes. Adding further damage, the mix of the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is inexplicably sub-par, the vocals easily about 10db buried behind the instrumentation. If Paul Stanley's intent was that the music does the talking, he hit the nail on the head with this one. You can try to apply various matrixing of the audio signal but you'll likely never succeed in reaching an acceptable balance that should have been delivered out of the box. As for the image, the 1.33:1 full frame transfer can only look as good as a decent VHS playback even when run through an upscaling player to an HDTV monitor. The transfer lacks proper contrast as well as solid black levels. Colors tend to run outside the lines (a challenge of any concert presentation) but at least macroblocking is not an issue. Overall, details are soft and the delivery here, both audibly and visually, makes you immediately wish for something better.
Next up comes a condensed behind-the-scenes look at the 1995 MTV Unplugged performance, running just 8 minutes here with new voiceover from the show's producer (Alex Coletti?) and minus three minutes worth of band member interviews. What follows is an expanded look at the monumental (for KISS) unplugged performance, captured on 8/9/95. In this version, you'll find additional numbers "Hard Luck Woman," "Heaven's On Fire," "Spit," "C'mon and Love Me," and "God of Thunder" (done in hillbilly send-up) performed. Obviously, these tunes were previously deleted since there's plenty of stagehand activity going on behind and around the band. This runs about 90 minutes, then, providing roughly 15 additional minutes not found in the original DVD release (now out of print). The image, still presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, shows noticeable improvement this time around, details sharper and colors better contained. The audio also benefits from the new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, this one well balanced and nicely expanded beyond the previous Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Be sure to click the KISSOLOGY logo on the main menu screen to uncover an Easter egg.
Moving along, Disc Two starts us into the realm of the Reunion Tour (or, as Forbes Magazine announced in a 1996 cover story, "Four middle-aged guys decide it's time to save for retirement"). For such a momentous occasion, it would be only fitting fans are given a top-notch presentation of the kickoff show, the 6/28/96 show at Detroit's Tiger Stadium. Well, that's you you'd expect but, instead, fans are given fits thanks to an apathetic replay of the footage displayed on the stadium's oversized stage-side monitors. The result is perpetual close-ups of the various band members, intended for those at the back of the stadium to get a better look. Generally, this wouldn't be so troublesome except the footage never captures the numerous pryotechnics, hydraulic lifts, and massive lighted KISS logo (why film that since even the good folks at the back of the house can easily gain that panoramic view?); this means you at home don't get to see any of it. If you were hoping to see "how the big boys do it" within this DVD, tough luck Charlie; you should have bought a ticket. This also means the screen blacks out in between songs and stays dark whenever Stanley is addressing the crowd. Also, you'll miss much of Gene's infamous blood barfing as well as his flight to the top of the lighting rig prior to "God of Thunder." All right, so the visuals lack but how about the audio? More of the same, really, this one barely tolerable given Peter's bass drum is so severely accentuated you're certain to have a headache before setlist opener, "Deuce," is over. Although also remixed to a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, this is just inexcusable. If you can tolerate the entire 94 minutes of this edited show, good for you. Otherwise, someone grab the shepherd's hook and cue the next act, quick.
The next act, then, is a more reasonable presentation of KISS performing for the MTV Music Awards show, situated under the Brooklyn Bridge, bombast and all. Here they play "Rock and Roll All Night" as presented during the original telecast, then moving along to play four additional numbers. The full frame transfer is what you'd expect and deserve although it could benefit from some digital sprucing up. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix here is much better than the Tiger Stadium presentation, likely dangled to make you wish what went before could only be as good (cue the pressing plant to begin churning out "enhanced and expanded" editions).
Up next is the Halloween 1998 Psycho Circus show performed at L.A.'s Dodger Stadium. The full frame image is generally clear and, thankfully, this is a multi-camera shoot that gives you the sort of look at the show that you'd want. The 5.1 audio sounds pretty good this time around and there's not much to complain about…except that this show is split across the end of Disc Two and the start of Disc Three. Brilliant! Before you eject the disc, be sure to pick up the Easter egg found when you select the KISSOLOGY logo on the main screen.
Disc Three, then, completes the Psycho Circus Halloween show. What would have been a good idea would be to provide an angle option to display the 3D material shown on the jumbo screens at the show (this being billed as the "KISS in 3D" tour) with replica cardboard glasses included for actual 3D viewing. Again, cue the replication plant to ready the double-dip release.
From here, we travel over to Wilshire Blvd., Hollywood, for the four song premiere party on 8/9/99 to open the theatrical release of the KISS-created Detroit Rock City (the band still hopeful to somehow erase the 1977 embarrassment, Hanna-Barbera's telefilm, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park). While easily an improvement over the first KISS film, this one was thankfully merely KISS themed and not starring KISS. The band's intention was to host a premiere party like no other, actually setting up their entire stage on Wilshire Blvd. and inviting along a limited number of fans and Hollywood hoo-ha's. The presentation here, full frame, looks pretty good with plenty of camera angles and decent clarity throughout. The 5.1 audio sounds good, too, and it seems by this time the DVD engineering staff are coming out of their stupor.
