MOVIE/ALBUM REVIEW: KISS rolls the dice in Vegas

Movie reviews, Music reviews, Uncategorized

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In November of 2014 KISS did one of the very few things they hadn’t tried up to this point: a Vegas residency. After all many hard rock artists have tried their hand at Vegas —successfully so— over the years; Both Guns N’Roses and Motley Crue twice, Def Leppard and more recently, Scorpions and Billy Idol. Las Vegas, Nevada is no longer the place where acts go to die, the stigma has faded with time. It seemed obvious KISS would roll the dice in Sin City eventually.

Vegas would force the hottest band in the land to play shows on a smaller scale than it is accustomed to resulting in a slightly more personal performance. That is not to say KISS toned down the fanfare. The antics like pyrotechnics and fire-breathing are still there—they’re just a little less elaborate. While Rocks Vegas is not a particularly fresh concept, it sure is good to see some new live KISS content in an albeit unique setting.

KISS Rocks Vegas initially saw selected showings in movie theatres on May 25th before its impending home video release. KISS looks spectacular on the big screen but watching the Blu-Ray/DVD at home is the next best thing. The last official stand-alone KISS live concert DVD come over ten years ago —Rock the Nation back in 2005— and featured the same lineup.

 

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The accompanying CD also marks the first official live album KISS had issued under this current lineup (unless you count the Instant Live CDs). Is it necessary for a band like KISS to put out a live album in what is likely the twilight of their career? For one thing it would shock many to know at just how few live albums KISS has in comparison to bands like Rush and Iron Maiden. If anything I’m surprised we haven’t had more live KISS. Documenting live performances becomes important as a band ages.

Its latter-day KISS, a lineup that features Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer on drums alongside Gene and Paul. That means no Ace and Peter, a fact that should be well outlined by now. This lineup, although quite capable, has its hit-and-miss moments— a fact that becomes more evident when listening to the CD. Let’s be honest for a minute: Paul’s voice is shaky, Gene forgets lyrics and Tommy’s solos are sloppy on ocasion. They may no longer be in their prime, yet KISS is still more than capable of putting on an incredible and visually compelling show.

KISS doesn’t stray too far from its usual setlist of classics like Love Gun and Detroit Rock City, but nevertheless the band took a chance and added Tears Are Falling to the set and chose to play no less than three songs from fan-favourite Creatures of the Night. The inclusions of Parasite and War Machine are worth mentioning as is Hell or Hallelujah from the latest studio effort, Monster.

 

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As an added treat, Rocks Vegas features a 7 song acoustic setlist. Paul Stanley shaking his head after filling in for Gene’s forgotten lyrics during Christine Sixteen is simply priceless. Seeing a relaxed KISS as people with no makeup, pyro or costume playing as Love Her All I Can and Goin’ Blind is a great experience. I think it really says something about KISS that the band is this effective in an acoustic setting. I initially was apprehensive of Eric Singer doing Beth, a song that was always Peter Criss’ baby, but its the definitive highlight of the session. You can watch the acoustic performances but if you want to hear them on CD you’ll have to shell out more money as they are part of an $80 box set exclusive to Amazon. KISS and marketing, indeed. 

It’s a monumental task to substitute the live concert experience for a DVD or CD. Rocks Vegas doesn’t quite achieve that feat, but it displays a determined KISS giving a crowd-pleasing performance. The Blu-Ray version is crisp and looks great on my HD TV and the live CD kept those imperfections and mistakes giving a real live feel and that’s a good thing.

Now bring back I Stole Your Love, pretty please.
Setlist:

01. Detroit Rock City
02. Creatures Of The Night
03. Psycho Circus
04. Parasite
05. War Machine
06. Tears Are Falling
07. Deuce
08. Lick It Up
09. I Love It Loud
10. Hell Or Hallelujah & Tommy Solo
11. God Of Thunder
12. Do You Love Me
13. Love Gun
14. Black Diamond
15. Shout It Out Loud
16. Rock And Roll All Night

 

Acoustic set:

01. Coming Home
02. Plaster Caster
03. Hard Luck Woman
04. Christine Sixteen
05. Goin’ Blind
06. Love Her All I Can
07. Beth

The spaceman delivers once more, rock soldiers will be pleased~

Music reviews

 

acefrehleyorigins1cd

Origins Vol.1, Ace Frehley, Entertainment One Music, 2016. 

