Retrospective: 20 Years Since the Last Great ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ By Jesse Striewski

In the summer of 2001, an ensemble cast of young comedians and actors unleashed the mother of all summer camp romps on an unsuspecting world, Wet Hot American Summer. Directed by David Wain, the film was given an extremely limited theatrical release after premiering in New York on July 27, 2001 (and six months before that at Sundance), and went largely unnoticed at first (I myself didn’t catch it personally until years after its release when I came across it on cable TV).

Set in the summer of 1981, it follows a group of counselers and kids (the majority purposely played by actors far too old for their parts) at Camp Firewood in Maine. Janeane Garofalo leads the group as Camp Director Beth, who does her best to hold together her group of misfits – each focused on wrapping up their own indivdual pursuits and/or love triangles – on the last day of camp, often with over-the-top results.

Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce plays a professor in a role seemingly tailored for him, while several members of the MTV show The State, including Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, and Michael Showalter, turn in some showstopping moments. Paul Rudd also plays one of the best/worst bad guys on screen to date, while a young Elizabeth Banks slinks across each and every scene as the stereotypical ‘loose’ girl.

But the most unforgettable performance has got to go to Law & Order‘s Christopher Meloni, who cranks out the crazy as a cook/Vietnam vet who talks to a can of mixed vegetables, and helps the kids with their ‘woes’ (the montage with him and Showalter is without a doubt the standout moment of the entire film). This was not the only time Meloni would let the guard to his more serious side down (having since appeared in two Harold and Kumur films as well), but certainly one of his most memorable moments doing so.

Of course the music reflects the time it’s set in as well; tracks by Foreigner, Jefferson Starship, and Quarterflash make their way throughout the picture. Several of the bands featured I have since personally seen live, including KISS (the solo from “Beth” can be heard at one point), Rick Springfield (“Love is Alright Tonite”), and Loverboy, who have not one, but two tracks on the soundtrack with “Turn Me Loose” and “When It’s Over” (hearing the latter two songs used in the film may have actually been the moment I realized Loverboy wasn’t half bad, and might have even helped convince me to go see the band in concert with my wife in 2014, see attached flyer below). Unfortunately, I have very few usable photos of Loverboy, thanks to it being a last minute show, and our not having a SLR camera with us at the time (anyone out there with pics from the show, I would love to see them!).

The characters have since been brought back twice via two Neflix shows; First Day of Camp in 2015, and Ten Years Later in 2017. But I digress; if you have never seen Wet Hot American Summer, now would surely be the perfect time to give it a chance. After all, you still have a few weeks left until the ‘last day of camp!’

Flyer from Loverboy show in Orlando, FL on 5/17/14, from the author’s personal collection.

Album Review: Ace Frehley – Origins Vol. 2 (eOne)

By: Jesse Striewski

As an avid KISS fan, I’ve always been a fan of guitarist Ace Frehely’s contributions to his former band, as well as his solo catalogue. There’s just always been a certain realness to his songs and voice that fans have always found appealing, and what makes another collection of covers in the form of Origins Vol. 2 so easily digestible, even if the track list found here is once again just so-so.

Like with Vol. 1, Frehely goes back to his early rock roots, in some cases improving on the original source material. Choosing to kick off things with an admirable version of Led Zepplin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” Frehely quickly wields his magic throughout (most) of the album’s remaining tracks, including singles like Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin'” and The Beatles’ “I’m Down.” But other renditions of more obscure dinosaur rock tunes like Cream’s “Politician” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” are sure to get lost on younger fans.

But the real highlights come in the form of the collaborations; Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander lends his voice on a lively version of Humble Pie’s “30 Days in the Hole,” while the lovely Lita Ford adds her talent to a unique take on The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” And of course Ace even tackles one from his former band KISS, going back to the Dressed to Kill album to unearth “She.” These later tracks alone do enough to cancel out nearly any of the filler tracks on Vol. 2. Overall, not a completely bad way to spend 45 minutes or so.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Book Review: Take It Off: KISS Truly Unmasked By Greg Prato (Jawbone Press)

Kiss Book Cover - Edited

By: Jesse Striewski

One of the most intriguing eras in the nearly five-decade history of KISS for many has always been that moment in time the band went without their trademark makeup from 1983 to 1996. Though a slightly awkward, yet indeed underrated period for the band, it’s finally brought back to the forefront thanks to the meticulous detail author Greg Prato has put into researching said time frame.

Starting things off with a forward by Fozzy front man Chris Jerhico, Prato covers everything from the early stages of the band’s non-makeup period with guitarist Vinnie Vincent, to the band’s eventual reunion of the original lineup in the mid-’90s. Various musicians, songwriters, producers, and others close to the band during this era, help tell the tale of one of the most storied periods of the band’s career. Even Mark St. John’s (extremely) brief stint with the band in 1984, is covered here like never before, and Prato also enlists the help of such KISS alumni as former guitarist Bruce Kulick (who replaced St. John) to help complete the story.

As an avid KISS fan, this one’s a no brain-er; most die hard fans of the band should find it easy enough to agree, while newcomers should find it enlightening.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Interview with Former KISS Guitarist Bruce Kulick By Jesse Striewski

Bruce Kulick

What a time it is to be a KISS fan; the band is currently embarking on their End of the Road tour well through 2021, and, a new book about the band’s non-makeup years titled Take it Off: KISS Truly Unmasked by Greg Prato was recently released by Jawbone Press.

Recently I was able to talk with former KISS (and current Grand Funk Railroad) guitarist Bruce Kulick, who spent 12 years with the former during said “unmasked” era from 1984-1996. The first thing I wanted to know was what his thoughts were on Prato’s new book, to which he said, “It’s very in-depth and informative. There’s a lot of interest in my era (with the band) lately, so it’s great timing for Mr. Prato.”

I also asked Bruce how it was recently playing the KISS Kruise IX, and he says; “It’s always a perfect fit, KISS fans that know I will serve up a huge buffet of my era with the band. The guys in my band are total pros, and amazing to work with. And doing the Animalize medley was so much fun…the press really jumped on it!”

I had to know what Bruce’s favorite KISS albums – both with and without him – were. He informed me; “I think Destroyer was my favorite. It has so many good songs on it. And although I do have highlights from each LP I did with the band, I do feel Revenge is a great album.”

I was also curious if Kulick ever felt left out at all being one of only two members of KISS to never don their famous makeup (the other being former guitarist Mark St. John, R.I.P.), to which he replied, “Not a big deal to me at all. It was the way it was meant to be.”

Some might not realize that in addition to guitar, Bruce is also a talented keyboard player. I asked him if he was self-taught, and he tells me, “I did take keyboard lessons in my late teenage years, and it is a great instrument. I should play it more!”

Of course I asked how things were with his current band, Grand Funk Railroad, as well. Bruce says, “Pretty amazing. The band in its current version is going on 20 years. Great players, and we all get along, so that helps! We know how fortunate we are to be performing in the “September” of our years (laughs)!”

With the final days of KISS also coming to a close, I asked Bruce how he felt about the band retiring, and if he had any plans to possibly join them at some point on their farewell tour. Bruce tells me, “I am happy for them to go out big. No firm plans are actually made yet for me sitting in, but I think it’s a strong possibility, especially for their last show.”

And finally, Bruce informed me what else might be in store for him in 2020; “I did recently discuss with ESP Guitars doing more guitar clinics, and I hope to record with my KISS Kruise band this year, I think fans would love that.” Visit Bruce’s site at http://www.BruceKulick.com to keep up to date with everything Bruce is up to.