I’ve often felt that when it comes to Rock music, “live” albums
are usually the best way to experience many bands, due to
the power and energy exhibited therein. Many bands are
best in a “live” setting, often rendering their studio albums
superfluous. No other band in my experience validates this
statement more than KISS. Until I recently listened to
“KISS Alive! 1975-2000,” a four-CD set, released on the Mercury
label, I could honestly say that I did not like this band, even
though by the late 1970’s, they were huge. I was a teenager
during that time and part of their target market, but I never
got into them. I’d always felt, and still do, that there were
so many other bands that could “out-crank, out-riff and out-write”
them. In recent years, I’ve heard their first six studio albums, and
I remember hearing “Lick It Up,” when it was released in 1983.
I found the studio versions of these songs ranging from
embarrassingly bad to somewhat tolerable, especially in light of
the other good Hard Rock/Heavy Metal bands out there. As such,
I’d always figured that the whole point of KISS was the
theatrical nature of the band, with the makeup, etc.
I’m amazed that I’d never heard “KISS Alive!” or “KISS Alive II,”
which are both considered classics. This four-CD set not
only includes these albums, but also the less popular
“KISS Alive III” and “KISS Alive: The Millennium Concert,” that
was recorded on New Year’s Eve, 1999. With the exception of
one song, the later album was the only disc of previously
unreleased material, which made this set an expensive
purchase for KISS fans who already own “KISS Alive, Volumes I-III.”
Then again, everyone knows how effective Gene Simmons and
Paul Stanley are at marketing and merchandising. George Lucas
(of Star Wars fame) has nothing on these guys!
But I digress. I must admit that not only did I find these “live”
albums MUCH more effective than their studio counterparts,
I actually really liked them. Who knew? All of the seemingly
infantile songs from KISS albums, such as “Hotter Than Hell,”
“Dressed to Kill,” “Destroyer,” and “Love Gun” were obviously
great templates for the “live” treatment, because the guys
really do rock. Admittedly, KISS’ reputation was always built
upon their “live” act, yet they kept cranking out studio albums,
one after the other.
I’m also aware that it’s an open secret that these albums may
be studio “concoctions,” as are many “live” Rock albums, but the
results speak for themselves. A lot of the credit should go to the
legendary sound engineer/producer, Eddie Kramer, who was
responsible for the first three “KISS Alive!” albums. The sound was
great and artificial or not, I got a “live” performance experience.
Need I add that these were audio discs, without the band’s
well-known, spectacular visuals?
Sets like these are tailor-made for someone like me, who’d
never heard any KISS “live” recordings, especially now that the
remastered original albums are available. This set also provided
an overview of KISS during a 25-year period. In the case of
“KISS Alive III” from 1992, drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist
Bruce Kulick replaced Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, respectively.
In many ways, I preferred Kulick’s playing to Frehley’s. As KISS
fans know, “KISS Alive II” is only 75 percent “live,” as the fourth
side of this 1977 original release featured songs recorded
in the studio.
After hearing these sets, I now “get” KISS, perhaps in spite
of myself. I’m really pleasantly surprised. This fold out, four-CD set
is accompanied by a nice booklet with color photos, an essay
by Ken Sharpe, and comments from the band members and
their associates. Any fan of Hard Rock, including those like me
who never took this band seriously, should check out their
“live” stuff, and “KISS Alive! 1975-2000” is the perfect
place to start.