 

Ace Frehley has been on a roll. His most recent efforts, Anomaly (2009) and Space Invader (2014) were both excellent. Frehley hopes to continue this upwards trend with Origins Vol. 1.

Originally, the album was conceived as a backup plan in case Frehley didn’t release Space Invader in time to capitalize on KISS’ 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Ace delivered on both counts as Space Invader came out in due time and we get this album as a bonus. Origins Vol. 1, like it’s title implies, sees Ace going back to his roots covering artists he grew up listening to. The likes of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Free and Steppenwolf are covered and in some instances, Frehley’s own body of work with KISS.

“White Room” starts the album with a bang. Under Ace’s wing, the classic Cream tune sounds great. Edgy playing, shredding solo and l like the alternating vocals between Frehley and his drummer Scott Coogan (who has a very pleasant voice I’ll add).

I was expecting a Rolling Stones cover and “Street Fighting Man” is a fine choice for the Spaceman. It also harkens back memories of Dynasty where Ace covered “2000 Man”.

The cover of Free’s “Fire And Water” has people talking with good reason. An appearance on lead vocals by Paul Stanley is significant in the scope of the KISS universe. “Fire And Water” marks the first time Paul and Ace are featured on a song together since Psycho Circus in 1998. It’s a solid cover, Paul sounds good and it’s fantastic to have these two on the same song once more.

“Emerald” is an in-your-face bombastic all-out guitar attack. The tune sees Ace trading solos with Slash who does a terrific guest appearance here.

“Bring It On Home” was one song that I thought could have gone either way. As it turns out, I underestimated Ace. His playing is spot-on with some of his own flavour with his drummer again doing an excellent job on the lead vocals.

I wish Ace made a less obvious choice than “Wild Thing”. To his credit it’s a very good version -featuring Lita Ford, no less- but I would have loved to see him tackle a song like “All Along Watchtower” or something else and see him give that a go instead of a song that’s already been covered to death.

“Magic Carpet Ride” is a pleasant, upbeat, feel-good song and Frehley’s take on the song is slowly becoming one of my favourite songs of the album. I also really enjoy Ace’s vocal performance on this one.

“Cold Gin” seemed like a no-brainer, Frehley wrote the song on the KISS debut and Gene sang it. It’s the spaceman going full circle. I’ve heard Ace in interviews many times saying how much he wished to re-record that song. And you know what? It works quite well. The song has a faster pace and Ace sounds good covering himself (ha!).

Same with “Parasite”, he wrote the song and finally sings it and it sounds great. It gives those songs a completely different life with an updated guitar sound. If you wondered what those KISS songs would have sounded like if Ace sang, here it is.

“Rock And Roll Hell” came as a complete shock. Ace covering a Gene song? From an album he didn’t even play on? Yep. I’m glad someone convinced him to take a stab at it because the result speaks for itself. The original is one of my all-time favourite KISS songs and Ace does it justice by putting his own spin on it.

I was delighted at the album’s sound and production. This is a guitar album as well as a rock ‘n’ roll album, representative of Ace. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot here and albums by artists covering other artists don’t usually hold much interest to me. That said, upon reading about the project and seeing the selection I decided to give Origins Vol.1 a chance. Well, that and the fact that Frehley delivered on his last two solo outputs.

The selection of artists covered are for the most part ones you would expect from Ace given how much recognition he has already given them. The choice of songs is not all that startling either. With Paul Stanley, Lita Ford, Slash, John 5 and Mike McCready are all more than capable guest who add depth to album. The highlight of the album is inevitably the guitar work’s strong, heavy approach. Ace seems to struggle vocally at times, but he’s not a young chap anymore and vocals were never exactly his forte either. For his age he sounds fine, and at 65 he delivers a great product.

