VH1 Classic Records
Cast: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss
Extras: Commentary Track
The phenomenon that is "KISS" keeps going and going and going. What started out originally as a unique and radically flashy rock band has turned into a huge corporation over the past 30 years with Gene Simmons seemingly dead-set to milk it for every penny that it is worth. The merchandising machinery of "KISS" is unparalleled in the music industry and puts to shame even Hollywood on countless occasions. The band hasn't recorded an album in years and yet sales on all things "KISS" are soaring while the band continues to tour arenas across the country in what started as their "Farewell" tour some five years ago.
Now, Gene Simmons decided to chronicle some of the career milestones of the band in "KISSology, " a 3-volume DVD release that contains some of the historic appearances and concerts of the band throughout the years. Volume 1, which we have here for review, covers the years 1974 to 1977. This is, by many fans' standards, the Golden Era of "KISS," covering the formation of the band all the way to their platinum album "Love Gun." During this period, featuring Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, the band arguably crafted some of their best songs, most of which have sustained the years and are still hymns to this day. Whether it's "Rock'n Roll All Nite," "God Of Thunder," "Detroit Rock City," "Beth," "Black Diamond," "Deuce" or "Love Gun," this period produced them all. As a result, most fans will consider Volume 1 of the "KISSology" the most interesting and intriguing of all volumes.
After inserting the disc in the player I was a bit surprised at its overall presentation as within a second the disc launched into concert footage right away, without any menu, without any disclaimers or anything. On the one hand this is nice, but at the same time you are sort of thrown into the middle of the concert at the Long Beach Auditorium without warning, introduction or mood-setter. It took me a few seconds to realize that I'm watching the actual disc and not some promo or extended main menu lead-in. From there on the disc just keeps piling it on and on. There is concert footage after concert footage, interspersed with clips from TV appearances and even the occasional "documentary" chronicling one of the band's appearances, like the infamous Cadillac, Michigan High School events.
The picture and sound quality on this release varies significantly, of course. Being documentary in nature, we are presented here with amateur footage as well as 16mm film and 70s TV footage in many instances. All of them simply do not measure up to today's standards, creating an image that is grainy, noisy, bleeding colors, faded, muted or whatnot. It is all across the map, really. However, that is part of the appeal of this release. It gives us a look at the band in its early days as well as some untainted footage from their shows before production technologies became overly slick. The footage feel authentic and rare, making it a true gem for the band's fans of old. Starting with the 1976 concert at Detroit's Cobo Hall – which is one of the four concerts presented on this release in their entirety – you can begin to tell that concert video and audio begin to dramatically improve.
On the second disc you will find the entire Budokan concert from 1977 as well as "The Summit" concert during 1977's "Love Gun Tour."
The same thing is essentially true for the audio quality. While early footage contains horrible distorted audio for the most part if gets gradually better. The three full concerts on the release have actually been remixed to 5.1 channel Dolby Digital, trying to squeeze the most out of the tracks. What I found particularly interesting was during the band's early segments, which were shot by amateurs, is that you get to hear a very unbalanced mix. On one clip you may hear only Gene's bass lines, while in another clip you may be able to hear only Ace's guitar work while everything esle is drowned out. The musician in me was extremely excited about being able to get a glimpse at the musicianship that is on display here aside from the theatrics.
As an extra, the DVD also contains a commentary track with the band members. It is mostly Gene Simmons who is doing the talking together with Paul Stanley. While very interesting and informative, the comments are spotty however. Sometimes there would be a short introduction, like to the Budokan concert, where Paul talks about the band's arrival in Tokyo and Gene's recollection of the contract situation, but after a few minutes the commentary falls silent. This happens on a large number of occasions, so again, do not expect a whole lot of divulging into backstage information etc. This is mostly about the concerts and appearances of the band.
"KISSology: Volume 1" is true nostalgic fun for any "KISS" fan. I do have to admit however that I was hoping there'd be more backstage footage included in this release but there is virtually none. What little there is, is part of some promo clip or documentary. If you were hoping to get a low down on the band – as in the people and the production they put on the road or clips of them working on their albums – in those early days, you will be disappointed. This is all about promo and concert materials. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I thought I'd point it out.
For me it was great to revisit those early days of the band – the era when I became a "KISS" fan myself. It is a nice throwback to the 70s and the mystique that "KISS" was at the time. For fans of the band, this release is definitely a must-own!