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Music DVD Review: KISS – Kissology Vol. 1 – 1974-1977

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I've seen some of these performances before via the worn out VHS copies of a friend's bootleg collection, or from watching the TV appearances as a little kid. I remember nearly exploding with anticipation waiting for KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park to first air in 1978. I wonder if that will show up on Vol. 2? I am old enough to remember the release of KISS' self-titled debut album in 1974, and those of you from my generation will probably remember just how rare it was to see an actual live performance by a real rock band on TV, when compared to the abundance you get today.

Back in 1974, you didn't have cable TV or DVDs to rent. You were hostage to the six or seven channels that your 15 inch, mono, black & white television set would provide. If you were lucky you might catch the occasional ABC In Concert special, or your parents would let you stay up late to see your favorite band lip-sync on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Remember, there were no TiVo's or DVRs back then – hell, VCRs were still something you might only find on a Star Trek episode. That would explain how as a nine-year old, budding, KISS fanatic, I completely missed out on most of those early TV appearances that show up on these DVDs. To me, they are worth the price of the package alone.

The official KISS videology has been rather disappointing up until now, especially when it comes to the classic 1970s material by the original lineup. That injustice has finally been taken care of with the release of Kissology Vol. 1, a sprawling three-disk (including the bonus DVD) set containing multiple full-length concerts, along with several TV appearances and documentaries. KISS is finally opening up the vaults.

Unfortunately, the production quality of the material only varies between pretty horrible and pretty decent. Don't be expecting some Led Zeppelin DVD-quality remastering of these 30-year old recordings. Jimmy Page may have sold his soul to get that ancient Zeppelin footage to look and sound like it was recorded yesterday, but Gene and the boys must have ran out of favors. There is really no significant improvements from the VHS recordings of this material, other than some mediocre Dolby 5.1 surround audio mixes, which generally sound thin and compressed.

Disk one starts off with a February 1974 performance of the previously unreleased "Acrobat", which only a KISS completeist could love, due to the very poor quality source material, and the fact that the first half of the song is missing. The recording is a mix of silent film footage and a radio broadcast, and it is possibly the oldest KISS concert footage available. The following month, KISS showed up on ABC's In Concert TV show, and provided an amazing early glimpse into the band's soul. Watch Ace blow Gene a playful kiss, as they share a microphone near the end of "Nothing to Lose", and Gene reciprocate with a sinister flick of his serpentine tongue.

I remember watching The Mike Douglas Show with my parents every afternoon after school, but they must have shielded me from this evil KISS appearance in 1974. Oh how our parents hated KISS. I still remember my best friend's mother making him destroy his Love Gun album — not give it away — Destroy It! About half of the interview with Gene Simmons was missing as well as the "KISSing" contest, but the minute or so you do get is pretty fascinating. It was hilarious to watch Gene ogle 1960s comedy icon Totie Fields as she first stares in bewilderment and then proceeds to rip him with her droll one-liners, "he's just a nice Jewish boy… you can't hide the hook." Shows like Mike's always relied on lip-synched performances back then, which were usually pretty lame, but watching KISS unleash "Firehouse" on the world in 1974 was still quite a treat.

KISS showed up on a few other music-based TV shows of the era including The Midnight Special in 1975, and Don Kirsher's Rock Concert in 1977. The Midnight Special appearance came on the heals of their Dressed To Kill album, when they were still a struggling band looking to break out. According to Gene, they were still each only making about $75 per week at that point. The show features a killer early performance of "She", from the new album, as well as their now legendary anthem "Black Diamond", which appears a total of seven times on my three-disk set. Over the course of two short years, KISS went on to release three hugely successful albums, Alive!, Destroyer, and Rock & Roll Over, which finally launched them to superstardome. The Rock Concert appearance promoted the new Rock & Roll Over release, and they lip-synched their way through three of that album's best songs, "Hard Luck Woman", "Love Em & Leave Em", and "I Want You".