Origins Vol.1 completely took me by surprise. I wouldn’t say it’s mind-blowing, but admittedly with this album being a covers project, it’s much better than I could have possibly imagined. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this being a covers album; my hat’s off to Ace who has effectively released 3 excellent albums in a row. The songs sound great, the guitars are fantastic and the list of guest adds to the project. Well done Ace, you made your rock soldiers proud once more. Makes me wonder about an Origins Vol. 2, hmmm. 4/5 stars.

The Spaceman’s perspective

Book reviews, Uncategorized

Ace-Frehley-No-Regrets

No Regrets: A rock ‘n’ roll memoir, Frehley, Ace,  VH1 books, 2011.

 

With the release of Ace Frehley’s Origins Vol. 1, I thought this was a perfect occasion to take a look back at the Spaceman’s account of his time in and out of KISS, No Regrets.

Of course, I’m a huge KISS fan. When I learned that original member and guitarist Ace Frehley would write a book I thought this was his chance to from his perspective and maybe defend himself from some of the bad things that were said about him by Paul and Gene all those years-No Regrets: A rock n roll memoir gave him that chance.

I always liked Ace, he loved to play Rock ‘N’ Roll more than anything, was always in the shadow of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and didn’t have the biggest part in decision making for KISS. He didn’t want to deceive fans, but had to follow when it was decide the band pursue styles found on albums like Dynasty and The Elder. Frehley was the always the rock’n’roll guy in KISS.

Ace’s book is not exactly a typical Rock’N’Roll biography from point A to point B that chronicles every event of his life. Well, maybe to a certain degree -it is mostly in chronological order- but it is more of a collection of wild rock’n’roll stories from his career in and out of KISS along with some biographical content and his thoughts on the events that happened in his life. He does go through everything KISS, including the albums he made with the band. I must admit, I wish he wrote in more details but it’s clear the years of substance abuse have had effect on his memory.

Paul “Ace” Frehley begins the book by explaining some of his relationships with his family and proceeds to demonstrate how he was the black sheep of the family until he joined KISS and latter became successful and a millionaire. Then he goes details his younger years in high school, discovering music, playing guitar, founding bands, playing gigs and girlfriends. Much of the book is about the 1970’s, to give you an idea about halfway through No Regrets he’s talking about the making of Destroyer and you know what? That’s more than fine by me.

A lot of the book is about the KISS years and the decadence that happened around then, not so much for the other members of KISS (except Peter) but surely for Ace. I loved when Frehley went on about the the late 1970’s from 78-80 where he felt KISS made some questionable decisions. The solo albums for one, the making of KISS Meets The Phantom, the disco-flavored “I Was Made For Loving You” (but he credits Dynasty as being one of the best KISS albums) and the ridiculous amount of merchandising that was going on at the time. He didn’t always agree, but to his credit (or blame), he always went along with it.

Ace also gives credit where credit is due: Bill Aucoin, Sean Delaney, Neil Bogart, Bob Ezrin, Eddie Kramer… and he even credits Eddie Solan who is not all that well-known in the KISS universe. Ace felt he should be acknowledged for his contributions, he stresses that Solan played a role in what became the KISS juggernaut which I thought was very thoughtful (never heard anyone mention him previously). This is more surprising: he even credits Gene with saving his life…twice!

Reading about his departure from KISS, those years when he didn’t tour and had not formed Frehley’s comet yet was interesting. So was his solo career but after his departure from KISS, I began to feel like the book was just going through things a little too fast without as much detail or information and overlooking certain things. Definitely some skimming happening there.

It was very interesting to read what Ace had to say about Gene Simmons who slammed Ace in his first book KISS and Make-Up back in 2001. Ace analyzes Gene in a certain way and makes interesting arguments, yet he doesn’t say a whole lot of negative things, I mean, he did but they don’t come off as being terribly hateful, it could have been much worse. He even says he loves Gene.

