After fifty solid years, KISS finally called it a day in their own homestate of New York at Madison Square Garden this past Saturday, December 2. No, I did not fly to the Big Apple to catch the farewell gig in person, but I did the next best thing any member of the KISS Army in central, FL could possibly do; took the family to the very house that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley built – Rock and Brews in Oviedo – and watched a pay-per-view showing of it from start to finish right there.
And was it just the same Gene and Paul show it has been for the past two decades with just a few obscure numbers thrown in, and zero appearances or even any mention of past alumni of the band? You bet ya. But it was still a flawless performance from them nonetheless (and as much as I would have loved seeing a reunion with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss take place as much as the next guy, there’s no denying that Gene and Paul are the only members of the band to be there for the entire duration of the past five decades).
After a house recording of Led Zepplin’s “Rock and Roll” died down, the immortal words were uttered for the last time; “You wanted the best, you got the best; the hottest band in the world…KISS!!!” As soon as the curtain dropped, the band was lowered from their platforms and started tearing through “Detroit Rock City” in full force.
“Shout it Out Loud,” “Deuce,” “War Machine,” “Heaven’s on Fire,” “I Love it Loud” (where Simmons briefly breathed fire), “Say Yeah,” and “Cold Gin” started the set list off on more than a promising note for just about any die hard fan before slowing things down for a guitar solo.
Wide shot of the Rock and Brews in Oviedo, FL just before the curtain fell at the final KISS show in New York on 12/2/23.
“Lick it Up” got things back on track nicely, before “Calling Dr. Love,” “Makin’ Love” (featuring a guitar duel between Stanley and guitarist Tommy Thayer), and “Psycho Circus” all followed. A drum solo from Eric Singer was spot on before a bass solo for Simmons (with part of “100,00 Years” thrown in between the two for good measure) lead way to the almighty “God of Thunder,” complete with blood-spitting.
“Love Gun” found Stanley flying above the crowd to a different section of stage per his usual routine, followed by the disco-esque “I Was Made For Loving You,” and one of my absolute favorite KISS tracks ever, “Black Diamond.”
Singer then emerged on stage behind a piano to perform Criss’ classic “Beth” solo for the first part of the encore. Finally, “Do You Love Me” and the timeless rock anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” officially closed out the night among a sea of confetti. It was a bittersweet moment, punctuated by “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” as the band made their final exit from the stage.
But what could’ve gone down as a graceful moment, perhaps with video footage representing each any every former member and time period throughout the band’s five decade history, was marred by the introduction of the band’s “new era” – avatars of the guys meant to be the continuation of the band’s legacy, was meant with mixed reactions from fans to say the least.
Was it a good show? Sure, in the technical sense everything was flawless from start to finish. But it wasn’t until after the performance, when Gene Simmons was being interviewed backstage and his children began joining him one at a time, that any real emotion was even really displayed. I will miss being in a world where KISS is still a living, breathing band, but will always be thankful to have existed for at least some of the time they were on this Earth.
I have several “introduction” memories I often point to when it comes to the almighty KISS; usually it’s of a ’70s-era video clip of the band playing “Rock and Roll All Nite” live that seemed to be on a continuous loop on a TV commercial at the time selling one of those “Best of ’70s Rock” comp albums, or the MTV videos of the ’80s I was so often exposed to as a kid, such as “Heaven’s on Fire,” Crazy Crazy Nights,” or “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” (the latter of which I thought was thoroughly cool at the time for its appearance in 1991’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey).
But I think the true, defining moment that made me a KISS fan for life was after acquiring the first album I ever owned by them; a secondhand find of 1979’s Dynasty record. While not regarded as one of the band’s “best” efforts by any means, I was still in “awe” of it all; the cover photo featuring all four band members – Gene Simmons, Paul Stanely, Ace Frehely, and Peter Criss – the ads still intact inside featuring everything from KISS posters to pinball machines, and of course, the giant poster that folded out with the entire band on it. There was no doubt about it; what I was holding in my hand was pure gold (and I’m happy to say I still own it to this day), and I was officially a member of the KISS Army from that moment on.
