Thursday, August 30, 2007

KISSOLOGY: Vol. 2, 1978-1991

Written by T
ío Esqueleto

is the latest installment of KISS's vast video history. From promo spots and newsreels, to television appearances and live shows, KISS documented nearly everything they ever did. Dedicated fans have bought, sold, and traded this material in various bootlegged formats at conventions and online for years now. Here, finally, are the official releases, straight from the vault, all cleaned up and, for the most part, exactly as you remember them.

I must say I was not prepared to enjoy this offering nearly as much as I did. I am a die-hard KISS fan. More so, I am a dedicated Ace Frehley and Peter Criss fan. Those other two guys? Yeah, I like them, but only when book-ended by Peter and Ace. It's all about the original lineup for me. If it doesn't have them, it simply does not do it for me. So, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself really digging the material at hand. More on that in a second, but first a brief history of KISS '78 - '91.

1978 was a strange year for KISS. They were at the pinnacle of their fame. They had just come off of their biggest tour to date with Love Gun and were in the midst of filming their first (and only) movie. It also marked the release of their four solo albums, in which each member assembled his own band in an effort to better demonstrate their individual tastes and talents. The idea was that each member would do his own thing, dedicating the albums to each other; all in an effort to still do everything under the KISS umbrella. This was to ultimately keep the band together, rather than taking some time off, or outright splitting them up. It worked...for about a year. Inevitably, it signaled the beginning of the end for the original four.

1979 saw the release of Dynasty and ushered in their short-lived disco era. This both gained and lost some fair-weather fans, as well as utterly confusing the die-hard fans who were now affectionately and officially known as The KISS Army. By this time Peter and Ace had fallen so far into drugs and alcoholism, that it was really taking its toll on the band. Couple that with Peter's head strong desire to make it on his own, and you've got the end of the original four. Was Peter fired? Did he quit on his own accord, citing personal and creative differences? The answer differs depending on whom you ask. Either way, now it was Gene, Paul, and Ace at the start of a new decade with one ridiculously large drum riser to fill.

The 1980s saw a new KISS emerge with drummer Eric Carr taking on his role as "The Fox". We also saw the release of The Elder, the band's overly ambitious and ill-received concept album. Just what the concept was I'm still not sure. By the end of 1982, Ace had finally had enough. Not liking where the band was headed, feeling the loss of his good friend Peter, and not without a few problems of his own, Ace finally called it quits to embark on a fairly successful solo career. With the addition of Vinnie Vincent in 1982, KISS went on tour with the fan favorite, Creatures of The Night and, unknowingly, gave it one last go around with the make-up.

In 1983, KISS ditched the make-up and costumes with Lick It Up, and instead opted for the no less garish, torn fluorescents and big hair that were synonymous with the growing glam metal movement of the time. Ace proved difficult to replace as Vincent was fired at the end of the Lick tour in March 1984 and Mark St. John, who played on Animalize, was let go at the beginning of that supporting tour due to health reasons. They would finally land on Bruce Kulick, who would continue to work with the band well into the '90s, and up to the eventual reuniting of the original four.

Which brings us to KISSOLOGY: Vol. 2. I was quite upset to find that when the first KISSOLOGY came out, it only went to 1977. I thought why would you make us original four fans buy a whole other volume, just to get those last two glorious years of footage? Sounded like a very Gene & Paul thing to do, in an attempt to make themselves even richer. I'm not completely convinced that it wasn't; however, to their credit, they did the right thing. After all, those two years really weren't so glorious. You've got drugs, alcohol, and ego tearing the band apart, as well as an era that, aside from myself, nobody really seems to like. Pretty smart to leave the glory years to the first volume, and make the second volume the transition and rebirth edition. That is basically what you've got here.

Highlights include, "The Land Of Hype And Glory" (excerpt). This originally aired on NBC news on January 10th, 1978. Basically, it's a gorgeous vintage newsreel featuring the KISS phenomenon at its peak, narrated by a rather skeptical Edwin Newman. His disdain is palpable as he struggles to interview what was then America's biggest rock band. I absolutely love it! This is the stuff we've been patiently waiting for, even if we had no idea it ever existed.

