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April 04, 2014 • 09:10 AM

KISS ALIVE II -- THE (VERY RARE) ACOUSTIC SHOW

Rather than waste time on a lengthy intro, let’s just get right to it. Kiss played their first acoustic gig since 1995 last night. That makes it a pretty big deal in Kiss world, so here’s a blow-by-blow account of the 21-song, 100 minute, very sold-out show at the San Manuel Casino, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles

Comin’ Home: Lights down, no intro music, no introduction, just the band starting to play as the curtains open. This deep cut started their 1995 “Unplugged” album and gave it new life then, so it was a strong familiar opener for those (like me) who have the album. The band were clad in the standard upscale rock dude gear:, silk shirts, black pants and black boots. It was definitely strange to see a weeding ring on bassist and vocalist Gene Simmons’ fretboard hand given his infamous background.

Calling Dr. Love: After some welcoming comments by lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley, he introduced the song by revealing that Gene was inspired to write it by watching The Three Stooges. Gene then explained what Paul meant by imitating a few seconds of dialogue where the 3 Stooge characters were all talking about calling each other in rapid succession.

Hard Luck Woman: Paul revealed that he wrote this song after listening to Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”, then a Top 10 hit, and deciding he should write a song just like it. Given that more than one person later mistook the song and then original drummer and vocalist Peter Criss' vocals for Stewart’s, Paul succeeded. Paul sang it tonight, but this song was made for Peter. Say what you will about the original Catman, but the dude could sing.

Christine Sixteen: Paul used to keep a notebook with lists of song titles in it, and one day Gene went through it and stole the title for this one. “Yes, I stole it,” came Gene’s stentorian response. After Paul built up a nice rap, he paused and introduced the song as “Freebird”, but then when the song actually started Gene forgot the vocals on both of the main verses and botched the ones he did remember. Everyone just kind of shrugged and laughed, including the band.

Hide Your Heart: Paul called for a sing-along on this one. He wrote this song in 1989 in New York “with a friend of mine”, but he did not say whether he was referring to Desmond Child or to Holly Knight. The crowd did its job on the choruses, prompting Paul to exclaim, “So you can SING!” afterwards.

Goin’ Blind: Gene co-wrote this song prior to Kiss’ formation. Paul said that Mountain and Leslie West were inspirations for it, and after Paul pointed out that Cream was the other big influence on this song, Gene piped in, “I wanted to steal from them too”. Paul said he told Gene at the time that lyrics about a 93 year-old man falling for a 16 year old girl were crazy, but Gene just smiled and shrugged, both then and now. They played a country/hoedown intro to the song as a joke, and they redid the ending to the song after botching it on the first pass.

Cold Gin: Paul got a huge laugh by adopting his normal “onstage voice” and yelled “HOW WE DOIN’ SO FAHHH?”, before smiling and saying, “I’m not talking in that voice tonight.” Paul then plugged the LA Kiss arena football team, whose first home game is on Saturday and whose logo was stickered onto the basses Simmons played throughout the show. This was one of the truly unexpected songs of the night given that it’s an Ace Frehley-penned song about alcohol. So, original lead guitarist Ace picks up his performance royalties for this one, but it also shot down the lingering hopes I had that Ace might make an appearance tonight as he lives just down the road in San Diego. But it was not to be.

“Do You Love Me”: Paul said, Here’s one...” and played the first 15 seconds of “Stairway To Heaven”, to great laughter from the crowd. He then recounted the band coming off the road after “Alive” had run in its initial sales course and pairing up with producer Bob Ezrin to make the “Destroyer” album, and they know it’s one of their best because so many songs from it are “still in the show”. Lots of people got up from their seats to rock out to this one.

“Nothin’ To Lose”: Paul introduced the song by saying he knows this one was from the first album, but that he couldn’t remember if it was the first song. The crowd near the stage let him know the it was the second song and that “Strutter” was the opener, and Paul just smiled and rolled his eyes at how he didn’t know that. Drummer Eric Singer handled the vocals and did a great job, and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer's nimble soloing earned him a loud round of applause.

“Love Her All I Can”: One more mention of the LA Kiss football team; this time Paul let the crowd know the concert was being filmed for a reality show about Gene and Paul’s involvement with the team. Paul then recounted that the songwriting for the Dressed To Kill album was done primarily in the studio, as the band had just come off a tour and had to deliver a new album to Casablanca Records on time, no matter what. Several songs on the album were literally written by Gene and Paul in the morning and recorded that afternoon, including this one, which they wrote after hearing The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” on the radio and trying to imitate it. Tommy’s leads got him another round of applause.

