Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kiss - "The Hottest Show On Earth: Live In Sault Ste. Marie" Review!!

It's that time once again, as we present our 16th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene! I apologize for the delay, school commitments took up more time than I anticipated. And for the first time ever, we look at an album that's NOT from a local metal band. So why does it get a review here? Well that's because this is an official live album from a major local hard rock concert, and if you've been around the SMS the last few months, you'll know this one! So this month's review is of Kiss' "The Hottest Show On Earth: Live In Sault Ste. Marie", which is the two disc live album recorded LIVE at Kiss' show at The Essar Center on August 10th! Kiss' current lineup, including guitarists Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer, bassist Gene Simmons, and drummer Eric Singer, rocked n' rolled all night, and German music company Simfy Live were on hand to record the concert for an eventual release! You could buy USB drives to get the concert on at the show, but now, you can only buy our Kiss concert online at their official website, where you can buy the show for $34.95 (plus shipping & handling) on either a 2 CD set or on a USB drive. Click here to order the 2 CD package, and here to buy the USB drive, in case you want to own this concert for yourself, but note that you currently can't buy the album unless you're on an American computer or IP address, even though it was a Canadian concert. I myself have the 2 CD set, and make note that it should arrive around two weeks after you place the order.

I recommend buying the album at the links above (if you can), because a torrent download wouldn't be supportive, and other audio bootlegs and recordings will no doubt be of a lesser quality. I also want to note that, in the process of this review, I will ONLY be grading this on a musical scale. I was at the Kiss show and am well aware of the theatrics and stage show that Kiss employ, but this is a CD, not a DVD. I want to grade it on how the band sound and how they measured up to the original studio versions, with a fresh mind and no influences from their stage show. We have over 2 hours of music here, so let's not waste any more time, so let's jump right into the opening song of the concert and this album, "Modern Day Delilah"! (Updated on September 28th, 2012)

The CD starts with about 85 seconds of dead air before Kiss' introduction, which I should note wasn't just dead air at the concert, but I'm reviewing the audio aspect of it, not recalling theatrics and video segments. As I said, they started with "Modern Day Delilah", the first single from their most recent album 2009's "Sonic Boom", which had an extended intro to accommodate their grand entrance. The band are playing at top form musically on this song, but the singing is definitely off for much of it. Paul Stanley's singing has the right tone, but it sounds like he's struggling to hit even his normal higher notes. I had noticed this at the concert, but it's even more noticeable now that the musical aspect is my main focus. Everything else sounds good, particularly Tommy Thayer's lead guitar work, which is spot on! This was one of the better songs from "Sonic Boom", catchy and heavy, resembling some of Kiss' better early '80s work. "Detroit Rock City" would have been a better opener, but this was a solid way to kick things off, Paul's vocal struggles notwithstanding! I should note also that the extremely loud fireworks and the crowd's cheering is at tolerable levels to not interfere with Kiss' music on this CD set, which I appreciate!

After some nice banter with Paul Stanley and the "animals" in the crowd ("Did you think we weren't gonna come?"), the disc segued right into "Cold Gin" without a typical CD pause between the tracks, which is welcome, as it makes the disc feel like one long experience! This is the first song that Kiss played that night where Gene Simmons sang lead, and though he was never as capable of a singer as Paul, his voice has actually held up better, so I honestly have less to be critical about for Gene's singing. I have to be honest, I've always liked live versions of "Cold Gin" better than the original studio copy from Kiss' 1974 self-titled debut, as they tend to be a bit heavier and more aggressive, and this was the case at the August 10th show here too! The music seems to fill out better and have more of a raw feeling to them compared to the original. Of the best known Gene-sang Kiss songs, I wouldn't rank this the highest, but it has a nice beat and entertaining lyrics. Eric Singer's drumming stands out here, and the guitar sounds great too! Good song, but there's better to come!

The song caps off with some crowd rallying by Paul, which was fun to be a part of, but seems somewhat expendable considering that this is a live album. Third from the setlist and CD was "Let Me Go, Rock N' Roll" from Kiss' second 1974 album, "Hotter Than Hell". This is an overall better song than "Cold Gin", which has a nice fast pace and some good urgent rock singing from Gene! I love the solos on this version too, Tommy Thayer does Ace Frehley complete justice on this one! I honestly also like this live version better than the original, largely because of Gene's singing, which sounded slightly artificial on the original version. This version was also greatly extended to over five minutes in length, featuring more instrumental work from the band and some nice solo patches from Gene and Tommy. Musically, this is my favourite of the three songs so far from the concert, and I remember enjoying this a great deal at the show too! After more banter between Paul and the crowd, including some talk about how you don't need to go to Toronto to hear rock n' roll, he said that he was gonna get this place so hot, that they'd need to call the firehouse! And yes, "Firehouse" from Kiss' debut album was next on the setlist, with Paul Stanley returning to lead vocals for the track. Luckily, he sounded a lot better here than he did on "Modern Day Delilah", with his voice holding up well throughout. To be fair though, it is a simpler song vocally. The band sound great here, everything comes together very well, especially guitar-wise! We also got Gene's fire breathing here at the end of the song, but it's not terribly obvious from just listening. Is it bad of me to say they do this song better live too than on the original studio version? It just seems empty and tame compared to the heavier spectacle we get nowadays, and it feels more natural as a Kiss song the way they play it now! I don't know, maybe it's just me. Great song though, I remember singing along with it with much enthusiasm at the concert!