And so just as this disc set seems have reached proper tuning, we get the Farewell Tour performance (also known as the "Last Kiss"), held at the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey on 6/27/2000. Finally, here's a production that's tight and tuned, likely because this particular show was shot by a pro crew so it could be sold as a Pay-Per-View event on cable and satellite feeds. Presented in full frame format, this one is cleanest of the bunch with a 5.1 mix that also sounds competent. It's an abbreviated showing, though, the original PPV broadcast running a full two hours; this only runs about 77 minutes. Another Easter egg can be found in the usual place.
The fourth and final "official disk" in this set circles all the way back to 1973 and the band's earliest filmed performance at the Coventry club in Queens, New York (pull out your old vinyl of KISS—The Originals and leaf through the booklet). The footage is presented in original out-of-focus black and white stock. Original band manager, Bill Aucoin, had the foresight to set up a stationary camera at the back of the hall to capture the performance that would unknowingly herald the coming of "the hottest band in the land (and, later, the world)—KISS!" While not a sparkling presentation, this one is relevant and important for its historical significance, if, for nothing else, in the story of this particular band. And, after the 43 minutes of performance here, KISS: KISSOLOGY, Vol. 3 (1992-2000) fades to black…or does it?
In true KISS fashion, there are still three more discs to collect up, bonus discs that are available only through select venues. For this set (the same you can purchase at Amazon.com), a bonus fifth disc contains a dress rehearsal of sorts just prior to the start of the Reunion Tour. On 6/15/96, the reunited KISS performed ten songs at the Irvine Meadows Ampitheater, CA, promoted as the KROQ Weenie Roast. Anxious to get the kinks out of their resurrected makeup and stage spectacle, the band works to loosen up the batwings and feather boas. Amusingly, sh*t happens on only the second number as Paul begins to sing "Love Gun" while Ace's guitar craps out. The footage is pretty good and of the caliber that should have been delivered of the Tiger Stadium show. The sound is also adequate though not as clean as the Last Kiss show. And if you're curious about the other bonus discs (available only if you purchase the complete set three times), the Wal-Mart set includes a better look at the '96 Reunion Tour, this one still captured from big screen video feeds at the Madison Square Garden, NY show, but allegedly of better overall quality. If you prefer more of the pre-reunion performances, wing on over to Best Buy since their set offers the '94 Sao Paulo, Brazil gig that features the Hot in the Shade stage set. If ya want 'em, ya gotta get shopping. Geez, talk about being rocked and rolled over.
As for extras on the core four disc in this set, besides the Easter eggs, you'll have the option of selecting KISS commentary in which mostly Gene and Paul (though sometimes Bruce Kulick and current lead guitarist, Tommy Thayer, pitch in) provide observation and anecdotal information about the setting of the particular performance on tap. Their commentary doesn't run the entire length of the shows; generally just for a few minutes. There's nothing Earth shattering in their comments beyond the usual "we were great" and "Peter and Ace really pissed us off" blather (very unbecoming attitudes, by the way, and largely unappreciated by the longtime fans). The booklet included in the set includes some pictures and written excerpts of the spoken commentary.
So ends KISS: KISSOLOGY, Vol. 3 (1992-2000) and, thus, completes the trilogy of vault releases…right? C'mon now, certainly more is already plotted for release, especially since much of the material on the bonus discs from this and the previous two releases hint that there is so much more to be marketed. This and the fact that many of the presentations here are not of "KISS quality," the whole thing just reeks of "revenue stream." I don't begrudge the band for cashing on all of their hard work but it seems they're losing their target audience in droves. And it wasn't the final kiss, was it, given the band continues to perform, with Eric Singer back behind the drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar, each sporting the recognizable Catman and Space Ace makeup. True fans found this to be blasphemous and, coupled with the again-ostracized Ace and Peter being verbally bashed by Gene and Paul, it has worn us all threadbare.
It has never been easy to be a KISS fan.
But this isn't a poison pen being wielded at the remnants of this unforgettable band. During the reunion and farewell tours, many thirty and forty-something fans reconnected with their youth and gladly indulged in the return of KISS. Their erstwhile heroes were back and the nostalgic flood of pleasure and pain was like discovering a bit of time in a bottle. Now, a decade later, those fans are turning attention to their own retirement plans and, as expected, throwing additional money at KISS just doesn't fit into the diversity plan.
"People, never forget us…we will never forget you people," says Paul Stanley at the close of the Last Kiss show. Yep, just as long those wallets keeping opening up. Mine's pretty much closed. No matter, though, because somewhere inside me, a once-mesmerized adolescent never forgets the impact and importance of the original KISS. These memories and my surviving collection of KISS memorabilia is all I really need at this point.
Guilty or not guilty, then? At best, we can only deem this a mistrial that offers as much good intent as it harbors alleged malfeasance. There's a special piece of KISS in each of the longtime fans and nothing can taint that. They exist in a particular place in time and this disc set taps into some of it. Then again, it also shows its fangs and its readiness to bite deep into our financial flesh. Bite me once—shame on you; bite me twice—shame on me. Guilt doesn't really apply, does it?
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