Frehley talks very little about Paul Stanley, mostly in good, and of course has nothing but good things to say about Peter Criss. In one of the book’s more humorous moments, addressing his thoughts about the current lineup of KISS, he writes: “In reality, I think they’re just a bunch of dirty rotten whores. Awk!” Typical Ace.

I really wish the book was more detailed and longer. For instance the reunion tour and the farewell tour have very little coverage when they were obviously an important part of Ace’s life. The Psycho Circus album is only briefly mentioned and Ace only talks about the inclusion of one of his songs that had to be re-written and how it was the only song with the four original members on the album. He doesn’t give his opinion on the album itself or any other insight. The Psycho Circus tour is completely ignored and the early 1990’s are completely ignored until 1995 when Frehley talks about the Bad Boys of Rock ‘N’ Roll tour he did with Peter, MTV Unplugged and reuniting with KISS.

I liked reading about the days after he left KISS and had a solo career but after mentioning Trouble Walking, Ace says that he toured in 1992 and 94 and decided not to release another album. Or how about the fact that there is nothing written between the years 2003-2008? From the second time he left KISS until his last studio album Anomaly in 2009 there is literally no content on those years except a phone call from Gene in 2007. I wish he would have talked more about those time periods and filled in the blanks.

Don’t get me wrong I love the content and reading things from Ace’s perspective, although at times his perspective is flawed. Much has been said about Ace having trouble remembering parts of his life, maybe that explains why some parts of his life seem to be missing or are simply skimmed through in the book. I also wish there were more pictures.

After reading the book and looking back, it’s amazing that Paul Frehley has been so lucky. He even says so himself. There was always someone, somewhere who somehow came to rescue Ace from whatever trouble he put himself in. Every time he recalls being arrested in No Regrets (and that’s many occasions), the cops always recognized him or let him go after he explained who he was- or had some ridiculous excuse/ was extremely lucky. Even the story about his dad at the beginning of the book shows incredible luck for his father; maybe it’s a Frehley family thing.

I don’t want to say that I know Ace Frehley more because I don’t personally know him. I feel like I understand him more after reading No Regrets. Frehley’s book is a great read for the hardcore KISS fan and no doubt the help of contributors Joe Layden and John Ostrosky helped because even if No Regrets is not written as if Ace himself read to you, it reads surprisingly well.

I think No Regrets is a must read for Ace and KISS fans. It’s a good book, but I hoped for a little more. Overall, still a good read. 3.5/5 stars is my rating, no regrets about reading this book.

 

 

When Peter Criss defends Peter Criss

Book reviews


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Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS, Peter Criss, Simons and Shuster, 2012.

 

 It took years until it saw the light of day, but it’s here in the form of Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS. In 2012, original KISS drummer Peter Criss released the autobiography that he had been promising the world for what literally decades. I used to kid around with people that it was Peter’s Chinese Democracy, but even that came out four years before his autobiography did.

KISS fans are attached to each of the original members and the individual personas they portrayed, but when I was a kid I wanted to be Peter Criss. He was the reason I began to play drums and when me and my friends put on the KISS makeup for Halloween I was Peter.

You cannot deny that Peter was an original member and was a part of what made KISS and what made the band special, his jazzy drumming style, his voice; he was an important part of what made KISS the band the it became.

I was glad to see that his book was finally released, Paul’s book was excellent, Gene’s and Ace’s books are good reads, but you get a sense that just scratch the surface (Gene’s first book is largely about himself, his second business and Ace’s book he seems to have forgotten things and skims through years towards the second half).

Peter Crisscuola, I knew, would be honest to write it all down; the good, the bad, the madness and he’s not shy about his drug addictions, his near suicide in 1994, depression, battles with cancer, even his band members (I think this may be the final nail on the coffin for any fans that still had hopes of seeing the original four reunite once more).