KISS began life in New York City after two members of the already established act Wicked Lester (vocalist/guitarist Paul Stanley and bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons) decided to venture out on their own and start something new and different that included each member of the group wearing makeup and donning their own individual personas (with Stanley as the Starchild, Simmons as the Demon, Frehley as the Spaceman, and Criss as the Catman, respectively). After recruiting a couple of more local musicians in the form of drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehely, the table was set for this new foursome to go after total rock dominance. But their first three albums, KISS (1974), Hotter ThanHell (1974), and Dressed to Kill (1975) found the band getting off with a lukewarm start at best.
It wasn’t until the band dropped Alive! in late 1975 that KISS fever would finally hit the country (and eventually the rest of the world). Showcasing everything right about the band, Alive! captured the pure, raw energy of the their live set (which included everything from fire-breathing to smoking guitars), launching them into super stardom on the heels of a live version of the band’s party anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” – which skyrocketed the song, and the album up the charts. A trio of hit records in the form of Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977) helped cement the band as hard rock titans. The piano-driven power ballad “Beth” (sung by Criss) appealed the band to a much broader audience and grew their popularity even further.
But alas, trouble in paradise began to rear its ugly head by 1978, with the TV movie Kiss Meetsthe Phantom of the Park portraying the band more like characters from a Scooby-Doo cartoon than the superheros they were meant to be shown as, and individual solo albums released by each member of the band that year also helped strengthen the ongoing riffs. By 1979’s Dynasty, there was no doubt things were eroding with Criss, who had recently endured a car accident which lead to substance abuse problems), causing him to only perform on only one track off the album (“Dirty Livin'”) while session drummer Anton Fig took up the rest of the slack. Criss’ live performance also suffered, often playing offbeat, or just plain not playing the shows at all.
Vinyl copy of KISS’ 1979 Dynasty album (complete with original ads) from the author’s collection.
By 1980’s Unmasked album, Criss was officially out (with Fig once again covering drum duties), marking the end of the “original” KISS. Enter Eric Carr, who took over the role of new drummer as the “Fox,” and was a much more technically skilled musician than Criss’ rough-around-the-edges approach.
Unfortunately, 1981’s Music From “The Edler,” a concept album that has since gone down as the band’s biggest embarrassment, was not exactly the ideal starting point for the new member. But 1982’s Creatures of the Night found the band going back-to-basic hard rock, albeit at the expense of another member as Frehley had already begun to move on. Several sessions guitarists, including Frehley’s eventual replacement Vinnie Vincent, were used for much of the recording of the album, as Ace made his official departure from the band shortly afterwards.
But the popularity of the band in the early ’80s was still waning, and a cause for drastic change was inevitable. For 1983’s Lick It Up album, the band did the unthinkable for the first time; took off their makeup that had concealed their identities for the better part of a decade. This ushered in a new era, and new life, for the band. Despite this, inner turmoil with Vincent lead to his dismal from the group, and Mark St. John was brought on to play the lead on 1984’s Animalize, another strong output from the guys. But a medical condition with his hands that limited his playing abilities would cause this to be the only album St. John would perform on with KISS (sadly, he eventually passed away years later in 2007), and Bruce Kulick was brought in as the band’s fourth guitarist to fill that spot (despite the rotating door of guitarists, Kulick would stay with the band an entire twelve years).
1985’s Asylum, 1987’s Crazy Nights, and 1989’s Hot in the Shade all continued to build on the band’s newfound success in the mid to late ’80s. But by early 1991 tragedy struck, as drummer Eric Carr was diagnosed with cancer, ultimately taking his life by November 24, 1991. But the band soldiered on the only way they knew how, and with Eric Singer behind the drumkit, released 1992’s Revenge, one of their heaviest albums to date. Unfortunately they once again faced new challenges as the landscape in rock music changed yet again, and grunge took over. There was no doubt that KISS would once again need to reinvent themselves.
And that change came with a performance on MTV’s Unplugged, when Frehley and Criss made their first appearance alongside the entire band for the first time in well over a decade. Recorded on August 9, 1995, I remember watching in awe the night it originally aired shortly after, feeling as though I was a part of history (or, KISStory if you will). From then on, it was a flown-blown reunion of Simmons/Stanley/Frehley/Criss (complete with makeup), and one of the biggest rock tours to date when it kicked off the following year in 1996.
