Released: 2003, Sanctuary
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Ever the showmen, Kiss has found a way to make itself even larger and grandiose—performing with the 60-piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra! Since Kiss has done everything from comic books to condoms, caskets to credit cards, the orchestral collaboration seemed like the next “big” step in their 30-year career. To be fair, this “event” was not the first pairing of a hard rock band with an orchestra. Deep Purple did it in 1970, The Scorpions did it in 2001 and the most obvious is Metallica’s dismal S&M project from 1999. On their S&M record, Metallica failed to gracefully insert the backing orchestra into their music. It often sounded as if two songs were being played simultaneously, yet slightly out of synch. The once powerful Metallica actually seemed to take a back seat to the Michael Kamen-led San Francisco Symphony. Kiss, on the other hand, has succeeded in becoming one with the orchestra. Each song blends the horns and strings with the drums and guitars perfectly to create an interesting listening experience. For the most part, the songs are not radical departures from the originals, but they do reflect what a proper symbiosis of rock and classical music can be. Also of note is that this is the first recorded performance of Ace Frehley’s replacement, Tommy Thayer, on lead guitar. He fills Ace’s platform boots nicely, handling the difficult solos and familiar riffs as if the Space Ace never left.
The first DVD is made up of “The Kiss Symphony Story” documentary, which segues directly into Act Three. On the 30 minute documentary, we are treated to a behind-the-scenes look at how the whole thing came about. The details of the show are displayed over a sped up scene of the stage going up. The Kiss Symphony collaboration was Australia’s largest concert setup ever, containing 250 tons of staging, 75 tons of lighting, 300 crew members working 24 hour shifts, 5 miles of sound cables, 1 million watts of lighting power, 42 cameras and 280 microphones! The size of the venue is impressive but as Paul Stanley walks into the Telstra Dome the day of the show, he seems overwhelmed and says, “You sit on your sofa in your living room in Manhattan, write songs, and it leads to this. This is amazing!”. During rehearsals for the show, the band and MSO had numerous problems playing in synch and didn’t even play together until the day before the show! The orchestra members seemed genuinely excited to be playing this event with Kiss and are all smiles as Kiss makeup is applied to their faces for the performance.
The second DVD features all three acts of the show: a “typical” Kiss show with the 4 members performing their respective instruments on Act One, followed by Act Two which utilizes a scaled down version of the orchestra to perform an acoustic set with the band and Act Three which is with the full MSO. Act One has the usual bombast of a Kiss show. The band chose the 6 songs carefully to reflect each period of their career. The performances are nothing special or extraordinary from other the other live albums but one gets a sense of how the band has evolved. Act Two is a stripped down acoustic set with 5 ballads. While “Beth” is an unfortunate but expected part of any Kiss show, hearing the band play “Shandi” (their first hit in Australia) and “Forever” (co-written with Michael Bolton—shudder!!) is a nice treat and both are done wonderfully. Don’t expect to hear these during a regular Kiss show, so enjoy them while you can! Act Three is where things start to get really interesting. Kiss’ best-known studio album is 1976’s DESTROYER. Of the nine songs on that album, seven are played here. “Detroit Rock City”, “King of the Night Time World”, “Do You Love Me?”, “Great Expectations”, “Shout It Out Loud” and “God of Thunder” are played in succession which could be called “The DESTROYER Suite”. I suppose the most obvious choice for inclusion with the orchestra is “Great Expectations”. The original featured a boy’s choir and for the symphony performance, the Australian Children’s Choir does a great job. The best songs of the bunch are “Detroit Rock City”, with its prominent horn section, and “God of Thunder”, with the orchestra providing excellent atmospheric string fills to make the song even creepier. The other highlight from Act Three is “Black Diamond”, which features Peter Criss on lead vocals. This song has always been one of my favorites and this version is damn near as good as the original.
Also on the second DVD is a 13 minute segment with Kiss appearing on the Australian television show ROVE LIVE! The band does a short nine minute interview in full makeup the day of the show and then returns for an acoustic performance of “Sure Know Something” with the Melbourne Symphony Ensemble. There are weblinks to the band’s website, as well.
For those of us who could not make the trip to Australia for this once-in-a-lifetime show, KISS SYMPHONY is an excellent reference piece. Even if you already have the ALIVE IV CD, do yourself a favor and get the SYMPHONY DVD, as well. Actually SEEING the band perform these songs doesn’t even compare to just hearing them. Of course, the pyro effects, stage and spectacle are breathtaking, but the smiles on the faces of the 35,000 people in attendance, Kiss and the MSO throughout demonstrate what a special experience this really was.