Fifth was "Say Yeah" from "their newest album, after some convenient "Sonic Boom" related plugs and quick instructions on when the crowd should join in on backing vocals. This is a nice melodic rocker that's tailor made for crowd involvement, and it lives up that with this performance! Paul's singing is alright, though he does struggle a touch on higher registers, and the backing singing doesn't hold up. I can't find much to complain about here though otherwise, they play the song extremely closely to the original and it rocks in the process! I think in this case, a boost on the crowd volume would work well for the parts where we said "Yeah", but hey, it's all good! Following that, Kiss returned to another classic from their debut album "Deuce", which is (for my money) one of the best Kiss songs from their early mid-70s period. I love it's energy and hard sound, but like with the earlier performances of songs from their debut, I can't help but like the live version more. for it's energy and filled out sound. Gene's singing is at top form, and the guitar word (particularly on Tommy's end) makes "Deuce" even better! This was nice to the point performance that surely got fans rocking!

Next on the setlist was a surprise song if there ever was one, "Crazy Crazy Nights", from their 1987 album "Crazy Nights"! You don't tend to hear Kiss play very many unmasked-era songs nowadays ("Lick It Up" is a notable exception), so this was surely a treat for diehard Kiss fans! Myself, I'd have replaced this with "God of Thunder" in the setlist, but beggars can't be choosers. I wasn't familiar with the song before the concert, but after hearing the studio version afterwards, I noticed that the performance we saw was a lot lower key and less poppy than the original, if that makes sense. It seemed too down compared to it's lyrics and original style, like it was phoned in a bit. Paul's singing's good, but I don't dig the guitar on here as much as Bruce Kulick's work on the original version. Good song, but I don't think Kiss accurately captured the original's energy at the Sault show, and if I could suggest a better unmasked song to return to their set, how about "Heaven's On Fire"? After some deserved praise from Paul over how we were a loud crowd despite our size, we got the eighth song of the night, "Calling Dr. Love", from Kiss' 1976 album "Rock and Roll Over". It's a good performance of a catchy rocker, but I found it a bit less energetic than the original too. I know they tune down a bit nowadays, but it doesn't seem to have the same vibrance. I didn't notice it at the show either, bur regardless, I really like this song! Gene sounded good, and the drumming was top notch also!

Ninth at the Sault Ste. Marie show was "Shock Me" from Kiss' 1977 album "Love Gun", with Tommy Thayer singing lead vocals in Ace Frehley's place. I imagine Kiss diehards will still be annoyed over Tommy wearing Ace's costume and doing his songs, but I'm gonna say something controversial here: I prefer Tommy's singing voice to Ace's on "Shock Me". It's heavier and grittier, and for my money, it works better. On the whole, this song is very good, and it really showcases Tommy (in the current case) very well, with an excellent guitar solo and riffing! Good stuff all around, it's one of Kiss' best early songs, and it perfectly segued into the tenth track, "Tommy & Eric Solo", which was basically an extended solo section for Tommy and Eric to show their stuff to the Kiss Army! If there was lingering resentment towards them from Ace and Peter fans, you sure couldn't tell! It started with Tommy and Eric playing together and trading off each other, followed by Tommy got his own alone time before a lengthy drum solo from Eric Singer which was great, but I found it did drag a bit. He can really beat those skins with melody and aggression in perfect sync! The latter portions of the solo involved more joint playing and the "guitar cannon" that we saw at the show as well. Good solo stretch, not the best I've seen from any bands, but it's nice to see Kiss give the new guys time in the spotlight!

