Elevator Muzak pumped with testicular dynamite.
It’s KISS Meets The Phantom Of The… Opera. Like the great Godzilla matchups of old, it’s KISS versus the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
And all Strauss breaks loose.
The machine started rolling on the band’s fourth live album in 2000, but politics (and Ace Frehley’s launch off KISS planet) shelved that endeavor. Three years later, a grander idea than the same old “previous-three-albums-live-with-studio-post-production”: for their 2003 Australian tour, KISS would enlist the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (at the Telstra Dome Stadium, Melbourne, capacity 40,000) and the arrangement/conducting talents of David Campbell to forge the most audacious bedfellows since Satan and The Flying Nun.
The oxymoronic KISS SYMPHONY was birthed.
With Ace no longer in KISS airspace, to continue the touring juggernaut, original members Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss (reunited) would add longtime producer/go-fer Tommy Thayer as The Guitarist Formerly Known as The Spaceman.
And all fan-dispute breaks loose.
The Show Must Go On, babies. If it started merely as a band, the KISS Business Model has been re-wrought as a brand. Three decades after their inception, KISS is an ideal which grownups hand down to their kids (my cousin dosed me on KISS in 1978; I, in turn, indoctrinated my little cousin, and thus the train keeps a-rolling). The legacy of KISS cannot be arrested or dismantled by naysayers, critics or fan-disputes – it has embedded itself into the psyche of four human generations on planet Earth. And that’s a lot of greasepaint.
More than a cultural phenomenon – a Culture. To quote from WEST SIDE STORY, a KISS fan’s existence extends “from sperm to worm,” as evidenced by KISS Kondoms and KISS Kaskets. As Paul Stanley shrewdly puts it: “We’re gonna get you comin’ or goin’!”
the concert to rattle your eyeballs
Presentation is in three Acts: Act I features band onstage, vintage classics; Act II, band and ensemble, performing sedate numbers, including what Gene refers to as Paul’s “pussy songs”; Act III, band and orchestra tutti, with orchestra and conductor Campbell all wearing KISS makeup. Natchelly.
It is during Act I that we realize something is askew. Not with the crisp audio or divebombing lightshow or actual energetic performance – with the direction. And we thought the MTV staple of slam-pans and flying cams was long dead. Directors Jonathan Beswick and Victor Burroughs cater to the ADHD generation with the Michael Bay Handbook wide open on their laps.
And all editing breaks loose.
The promethean achievement of this concert is diluted by the headache-inducing, eyeball-twirling editing of the actual concert footage. Except for Act II, where the “unplugged” aspect decreed a more sober visual approach, Act I and Act III are so mind-bogglingly tilted and pushed and shoved into our corneal aqueous humour that we wonder exactly where we can also score such high grade LSD.
Sure, all the rock-god angles and flying pans are there, to give one a sense of witnessing an event akin to The Second Coming, but there is a dearth of simple stable shots, where one can gain a sense of proportion and scope – maybe that is exactly what Simmons&Co. don’t want us to do, as this may detract from the supposed “enormity” of the event (?).
But that’s what doesn’t quite make sense – firstly, the event itself is such an incredible melding of two incongruous entities that it needs no Guy Ritchie crash-cut distractions to make it seem any more extraordinary; secondly, the mix is superb, the performance is exceptional and if there were any glitches with the technical aspects, they were negligible; thirdly, why try to distract at all? – you’re KISS, fer cryin out loud! Thirty years of legend is sewn into your spandex – the distraction of all the cuts themselves detracts from the enormity of this event. This same criticism abounds in other reviews, even from those who profess undying love for the KISS empire, such as moi. Sure, certain passages warrant crazed slam-pans and angled cutaways, but the directors seem to have no discernible reasons for doing this whenever they feel like it, all the time.
The Star Child is in fine voice and physique. No more need be said about one of the world’s finest frontmen. Though sometimes the presentation borders on elevator muzak shot at us with guns, Stanley’s recognizable voice strongholds the KISS signature.
Peter Criss has no pocket to speak of. Sorry, it’s just truth. Any time The Cat is left alone to juggle his sticks without the band backing him – even with a click track and a conductor – he’s the mighty Mississippi, meandering all over America. Poor Stanley&Simmons, having to put up with Criss’s excuse for a backbone after the thunderbeating of Carr and Singer. No doubt Criss is now aware of his post as the Luckiest Thuck In The World (besides Ringo, who shared the same fate – mediocre gimp hooks up with two dynamos and conquers Earth) which is why he accepted KISS’s dollar offering this time ’round.
Tommy Thayer’s real hair looks more fake than Gene Simmons’s wig. Insofar as criticism about this newest KISS member not exuding enough charisma, let’s not forget he stands alongside two of the ultimate showmen in rock, who magnetize all the eyelines in the room. It will take Thayer a few years to possess the panache that Stanley&Simmons exude so naturally, having conquered the world many times over. Thayer has been Stanley&Simmons’s right-hand man for some years now (among other tasks, writing and directing many KISS video features, and Ace Frehley’s tutor (!) when re-learning his licks of halcyon days) and does a superb job of rendering unto Ace fans what was once Ace’s. AND – he’s a better director than the knuckleheads who cut this video.
And then Gene’s bass-and-blood solo… as he pounds the last defibrillating whalesong note, the Demon rises, as if by magic (and cables) fifty feet to his gargoyle perch in the steel lighting rig rafters; our minds reel as we recognize the spawn of the indecent love between Satan and The Flying Nun, but we hush our crying children. The God of Thunder wouldst speak at us in tongues…
He would sayeth: On a purely business level, Elevator Muzak ain’t such a bad thing…
During backstage/prep segments in this DVD, the amazement and humility of both KISS and the Melbourne Symphony shines through, both acts having performed insurmountable feats, now thrown together and experiencing the others’ world. It was refreshing to see Simmons, the super-confident, self-made millionaire, during a production rehearsal, cast his gaze about and remark in awe, “Magnificent!” And Paul’s look of childish ebullience when hearing his songs orchestrated and mouthing to the camera, also in awe, “I wrote that!”
In one rehearsal scene with the band and orchestra, Campbell the conductor is trying to convince Gene of something he is doing wrong, albeit in a very diplomatic manner, while Gene talks over him, trying to sound diplomatic himself but coming off as the contemptuous asshole we know him to be. Then brother Paul pipes in – he interjects merely two words into the conversation and Gene is suddenly contrite about his error; Paul Stanley is probably the only person in the world who can tell Gene Simmons he’s wrong. And live.
KISS SYMPHONY has its faults yet stands as an awe-inspiring authentication of who The Hottest Band In The World still are.
And all hell breaks loose.