Next, it's KISS In Attack of the Phantoms, from 1979. Here is, hands down, the single greatest contribution to this volume. As I mentioned earlier, in 1978 KISS was asked if they'd like to make Star Wars meets A Hard Day's Night. Being the huge Beatles fans that they were, and considering where they were headed, it seemed the logical thing to do. What resulted was KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. It was made by Hanna-Barbera for NBC television and you can tell. It is legendary to both KISS fans and lovers of all things schlocky. If you've never seen it, think an old episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, except that it stars KISS, with real magical powers, and uses Magic Mountain as its backdrop rather than Universal Studios. That's the best way I can think to describe the glorious cheese on display here.

Up until now, only poor quality, bootleg copies were available on DVD or your old worn-out VHS copy. If you're a KISS Army member, you have one. Now, with this box set, you get the international theatrical cut dubbed for larger distribution as KISS In Attack of the Phantoms. First and foremost it is widescreen, 2.35:1, so now, instead of looking like an episode of Battlestar Galactica, it looks more like Battlestar Galactica: The Movie. Hallelujah!! I cannot tell you what a huge difference this makes. It also contains an alternate intro (KISS still sings "Rock And Roll All Night" while towering over the rides at Magic Mountain, don't worry), as well as multiple deleted scenes, and a variety of different edits. Most noticeably, all of the music has been swapped out for the theatrical version. Gone are the funky, canned, sounds of the Hanna-Barbera band. Instead, in their place, you get various excerpts from the solo albums. I'm still not sure how I feel about this as some of it just doesn't work, so hold on to those old VHS tapes. There was a charm to the old soundtrack, and it really added to the overall vibe.

The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder from 1979. Another legendary bit of Kisstory, this is the one KISS fans know as the footage where Gene is noticeably really pissed at Ace for being completely wasted on national television. Up until now I had only seen snippets, and I just have to say...ho-lee-shit! You find that each member is pretty sick of the next. Nobody can get a straight answer out without the other one stealing his thunder. Sure Ace is rocked, really really rocked, but he is far from the most embarrassing one on screen. In the liner notes, Paul goes on to say "The truth is, we probably could have used more of Ace's personality and point of view than ours, at that point". He pretty much nailed it. It's a train wreck in the best possible way.

Next up is a rare performance on ABC televisions Fridays from 1982. First off, it is always nice to see footage from this often-forgotten sketch show. Here, we have what is pretty much the only live footage of anything having to do with The Elder. You get three actual live performances (some better than others) of "The Oath," "A World Without Heroes," and "I." Say what you will, but this is some pretty interesting stuff to say the least. I don't hate The Elder. I still just don't get it. This helps....kind of.

There is also a bevy of live performances. However, there is one glaring omission. "KISS, Live in Largo Maryland in 1979." This was always one of my favorite bootlegs if not my favorite. For a fan of the Dynasty era, this was all you had. I'm told that depending on where you purchase the set, you could get it as the bonus disc. For instance, my copy's bonus disc was "KISS Live at Budokan in 1988", part of the Crazy Nights Tour. Being the only known taping of a Dynasty-era show, I cannot fathom why it wasn't included as one of the main features on disc one.

All in all, for fans of this transitional era, this is really quite a collection of live shows. The setlists are spot-on for their respective eras, and it's kind of cool to hear the different versions of the classics as played by Carr and Vincent. Now, there's something I never would have thought would ever come out of my mouth, but it's true. Nice to have it there if you ever need it.

KISS made it a point to document nearly everything they ever did, and here is just the second installment. As a staunch advocate of the original four, I had my mind made up that I would only ever watch the first disc. I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised to find just how much I enjoyed this second installment of the KISSOLOGY series, all three discs. Here's hoping for another installment. Something tells me, with the next one, I just may get to see Peter and Ace again.