In the annals of rock n' roll no other rock band has a more checkered or colored existence other than Kiss. Whether you love them or hate them, Kiss is undeniably one of the most influential rock bands on the planet. It's funny to think that if not for a double live album, they may have potentially disappeared into obscurity. In 1975 on the heels of three poorly selling studio albums, the band and their record label, Casablanca, made the gutsy decision to release a double live album. It was not only a wise choice but to this day "Alive!" is viewed as the essential Kiss album and the one by which all others are judged.
Universal Music recently released a 4-disc live box set entitled 'Alive 1975-2000'. Housed inside this package are the first three 'Alive' albums and an unreleased one from their 1999/2000 Millennium show. This fourth album was to have been 'Alive IV' and put out in support of the band's farewell tour in 2000, however, it never saw the light of day until now. If one were to buy this box it would most likely be a double dip for most fans, so I'm here to break down the contents for you so you can make a decision.
Over the years the secrets behind the making of this album have been scrutinized as it's come to light that the album isn't quite "live." A lot of the album was re-recorded and re-dubbed due to the band's continual movement and pyrotechnic stage show which made it hard to capture the live sound. Some see this as disheartening as it's like discovering there is no Santa Claus, however, I tend to look at it another way. The band still played on these songs; it's just that in 1975 the technical advances were not there to fully capture the bands sound. It's still Kiss performing and regardless of how and when it was recorded, the arrangements and energy found here are vastly distinct compared to their studio albums. What Eddie Kramer was able to do was capture their true raw essence, something that was sorely missing from their first three studio albums.
People still hold 'Alive!' in the highest regard as not just a landmark Kiss album but a definitive live one as well. I've heard numerous stories of people talking about the album cover and how they felt like they were on another planet just by holding the gatefold open staring at the band. This is an album that made people dream. It's rare to find an album that truly transports and changes lives, but this is one of them. 'Alive!' is an essential piece of rock n' roll history and the perfect starting point for all Kiss fans.
Album Grade: A
Over the years people have often spoken of 'Alive II' in the same breath as 'Alive!' While it's a fine document, by no means is it a definitive release. In fact, I feel it's very overrated. The first three Kiss albums were lacking energy and dynamics making all of the songs on "Alive!" definitive. Whereas, the three albums that followed 'Alive!' ('Destroyer', 'Rock 'N Roll Over' & 'Love Gun') were accomplished studio efforts with Bob Ezrin and Eddie Kramer helming the boards. This time around, the energy and dynamics are on the studio records which make the impact of 'Alive II' minimal. The production on the studio counterparts was far superior to the first three Kiss albums and as a result there are no definitive live versions on 'Alive II'. The five new songs on side four (in LP terms) are fun but once again non-essential with only "Rocket Ride" resonating thirty-years later.
The album even has a few songs that were never performed live and were captured at soundcheck and crowd sounds were added later ("Hard Luck Woman"). Don't get me wrong, 'Alive II' is a solid release but of all the Kiss live albums, this one gets the least amount of airtime in my Ipod and up until 'Dynasty' is the least essential Kiss release.
Album Grade: B-
More than fifteen-years after the band's last live album, they returned to their roots with 'Alive III' in the spring of 1993 without make-up, Peter or Ace. Drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Bruce Kulick get to show off their impressive virtuosic musical chops on this underrated disc. The truth is they are superior musicians to Ace and Peter and amazingly brought a spectacular immediacy to these songs. 'Alive III' houses definitive versions of many of their 80's hits and some nice reworking of many Kiss classics. My biggest complaint about this album, as it was back upon release in 1993, is it should have been a double-disc affair. There are also a number of big 80's hits not represented here; "Tears Are Falling", "Fits Like A Glove", "Crazy, Crazy Nights" and "Hide Your Heart." From a performance standpoint, the band was at their zenith with this line-up (who also contributed to the essential 'Unplugged' record three years later). Kiss never sounded as good as they did with Eric and Bruce, especially during this tour in support of their pulverizing 'Revenge' record.
'Alive III' may not have had the success of the first two 'Alive' albums but this one stands up over time delivering a vigorous knockout to anyone who said Kiss' best days were behind them. This document captures the band at a unique point in their career where they were truly about the music and not as concerned with image or pyrotechnics. The material off of 'Revenge' still stands among the bands best. It showcases Kiss at a point in time where all four members were 100% committed to delivering the best music possible. While the amount of music is the same as the first two live albums, this is one that should have been expanded on this reissue. One can only hope that a complete concert from this tour is released on one of the future 'Kiss logy' DVD box sets.
Album Grade: A-
'Alive: The Millennium Concert'
I remember back in 2000 anxiously waiting for this release only to have it permanently shelved which is a shame as it's the only live document released to this date of the reunion era Kiss (1996-2000). To this day, I can't believe they were not multiple video, DVD and live album releases from this era. They released everything else known to man except for a live music document, which I thought would be imminent in late 1996. Sadly Kiss fans had to wait a decade for an official release.
This album is the primary reason most fans will want to buy this box set as it's exclusively available here. After a decade of waiting, I wasn't as impressed with it as I thought I would be. Part of the issue is the band chose to record a one-off gig after almost a year off the road. I would have chosen to capture a series of shows from '96-2000 in the hopes of finding the best individual performances (which often come months into a tour as the band finds it footing with the material). The performance here is by no means poor, but as I continued to listen to it, it made sense why the band never released it as there is virtually a complete rehash of what is represented on the first three live albums. Only three songs make their debut here and two of them are from 'Psycho Circus'. There are some great moments that do take me back to the '96, '98 and '00 tours where I could feel the goose bumps on my skin, but overall, it's a disappointing disc that had enormous potential. Even more maddening is that this is the shortest of all of the 'Alive' discs. The 2000 Japan edition was to include "Detroit Rock City", "God of Thunder" and "2000 Man", but those songs are nowhere to be found here. Why? Are they saving them for another box set? One can only guess what their motivation behind their non-inclusion is but I bet it's financial.
With three tours of material to choose from, there is no reason for this to have been a one disc affair. It's disappointing to Kiss fans as they would have gladly paid for a full two-hour concert. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the band should have recorded these songs while on tour and not at a one off millennium gig. The band sounds semi hesitant on the 80's numbers, as Peter and Ace were not around when these were written or recorded. But when I caught Kiss on back to back nights in May of 2000, they were magical and in truth, I couldn't imagine them ever being better. This album unfortunately does not showcase the magic I experienced on those nights. I saw Kiss again in '03 without Ace and think they made a killer DVD with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer filling in for Ace and Peter, but those live shows from '96 through '00 took us to another place and time back when we were twelve looking at the 'Alive!' album cover believing anything was possible. Great music makes you realize your full potential and often can give you the much needed kick in the ass needed to achieve your dreams. The reunion era Kiss was a time machine taking us back to our adolescence where there was no responsibility and there was nothing more important than three chords and the truth. The truth was, many of us had grown up and the music at times would seem almost laughable, but none of that mattered because for a five year period Ace, Peter, Gene and Paul made us believe once again that rock n' roll is more than just a distraction but can truly be inspiring.
Album Grade: C+
So while this new "Alive 1975-2000" box set does not venture into new territory, it does sum up nicely who Kiss was as a live entity for the better part of a quarter century. A better representation of who Kiss is can be found on their excellent "Kissology" DVD set but for those looking for companion releases on CD will find a lot of legendary rock n' roll history here.
Anthony Kuzminski can be found at The Screen Door