directed by KISS
In inspired efforts to extend (or revive) their careers, the Moody Blues and Kansas took to the stage backed by orchestras, and their gambles paid off. But the concept of KISS — who at their prime were one of the heaviest, balls-to-the-walls band around — putting on a one-off show in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra? After viewing the two-disc DVD of the event, KISS Symphony, anyone who was or still is a fan of the group would be conflicted. But one thing for is for sure: KISS is no Kansas.
Unfortunately, much of the first disc is mired in documentary footage starring Gene and Paul: how they got the idea for the gig, how the band managed to rehearse the lengthy show with the orchestra in very short amount of time, the make-up process for the orchestra (yes, all in Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter faces!), blah, blah, blah. Then, inexplicably, “Act Three” begins, with KISS and the orchestra in full swing — “Love Gun,” “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Shout It Out Loud”… a massive grab-bag of hits.
Disc two begins with “Act One” — KISS solo — and they manage to taint an otherwise brilliant short set (“Deuce,” “Strutter, “Calling Dr. Love,” etc.) with the unfortunate “Lick It Up” and “Psycho Circus” before joining the Symphony for “Act Two” and another handful of songs.
It’s not that the heady mix of strings and axes rings a sour note; actually, the performances are not bad, and the challenging task of mixing the affair was accomplished nicely. But, for a few exceptions — including Gene’s majestic opus, “God of Thunder,” and Criss’ “Beth” — the orchestra really doesn’t add any discernable or appreciable elements to the show. Yeah, it’s kind of cool to see and hear KISS crank out classics like “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” with a sea of instruments furiously churning behind them; however, like the famous “blood-inked” KISS comic, it comes across as an ego-driven novelty, with an inherent insult to diehard KISS fans: while Peter Criss has returned to the fold after a brief absence, Ace is not part of the performance.
Oh, there’s someone onstage in the “Space Ace” costume and makeup — and to the casual, drunken Aussie fan in the audience who’s naturally more enthralled with the bare breasts being flashed beside him than the concert itself, it must be Ace Frehley — but it’s not. Former Black ‘N’ Blue guitarist (and longtime KISS crony) Tommy Thayer makes another appearance (he first impersonated Ace in the American Bandstand anniversary debacle), and does a decent job, musically, of imitating a legendary style that has influenced thousands of guitarists. Not surprisingly, Paul and Gene own the rights to KISS’ collective images and costumes, so they can do whatever the hell they want — during Criss’ recent hiatus, Eric Singer appeared in the “Catman” makeup. But why the charade? Who do Stanley and Simmons think they’re fooling? Why can’t they think up some new superhero personas for their replacements?
Where is the real Ace? Mr. Frehley, whose perceived disdain for Gene and Paul’s ego-mania and obvious penchant for erratic behavior has hardly earned him a label of “team player,” has once again embarked on a solo career. Those in the know surmise that Simmons’ disparaging remarks about the Spaceman in his autobiography were the final straw.
Faithfully supporting a band over the course of a decades-long career is no mean feat, and KISS has pushed the envelope of tolerance as much as any group. They gave us some of the best rock of the ’70s, including the best rock anthem ever; they reduced themselves to the level of such followers as Ratt and Motley Crue in the ’80s, sans Peter and Ace; and the four original members (along with their fans) had a fantastic comeback in the late ’90s. For this fan, however, the Thayer-as-Frehley-marred KISS Symphony is the final straw. I’ve bought the cards, the dolls, the comics and a lot of albums, but like an exasperated friend of an alcoholic who’s blown one too many chances, I’m pulling the plug on the relationship. It’s better to burn out than fade away; unfortunately, KISS didn’t take that lesson to heart 20 years ago.