One final studio album featuring Simmons/Stanley/Kulick/Singer titled Carnival of Souls: TheFinal Sessions was released rather unceremoniously in 1997 before the “comeback” record PsychoCircus featuring the “original” lineup (I say that very loosely) for the first time since 1979’s Dynasty, finally dropped in 1998. But old habits die hard, and halfway through a “Farewell Tour” that ran from 2000-01, Peter Criss was again replaced by Eric Singer. It wasn’t long after before Frehley was ousted as well, replaced by Tommy Thayer, who had worked on-and-off with the band on various projects, including co-writing songs and managing Kiss conventions going as far back as 1989.
With the lineup of Simmons/Stanely/Singer/Thayer, the band would record what will now be their final studio albums; 2009’s Sonic Boom, and 2012’s Monster. It was while they were touring in support of the latter record that I would finally see the “hottest band in the world” up close and personal for the one and only time on July 28, 2012 in Tampa, FL (with Motley Crue as their support act). It was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever been to in my lifetime, as much to do with the band itself as it did the longtime crush I ended up not only seeing the show with, but spending the entire weekend (in very KISS-like fashion) with after many years of longing after (for the sake of this article, we’ll just call her “Marie”).
Paul Stanley performing with KISS at the former 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa, FL on 7/28/12 courtesy of the author’s collection.
Although my interest in KISS has no doubt fluctuated from time to time over the years, nothing got me fully back into the band quite like that one single live show did. Until that is, I was able to pick the brain of someone who had actually been there, when I interviewed former guitarist Bruce Kulick for Rewind It Magazine back in 2019. It was without a doubt one of the most exciting interviews that I’ve done in over fifteen solid years worth of music/entertainment journalism.
And now tonight, the band will take its final bow, putting an end to an era that stretches back as far as 1973. They’ve meant a lot to so many over the years (present company obviously included), while many others could have cared less, or have simply written them off as a “joke” for decades. But for what it’s worth, I sure as hell would not be able to picture a world without KISS ever existing in it. Thank you KISS for the memories…you will surely be missed, but never forgotten.
Call me crazy, but I’ve always felt the material Kiss released during their non-makeup period of the ’80s and early ’90s is just as good – if not better in many cases – than the material from their ’70s hey day (it is after all closer to my own generation, having not been around yet myself until the early ’80s). While the band’s first two efforts in the earlier part of said decade – 1980’s Unmasked and 1981’s Music from “The Elder,” are to this day still at the bottom of the list for most Kiss fans – the guys slowly but surely started getting it right again.
When Kiss dropped Lick It Up on September 18, 1983, it was more than just your everyday album at the time, but rather a statement to the rock world that their talent was not based solely around their looks alone. And with new lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent in tow in replace of Ace Frehley, the band were as revitalized as ever. Vincent was one of several guitarists to perform on the group’s previous outing, 1982’s Creatures of the Night, but Lick it Up would be his first (and ultimately only) attempt as an actual full time member of the band. Late drummer Eric Carr’s (who first joined the band in time for The Elder) talent is also on full display this time around.
Fans are instantly greeted here with thrashy riffs in the form of the Paul Stanley-driven “Exciter,” a sound they had already built on with Creatures…Gene Simmons takes over with the menacing “Not For the Innocent,” easily one of the best tracks on the entire album. The infamous title track follows, and remains a staple in the band’s setlists to this very day (it was the only non-makeup-era track they performed when I finally saw them live in 2012). The dystopian music video that accompanies it also remains a classic, with the band lip-syncing the track while walking desolate streets overran by scantly-clad women in true ’80s fashion.
“Young and Wasted” is a pretty fun party track, while “Gimmie More” is not much more than filler. “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” was released as the second single, and features Stanley “rapping” the verses before a catchy, sing-a-long chorus. Like the title track, it too had a very similar (and fun) music video to go along with it. “A Million to One” is Stanley at his finest, declaring to an ex lover they will never find a similar love.