The eleventh song of the concert, and last on Disc 1 of the CD set, was "I'm An Animal", another new song from "Sonic Boom". Is it odd of me to say this song has a Black Sabbath feel? It sort of has that vibe with it's riffing and pace, and you know what? I like it, it's different and sounds pretty cool! It's not a terribly energetic song, but it's darker slower pacing is nice to see! Gene's singing is good and controlled, and the band are playing this different sort of sound very well here! The disc concludes with Paul teling the crowd that it's now how many you've got, it's who you've got, in reference to our size (I still love how we booed when he mentioned Sudbury), before launching into Disc 2 with "100,000 Years", another cut from their debut album. Once again, Kiss outperform their original studio version of an early song, but it's not as much of an improvement as others, cause I really liked the original "100,000 Years" among the tracks on that album. Paul seems a lot more excitable and energetic with his singing, which helps me grade it higher, but the music is only marginally better than the original recordings. Catchy but it's not really a long lasting song that will stick in your head. For while it lasts though, it's very good, and captures Kiss' musical abilities well! This song was also greatly extended thanks to Paul getting the crowd to clap their hands, sing along with him, and pump their fists... a lot. This was great at the concert, but it's not really conducive to holding a listener's attention on a live album, especially when you can't be a part of the rallying and chanting.

The thirteenth track from the local show was "I Love It Loud" from 1982's "Creatures Of The Night", and for my money, this is one of my favourite Kiss songs with Gene singing! This song was preceded by Gene's trademark bass solo, during which he spits blood and rises to the rafters. Not bad, but very slow paced, but I expected that. I'd been hoping it'd segue into "God of Thunder" like it has in the past, but "I Love It Loud" works! It's a great heard rocker that has a catchy chorus and great audience participation, but after listening to their performance again, I'm actually slightly disappointed, as they removed half of the second verse and didn't demonstrate much enthusiasm for the song compared to earlier performances I've seen of this song. Good performance, but underwhelming, especially for a song I really like! Following that was "Love Gun", from the album of the same name, which began with Paul singing the chorus acapella. I remember the crowd sang along note for note, and I can see why they would, as it's one of Kiss' best! It's another good version of a classic, though I think I have more of an affinity for the original. It flowed together better on the original, here, it just sounds a bit off. Still great though, with Paul's voice holding up and Tommy wowing with another good solo!

The last half of the "Love Gun" track is made up of Paul Stanley's solo section, which was basically an extended riff (well played at that) until he surprisingly broke out some Led Zeppelin and did a solo cover of portions of their classic "Whole Lotta Love"! We got a kick out of that, even if his voice did sound scratchy as he tried to hit the higher notes! Nice to see it made the live album, I was worried that royalty issues may nix it from the CD! Fifteenth was "Black Diamond", also off their debut, and after a shaky beginning where Paul had to ensure more fans sang along with the intro, the song kicked in well and delivered! This was a Peter Criss-sang classic, so Eric Singer handled vocals here instead, and he did Peter justice vocally, never sounding off or wrong in the process! Aside from that subject, they again outdid their original performance of the song from 1974, rocking steadily with lots of enthusiasm compared to certain earlier songs on their setlist! And when the crowd loosened up with Paul's help, we all sang along readily! No frills here, just straight up rock, and we ate it up! Good performance!

Next, and the final song before the encore, was "Detroit Rock City", and you can guarantee we loved this song live! The only real complaint I have for this classic song is that Paul definitely seemed to phone in some of the vocals, though I chalk that up more to vocal issues than any lack of enthusiasm, as he sure seemed happy to be playing for us! This is a great song to headbang with, and is very catchy, it's an all around classic! Like certain older songs, it was slightly extended with a long closing section, but overall, it was pretty close to the original, and sure sparked the crowd! Much of the latter half of the CD track is the space between the end of the song up to the beginning of their encore, which is lengthy dead air, but luckily the music does pick back up with one of Kiss' biggest hits, "Beth" from 1976's "Destroyer". A romantic ballad, this was also sang by Eric Singer in lieu of Peter Criss, and it sure got the crowd singing along! Seemed like everyone was, and if people were angry over Eric doing Peter's song, you couldn't tell at all! Now I will be completely honest: I've never been a fan of "Beth" and that didn't change at the Sault show either. It's much too soft and light for my liking, and very different from what I expect of Kiss, but I'm glad everyone liked it!

After some questioning over what song the fans wanted, Kiss launched into "Lick It Up", the title track of their 1983 album of the same name, and probably their best known unmasked era single. It sounded pretty similar to the original, save for an extended instrumental section at the end, but Paul's singing did have weak areas. I always found "Lick It Up" to be a good song, but very repetitive lyrically, and I felt that way at the show too. But it's a nice rocking number that came off very well at the show, and it's proof that their unmasked era deserves moments in the spotlight! They followed that up with "Shout It Out Loud", a classic song in it's own right from "Destroyer", and it was played very well in it's own right at the show! It's a great song to sing along with, and has some great dual vocals from Gene and Paul. The song seemed to fly by very quickly though, but when you're enjoying it, it doesn't matter when all is said and done! It's not Kiss' best song musically, but it has an iconic feel to it, and luckily, it sounds pretty close to the original, so it gets a good recommendation from me! This track ended with Paul talking about how he wants to come meet the fans (if they say "Paul" loud enough), which we did, so Paul came out to visit us! Luckily, the zipline voyage to the rotating platform on the other end of the arena was edited out, so some empty space is thankfully removed.