The first chapter already sets into the some of the madness in Criss’ life. The book starts in 1994 when an earthquake destroyed everything he owned and he was about to pull the trigger on his life. It’s a rather dark chapter to start the book with but it’s good in that it makes you want to read the book and find out all you can.

I loved the part about recording Destroyer and how demanding producer Bob Ezrin was, out of all the books that have come out on the band Peter goes into the details and things that aren’t as talked about.

He sheds insight on the money he made, how much money KISS made. Peter is very vocal and I was captivated to read his thoughts from about 1978-80 when he was about to leave the band and it was clear that they were not longer a unit (he wasn’t fond of Love Gun either turns out).

He was against doing the KISS Meets The Phantom of The Park ’78 made for TV movie and the way he recalls it he was really direct about it too and thought it wasn’t KISS anymore and hated doing it.

Same with the Dynasty album in 1979 with “I Was Made For Loving You” going disco even though he didn’t play on that album except for his one contribution. I think he sums it up best when he said,”To me KISS was a Rock and Roll band and we had become a kiddies band, a circus and it became about the merchandise and not the music, I was in for the music from the beginning man”. I think that echoes some of the KISS Army’s feelings too.

I love how he doesn’t hide his feelings on KISS, the band members, producers or anyone else. When he talks about why he quit the band you understand it more, why he decided to leave and the events that pushed him to do it. His feelings about KISS now are clear as well and he really doesn’t like Tommy Thayer. He’s vocal about decisions that were made and what some band members did and tells it all like it was.

The book is not just about KISS, there’s a lot about Peter himself. His personality comes through when talks about his solo career and the bands he played with, his near-suicide and more recently, his battle with breast cancer.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know or had only read about without any real insight. His wives, his going to basically an asylum, his near comeback to KISS in 1980, suicide attempt and so on. I loved reading about Peter’s childhood and growing up, playing clubs before KISS, his attempt at a solo career, the reunion with KISS up until the present day. It’s all covered in Makeup to Breakup, make no mistake.

Sometimes it’s easy to see how fragile and emotional Peter could be. Deep down, the cat is surprisingly sensitive. Yet with all the stories he tells, he really was the original Tommy Lee in a sense, there’s a lot of immature fun and stuff that will make you go “what?”. There’s swear words throughout but then again its rock and roll and sometimes it can be offensive.

The most interesting parts of the book may very well be the dirt on Gene, Paul and Ace. I don’t think anyone would be surprised by what Peter had to say on Gene. Ace’s is a bit more surprising and I’m sure he wouldn’t be happy to know some of the things that were included about his subject in the book even though they’re more goofy than anything else. The worst though, is definitely Paul and Peter tells it all, how he used to see shrinks and talk to them on the phone every day, his sexuality, certain physical aspects and things that he did (particularly funny and exaggerated during the KISS/Aerosmith tour).

What made me respect Peter’s decision to make this book was that he intended to reveal all the behind the scenes about KISS and he had no problem telling this as they were. He gives credit where credit is due as he talks a lot about Bill Aucoin and Sean Delaney, the tour guys and acknowledges whoever did what. At one given point Peter says that Gene and Paul like to take credit for certain things while it was others who came up with the ideas, or mess with “KISStory” as he puts it.

Peter is utterly honest about touring, his wives, the sex, drugs and all the crazy things he did. He tells all about growing up, his family and personal things really. Sometimes you don’t even want to know some of these stories in the book because it’s plain filthy and immature, but this is Rock and Roll and Criss’book is a wild ride.Peter’s book was well put together and comes across as honest and very readable.

I know he was known for exaggerating sometimes and crying wolf, even he acknowledges that, but he doesn’t try to make himself or anyone come off as angels or any better than anyone else. Makeup to Breakup is a great read for anyone who is or was a KISS fan, Criss’book does the best job of telling it like it really was and goes into things that other KISS books do not which would make it required reading for the die-hard.