The rest of the album is closed out with Simmons-fueled numbers in the form of “Fits Like a Glove,” “Dance All Over Your Face,” and “And on the 8th Day,” each with varying results. While many of these tracks have long since been forgotten by time, the legacy of Lick it Up is still strong to this day, and it’s rare to find a rock station or cover band not jamming the title track somewhere at any given time. As the album hits its fortieth anniversary, don’t hesitate to give it a spin on your record player; in the immortal words of Stanley, “It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself!”
I’ve been fortune enough to cross paths with Anthrax bassist Frank Bello more than once at this point in my lifetime; in 2010, I was able to photograph each and every one of his manic mannerisms on stage with his band. Then in 2019, I was even luckier to have the chance to speak with him on behalf of Rewind It Magazine. And just last month, I was finally able to take my wife and son see him and Anthrax perform at Welcome to Rockville in Daytona Beach, FL.
Already having a pretty good idea of what he’s like as a person firsthand, I can honestly say his life story reads as though one is having a direct conversation with him. Author Joel Mciver does his best to keep Bello’s often-jumpy thoughts in line, while the one and only “God of Thunder” himself, Gene Simmons of KISS, offers his most sincere thoughts on Bello in a heartfelt forward that sets the tone nicely early on.
Sure, I could see Bello’s often brash, street-wise (perhaps even “too blunt” at times) dialogue here definitely being a turn off for some. But if you can get over that (and the book’s lengthy title), chances are you might not only like Fathers, Brothers, and Sons…, but possibly even take something from the wisdom Frank tries to pass down to readers. From one bassist (and now father) to another, my respect for Bello has always been up there. But the more and more I learn about him, the more that respect grows even further.
Loud heavy metal guitars shooting lightning. Backwards subliminal messaging. And humpty dumpty exploding from a second story rafter. These are just a few of the things one gets from 1986’s Trick or Treat, the ultimate outcast horror film, and quite possibly, the best of its kind.
Directed by Charles Martin Smith and originally released on October 24 of that same year, it followed teenage rebel Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer (played by Marc Price of Family Ties fame), a high school metalhead fed up with his jock bullies (lead by Doug Savant). When his rock n’ roll idol Sammi Curr (played by the late Tony Fields) dies unexpectedly, his world is thrown through a loop.
But thanks to a local DJ named Nuke (played brilliantly by KISS bassist Gene Simmons in his best Wolfman Jack impression), he’s given the last known recording by Curr. Upon playing the record backwards, he soon finds he has the power to communicate with – and even bring back from the dead – Curr. At first Curr aids Ragman in standing up to his tormentors, only to regret it when things quickly become deadly.
Ragman is then tasked with stopping Curr’s destructive path, and sets out to do just that with the help of some friends; the nerdy best friend Roger (Glen Morgan), and the lovely young maiden he has a crush on, Leslie (Lisa Orgolini). This eventually leads to a huge showdown at the high school Halloween dance, and the ensuing carnage make for some of the film’s best moments.
Hands down the music is one of standouts of the entire film. Rock supergroup Fastway, which originally featured ex-Motorhead and UFO members ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and Pete Way, respectively (as well as future Flogging Molly frontman Dave King) provided the soundtrack that acts as Curr’s music, and composer Christopher Young adds an extra eerie layer with his score (special effects wizard Kevin Yagher also cameos at the high school dance as one of the band members). And aside from Simmons’ previously mentioned cameo, there’s even a brief appearance by the one and only Ozzy Osbourne as a televangelist. I’ve been lucky enough to personally see Simmons, Osbourne, and even King all perform in concert since the film’s release (see photo below).
I can vividly recall watching Trick or Treat for the first time at one of those middle or high school sleepovers where someone brought a VHS copy they rented at the local video store. Not too far off from the character of Ragman myself at the time, I was easily able to relate to the film’s material, and have been a lifelong fan ever since. So if you’re staying in this Halloween and looking for something festive to watch that perhaps you haven’t seen before, fire up the old VCR, and get ready to Trick or Treat!
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 Haroldand 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 TenYears 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!’
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 OriginsVol. 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.
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.
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.