This led to a performance of their "disco" song "I Was Made For Loving You" from their 1979 album "Dynasty", and I have to say, this underwhelmed me in two different ways. One, they didn't play it the way I was hoping, cause in some performances, they make it a LOT heavier with aggressive rangy singing and a quicker pace. "Alive IV" had a great example of that, so not hearing that version disappointed me. The other way I was underwhelmed was with Paul's singing, with the strain on his voice showing a lot on the choruses and the higher register vocals after the second chorus. He's definitely had better nights, and on a song that I was never high on in it's original form, I wasn't too enamored with this version of it that we saw. The rest of the band did play it well though, so I'll give them that!

After that, we got another song I was never a huge fan of, "God Gave Rock N' Roll To You II" from 1992's "Revenge". I'll admit that it has a great message, but it's too soft and airy for my liking. I like it more than "Beth", but it drags, it's not really a rocking song, and doesn't really scream "Kiss" to me. Maybe the fact that it's a cover could explain that, but either way. They play it well though, especially Tommy, and it sounds pretty good compared to their original version, but I can think of many songs that would be better fits for a Kiss show. The album and concert close with Kiss' trademark song, "Rock N' Roll All Night" from 1975's "Dressed To Kill", and this is the perfect way to end any Kiss concert: by rock n' rolling all night and partying every day! My only real complaint of their performance is that the downtuning made it less energetic, but they're at top form otherwise, with good singing from Gene and fantastic guitar as always! The crowd rallying is great, and you can really hear the crowd very well as we sang along! An extended album closing jam sends this out on a high note, ending one of the most notable local rock concerts of recent years, and this live CD set!

So how do I grade "The Hottest Show On Earth: Live In Sault Ste. Marie", now that I've finally heard the concert in full again without visual influence? Well, I have to say, Kiss delivered a great performance, but it was flawed. Part of that is inevitable though, as they're not getting any younger, and very few musicians will sound as good 35 years after debuting as they first did. This was especially evident with the downtuned instruments and with Paul's voice, which often struggled to hit high notes, like on "Modern Day Delilah" and "I Was Made For Loving You". Gene was great though, his voice held out and his bass work was as good as we ever hear! Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer proved to be excellent at their respective instruments, and though I'm sure there were Ace and Peter loyalists in attendance, "the new guys" were rightfully recieved well! Kiss' current lineup have great chemistry and a classic sound that has never went out of style, but their setlist did need adjusting. I'd have easily swapped "Crazy Crazy Nights" for a more recognizable song like "God Of Thunder" or "Strutter", while "Beth" and "God Gave Rock N' Roll To You" don't tickle my metal fancy, but I'm just one voice among thousands who loved those songs at the show, so I'm admittedly in the minority.

That being said, I believe that this live album will underwhelm some Kiss fans, for a couple of reasons. The $29.99 price will likely be offputting when you can buy any Kiss "Alive!" album for cheaper and get to hear Kiss in their prime. And really, a lot of the appeal of seeing Kiss live is in their theatrics and stage effects, and you don't get those in an audio recording. I don't think any Kiss live CD will be a completely accurate facsimile for seeing them live. The experience of seeing Kiss do their thing is half the fun, and just hearing it won't replicate it. Same goes for bands like Gwar, the stage show completes the experience. But if you're a diehard Kiss fan and want to own the concert they played here, you can't go too wrong! Simfy Live packaged it nicely, included a track listing, and the audio quality is first rate! My only issue with the quality is some of the track transitions are visibly edited so they flow together without lengthy breaks, but end up sounding clipped or forced anyway. And yet they let us sit through the encore break in full, that doesn't gel with me. If you want prime Kiss, a lower cost, or the live stage experience, go with an "Alive!" album or a Kiss DVD. But if you missed the Kiss show, loved it, or just want to add to your collection, I would recommend buying it A.S.A.P., but keep my reservations in mind!

That's all for now, but stay tuned for weekend concert previews (and more) later tonight! And what's the album review next month? Well, it will be a newly released local metal album IF any new ones come out. If not, I'm likely going to review an album from a Sault Michigan band of some type. I'll leave it at that. Stay tuned for my next review between November 15th and 21st, and for our next news post later tonight! Thanks everyone!

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