“A World Without Heroes”: Paul cut right to the chase and said, “We did an album in 1981, and almost everybody hated it,” as people laughed at his reference to the failed concept album “(Music From) The Elder”. “But there are some good songs on it, and this is one of them. I think it’s only the 3rd time ever we’ve played it.” Definitely the deepest cut of the night. “...Elder” fans, you may rejoice.

“Plaster Caster”: Gene introduced the song by telling a Michael Jackson joke that did not come through the PA because his microphone distorted his voice. No one around me laughed or groaned either, so I was definitely not the only person who couldn’t hear it. Probably just as well. This song came off well, just as it did on the 1995 “Unplugged” album. Afterwards Gene loudly retuned his bass to a few cheers, and he deadpanned, “Hey, we tune because we care,” and got a laugh from the crowd.

 “Take Me”: Paul introduced this one by saying, “We used to start the show in the 70s with this one.” Few could have predicted this reappearance, which was another one of the night’s biggest surprises. As I heard this excellent but long-dormant song in the car on the drive out to the show today, I distinctly thought to myself, “Ah, well, there’s no way they’ll play this one tonight.” Wrong! 

“See You In Your Dreams”: Gene has never been shy about how much of an influence The Beatles were on him, and this song, originally on “Rock And Roll Over” and later redone on his 1978 solo album, is as Beatlesque as it gets. Nice backing vocals by the others.

“Rock Bottom”: “Forgive us if we f*** up,” warned Paul before he and Tommy began the delicate acoustic introduction. They didn’t, and after the intro concluded they got a nice wave of applause and then paused for another 10-15 seconds, to great effect, before Eric counted in the main body of the song. At one point during the gig I reflected what my 8-year old self would be thinking if he could have been transported through time to see this gig. My first through was that he’d have been the only kid in the neighborhood at that point to see the band without their makeup, and he probably would have gotten beaten up by older boys for bragging about it incessantly.

“You Shook Me”: This started out as a slowish blues riff and at first it seemed like the band was just having some fun, but then it turned out they were indeed doing a Led Zeppelin cover and they played the entire song, complete with an excellent and tasteful Tommy solo. Their version was slightly faster that Zeppelin’s, but then Paul decided to to the vocal coda and the ending a second time after a semi-train wreck on the first go-round.

“How Many More Times”: Gene started the bass line for this one right out of “You Shook Me”, and Paul sang through the first two verses, but when they arrived at the song first break after a couple of minutes no one knew what to do, so they made some on-the-fly detours into Paul-led verses of “Ramble On”, “Whole Lotta Love” and the riff to “Heartbreaker” before ending the song. Much smiling and laughter all around, nowhere more so than onstage.

“Mississippi Queen”: They teased this riff earlier during the intro to “Goin’ Blind”, but this time they gave the full song a shot with Gene on vocals. It felt like they were winging it, but fortunately the song’s arrangement is simple enough that they pulled it off, and Tommy improvised a slower, bluesy solo than gave him a more time to score the right notes. Tremendous fun, and afterwards Paul poked fun at the cover: “Yeah, that’s great. Play someone else’s music!”

“Got To Choose”: This was another unexpected surprise, and it was probably the strongest performance of the night because the band were so loose and having so much fun after the cover songs. Afterwards, Paul said, “We’re very near the end,” and it was onto the home stretch.

“Shout It Out Loud”: Most of the crowd got back up on their feet for this one and sang along. In general, the crowd was great, at least in my area. (Note: After the first few songs most people sat down, listened and appreciated, and there was not a single disturbance or annoyance during the entire set that I could see. And that was awesome.)

“Rock and Roll All Nite”: The expected closer, with everyone on their feet singing along. Afterwards the band set down their instruments and waved to the crowd while Paul tossed out the last of what must have been 50 guitar picks into the crowd. Kiss manager Doc McGhee was waiting sidestage to escort the band back to the dressing room as the curtain closed and the house lights came up.

Most definitely an excellent use of a vacation day to make the 150-mile round trip to see the show. I’m not sure if they’ll release it as an album, as parts of it are unpolished and imperfect, but I hope they do.

Next up in Kiss week: Part 3 of 4 is coming Sunday and will be a report from the first-even home game of the LA Kiss Arena football game. See you then.

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