One of the KISS TV appearances that I do fondly remember as a kid, was when they showed up on the Paul Lynde Halloween Special in October of 1976. KISS was the perfect Halloween guests along with Margaret Hamilton, who played the wicked witch of the west in The Wizard of Oz and was also in full costume. Lynde was the forever center square on the classic game show, Hollywood Squares, and his quick wit was the perfect antidote to the band's purposely menacing demeanor, which made for a hilarious episode. Although KISS lip-synched three songs during the actual broadcast, only one, an abbreviated "King Of The Night Time World", is presented here.

The So It Goes British TV documentary is one of the rarest inclusions in this set, and it provided an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the band during their first British tour in 1976. The documentary highlight of this package, however, has to go to the fascinating footage of KISS' trip to Cadillac, Michigan on October 9th, 1975, to take part in the town high school's homecoming celebration. They mingled with the townspeople all day before eventually performing a climactic concert in the high school gymnasium. The one or two thousand who where actually there, has supposedly grown into about one or two hundred thousand who claim they were.

The next morning, a breakfast was held in the band's honor, where the town officials presented KISS with a key to the city – this was after they graciously allowed the band to apply KISS makeup to each and every one of them. Hearing the football coach talk about how they played KISS in the locker room to get the team pumped up before each game, brought back fond memories of myself cranking Alive! on my stereo before each and every one of my high school hockey games to get myself fired up. Believe me, it worked. In true KISS fashion, a giant helicopter unsuspectingly swooped down onto the football field to pick up the band as they were saying their goodbyes to the town. The KISS phenomenon had officially begun.

Four complete concert performances are included in this package. The January 1975 Winterland, San Francisco concert is the earliest and is my absolute favorite of the bunch. Shot in black-and-white, this ancient footage captures a hungry young band who were already exuding the confident swagger of a group of guys who knew they were about to conquer the world. The performance was remarkably tight and energized, and these early classics never sounded better. At first I was turned off by the black-and-white aspect of the film, but it really highlights just how extraordinary the band's performances where before the days of multi-million dollar stage shows. Surprisingly, the audio for this show was the best sounding of all the concerts in this package.

By the 1976 Cobo Hall concert, KISS was already on the way to becoming the biggest rock band on the planet thanks to the success of Alive!, their first album to break the top ten, and the first of many to achieve multi-platinum status. The band was still hungry and had something to prove on this tour, so their performance was on fire. Literally. After another dazzling fire breathing display to close out "Firehouse", Gene's hairspray-doused mane catches fire, and you get to see a few seconds of him and his roadie scramble to smother it out. Damn if he didn't even skip a beat though, as the next song kicked right off without a hitch. Unfortunately the audio quality for this show sounded horrible, and the video was marred with significant problems.

KISS finished up their Rock And Roll Over tour with three nights at Toyko's Budokan Hall, in April of 1977. This night they played two shows, one at 3 PM and another at 7 PM. The first show was recorded for Japanese TV, and is what you see here. The Japanese gave the band a Beatles-like welcome when they arrived at the airport, and their frantic KISS worship is highly evident at this show. Ah, the universal language of rock & roll. The performance was incredible, and this provided the best sounding audio out of the three color shows. As with the Cobo Hall concert, the video was very dark and the colors were washed out.

Only a few months after returning from Japan and the Rock And Roll Over tour, KISS managed to record and release the new Love Gun album in July of 1977, and immediately hit the road once again. The September 1977, Houston Summit show captures a killer performance from that tour. Although the stage show was very similar to what they were using on the Japanese leg of the Rock And Roll Over tour, the Love Gun tour added flashing lights on the stair cases, as well as two lifts that lower Gene, Paul, and Ace during the show opener, "I Stole Your Love". This saved them from having to walk down those large staircases in their 7 inch heels, while simultaneously playing their guitars. This, I'm sure, saved a few tumbles down those stairs, which Paul had actually succumbed to. The video quality was a slight improvement over the Budokan recording, but the audio quality took a step backwards again, sounding very anemic, and just not well mixed.