I have a lot of admiration for Criss putting this book out slamming himself, his bandmates, the decisions they made. An entertaining book and a solid read, it delivers and informs certainly answered some questions I had and others I didn’t have. 4.5/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Starchild unmasked

Book reviews

ps

Face The Music: A Life Exposed, Paul Stanley, Harpercollins, 2014.

I always suspected that if one day the four original KISS members each had a book out, Paul Stanley’s would be my favourite and the best written of the bunch.

It is now much later and Ace Frehley has a book, Peter Criss has a book, Gene had two (well, actually three) and now, KISS frontman and resident Starchild Paul Stanley has his own book as well with Face the Music: A Life Exposed. My initial suspicions turned out to be right.

I was surprised at how literate and intimate the book was. Paul always seemed the most private member of KISS so I never assumed he would ever release a book. I don’t know how much the ghostwriter who helped with book did, but Paul comes across as very articulate and intelligent person in real life and interviews and that’s precisely how he is in Face the Music.

I knew Paul had an ear condition but not to this extend. It was revealing how much suffering he endured and how much it troubled him and l think it played a big part in him creating the persona of the Starchild. Becoming who he wanted to be, fabricating this rockstar personna.

Honest. I think Paul comes across as honest about the people he has worked with and ultimately, himself. The managers and people who worked in the background to make KISS happen and gives credit to those who deserve it. He talks about therapy and how’s been doing it since he was a teenager. He even mentions the songs he ripped off at times which I find interesting.

In Face the Music, he comes across as especially harsh towards Ace and Peter, especially Peter which was to be expected, but he also throws quite a few stabs at Gene (and it’s these that are the most interesting). It shouldn’t be all that surprising to fans. Through the years since the farewell tour, he and Gene have been putting down Ace and Peter quite a lot. But it seems that even though he says there are good memories with them, he can’t find space to share any of them. Even Eric Carr gets some of it.

It’s no secret that Paul did not like Gene at first, and in this regard things don’t seem to be all that different today. He rips on Gene for his views about marriage and calls him a hypocrite for later getting to Shannon Tweed. Stanley also doesn’t think Gene is as good as business man as the world seems to think. But then there’s the part of him that was appreciative of Gene when he helped him out and was supportive when he was going through a divorce.

Paul touches on a lot of topics that fans know about but have very limited knowledge on. I doubt fans know all about his divorce or the details of his time portraying the Phantom of the Opera. I didn’t know how much he enjoyed being a father and having a family. Some I knew, some l didn’t, but I certainly wasn’t bored and enjoyed the ride. He gives great insight as to how it was when he took over the reigns of KISS in the 80’s and how felt about Gene, his contributions, the band, the music itself and who was in the band.

Paul goes how when the other band members of KISS went home off tour to their families, relationships and side projects as things that kept themselves occuphed he was alone and by himself. That’s why l find Paul more relatable than the other members of KISS when l read their bios.

He talks a lot about the loneliness he felt and the irony that he fronted one of the biggest bands in the world. He felt he had a void to fill and its interesting because for him committed relationships and kids came later for him than the other members of KISS. His life looks pretty full now with his wife and kids, the band and his art but it seems that in the 80’s he was especially lonely and heartbroken, only falling in love to get hurt. It’s an interesting period of time when he looks back on it, especially considering how much of a “happy” band KISS had become in that decade.

It will definitely be essential reading for the hardcore KISS fan, and worth reading for those who enjoy biographical books and rock books. Paul said something in the book about being all about ongoing self-discovery being more important than creating a myth that wasn’t who he was and l think that’s the best way to summarize his memoir.

Yes he’s the guy from KISS, wrote great songs, influenced musicians, but he’s still his own person. Even though he seems comfortable on stage as the ringleader, it took him time to find inner peace. I would recommend Face the Music, it’s certainly not as self-boasting as Gene’s, or left with blanks like Ace’s or as resentful as Peter’s and that probably makes it the most accessible and honest bio we will ever get from a member of KISS. 5/5 stars insightful and enjoyable reading.