The bonus (3rd) DVD included in my Kissology package was a December 20, 1977 concert at the old Capital Centre in Largo, Maryland. I saw some of the best concerts of my life at this former home of the Washington Bullets and Capitals, including Rush's incredible Counterparts tour. This disk is really just a bit of overkill, as it is essentially an abbreviated version of the Houston Summit show, with even poorer production quality.

The only audio mix provided is Dolby stereo and it sounds horrible. The menu screen on this disk is labeled "Love Gun Tour", but by December of 1977 KISS were already in the middle of the Alive II tour. They were essentially the same tour though. Kissology comes with a choice of three bonus disks, depending on where they are purchased: the Capital Centre, Largo, MD 1977, Madison Square Garden, New York 1977, and Cobo Hall, Detroit 1976. None of the DVDs include the complete concert, and the Largo show is the longest at 56 minutes.

Kissology Vol. 1 is an extraordinary DVD package containing enough material to keep you entertained for days. Sure the video quality is generally terrible, and most of the 5.1 surround tracks sound like they are coming from a cheap boombox, but hell, these recordings are 30 years old. I just think they could have been remastered much better than this.

There is an audio commentary track supplied for most of the material, which features Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. There are extremely long periods of silence, and what you do get is not overly insightful. The disks are housed in a quadruple gatefold sleeve that includes a 20-page, color, booklet containing vintage photos and recollections by the band of all of the events contained within. It also includes a reproduction of an early KISS backstage pass.

This is what I have been asking for for the last twenty years, and KISS has finally come through. Although last year's Rock The Nation Live was an incredibly nostalgic feast of sights and sounds from their 2004 tour, and with brilliant production quality, it does not compare to the meat and potatoes performances you get on Kissology Vol. 1. This one proves that KISS was indeed once The Hottest Band InThe World!

Setlist

Long Beach Auditorium
Long Beach, CA – 2/17/74
"Acrobat"

ABC's In Concert – 3/29/74
"Nothin' to Lose"
"Firehouse"
"Black Diamond"

The Mike Douglas Show – 4/29/74
Interview
"Firehouse"

Winterland
San Francisco, CA – 1/31/75
"Deuce"
"Strutter"
"Got to Choose"
"Hotter than Hell"
"Firehouse"
"Watchin' You"
"Nothin' to Lose"
"Parasite"
"100,000 Years"
"Black Diamond"
"Cold Gin"
"Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll"

The Midnight Special – 4/1/75
"She"
"Black Diamond"

KISS Alive! Promo Clips – 1975
"C'mon And Love Me"
"Rock And Roll All Nite"

Documentary
Cadillac, Michigan – October 9 & 10, 1975

Cobo Hall
Detroit, MI – 1/26/76
"Deuce"
"Strutter"
"C'mon And Love Me"

"Hotter than Hell"
"Firehouse"
"She"
"Parasite"
"Nothin' To Lose"
"100,000 Years"
"Black Diamond"
"Cold Gin"
"Rock And Roll All Nite"
"Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll"

So It Goes – 8/21/76
Interview
"Black Diamond"

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special – 10/29/76
Interview
"King Of The Night Time World"

Budokan Hall
Tokyo, Japan – 4/2/77
"Detroit Rock City"
"Take Me"
"Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll"
"Ladies Room"
"Firehouse"
"Makin' Love"
"I Want You"
"Cold Gin"
"Do You Love Me"
"Nothin' To Lose"
"God of Thunder"
"Rock And Roll All Nite"
"Shout it Out Loud"
"Beth"
"Black Diamond"

Don Kirshner's Rock Concert – 5/28/77
"Hard Luck Woman"
"Love 'Em And Leave 'Em"
"I Want You"

The Summit
Houston, TX – 9/2/77
"I Stole Your Love"
"Take Me"
"Ladies Room"
"Firehouse"
"Love Gun"
"Hooligan"
"Makin' Love"
"Christine Sixteen"
"Shock Me"
"I Want You"
"Calling Dr. Love"
"Shout It Out Loud"
"God Of Thunder"
"Rock And Roll All Nite"
"Detroit Rock City"
"Beth"
"Black Diamond"

Performance 9/10
Production 6/10

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About Paul Roy

  • http://blog.myspace.com/tinkie101 tink

    Just when I thought I had all the KISS in my collection that I needed, partially due in fact to their constant ‘final’ tours and repackaging, this review made me change my mind. Even if it’s just to see them on that Paul Lynde special!!!

    I like the idea that the production values weren’t tweaked via the technology available today. Makes it seem like what it would have been like to actually see these performances in the time/space that they originally came from.

    I remember the Phantom of the Park vividly. They used the Magic Mountain theme park in Valencia, Ca for filming the live sequences and I was there as part of the audience. It was the first time that I saw them live…but certainly not the last.

    Nice work!!!

  • Vern Halen

    I took them seriously until Destroyer – it sounded like a disco pop album to me – what happened to all that great rock and roll from the first three studio albums plus Alive!? Replaced with screaming babies, glockenspiels, youth anthems, and – gasp! a ballad!! good thing I stumbled onto the MC5, the Dolls, Television etc etc etc to restore my faith in r’n’r.

    I’d be alright, though, with Kiss doing one more butt kicking rock album before calling it a day. Sometimes the old foxes still have a few more tricks to play.

  • http://wp.blogcritics.org Timmy

    When I was young, I was as ate up with Kiss as you still appear to be. I even got a thank you in the Dynasty tour book for all the fan mail I sent them over the years. It wasn’t until about a couple of years after their first reunion tour that I realized they aren’t that great. In fact, as a band they are mediocre. It was a profit deal all along. The music was just a tool, and a secondary one at that. That’s not to say it’s all bad. I still enjoy Dynasty and Unmasked, Peter Criss (solo), Kiss (self-titled), and some songs not on those albums, including “Comin’ Home,” “Rock Bottom,” “Mr. Speed,” and “Larger Than Life.”

  • Paul Roy

    Don’t forget the car crash in “Detroit Rock City”. I’m with you Vern. Kiss lost me after Destroyer, and REALLY lost me with “The Elder”. I wonder if they will put their “Friday’s” TV appearance on Vol. 2? And Timmy, I am certainly not “ate up with Kiss”. You sound like a scorned lover. This DVD was just a great nostalgic trip for me.

  • Vern Halen

    I posted this months ago, but I still think it’s funny – back when I was a lad, when Kiss first came out, a friend said to me, “Kiss? How’s any band gonna make it with a name like that???”

  • Devin

    I got this DVD boxset for christmas and i was really amazed on how much rare footage they bunched up into these dvd’s. The 4 concerts in the 2 dvd’s were incredible also, but i’d have to say the Tokyo one was my favourite.

  • Curly

    I don’t know if you still read this review’s comments, or if you’ve been clued in to this yet but, there are 2 fantastic “easter eggs” – as I believe they’re called – on these discs. On each of the 2 main discs, in the main menu screen, if you highlight and ‘PLAY’ on the KISS logo, you will be treated to: (Disc 1) a 4-5 minute video clip w/sound of the earliest known live footage of the band, playing “Deuce” at their 2nd to last show as a club band 12/21/73 at Coventry in NYC. (Disc 2) a 6-7 minute home movie w/sound of the guys’ impromptu performance at Ace’s wedding in May ’76, complete in tuxedos and with the hired bands’ instruments.

  • Paul Roy

    Thanks for bringing that up Curly, since I didn’t mention it in my review. That’s some pretty cool stuff to watch if you are a big Kiss fan.