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KISS: SYMPHONY

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Tommy Thayer
Video:  Color full screen
Features:  See review
Audio:  DTS, Dolby 5.1, 2.0
Studio:  BMG Music
Length:  Two discs, 180 minutes total
Release date:  September 9, 2003

"Somebody has this crazy idea to put a world renowned symphony orchestra on stage with the most outrageous rock band in the world…who thought that an insane idea like his would ever work?  Your presence is requested."

Film ***1/2

Hard rock split into several streams in the 1970's, with bands like Boston and Foreigner producing slick records with hooks and crunch and less emphasis on live shows.  The Led Zeppelin was really the last of the British blues monsters, and they reveled in live performance as well as excellent albums which were essentially live studio recordings.  Rush has the mantle of progressive metal all to themselves.  And then there were bands that could do all of these but added drama and makeup to their live shows.  KISS may have resembled cartoon characters, but they could back it up with their music.  In fact, record sales were slow until the release of their first live album, and then everyone discovered what their thousands of concert fans already knew.  They were the real thing.

I distinctly remember being at a birthday party in grade school when HBO first came to town, and a KISS concert was on.  All the gimmicks were there---the blood, the fire, and the makeup.  And even on that small TV the music was so heavy I thought the glass in the room was in mortal danger.   But we survived, and KISS has also survived, largely due to Paul Stanley's single-minded dedication to its music and live performances.  They have continued to record new albums regularly despite original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley departing.  Their recent reunion tour was a huge success, and they sound and look just as good as they did decades ago, maybe even better because of their reliance on great performances of great songs, and less on glitter and showmanship.  Gene Simmons admitted once that at the height of their popularity they spent nearly a million dollars on their stage show, but soon realized that they could have a stage set up which cost less than a fourth of that, and no one could tell the difference.  They are a band of smart survivors.

When pressed to name KISS classics I almost drew a blank because I tend to love the long-lost British blues-rock bands more, but the classics are all here---Beth, Strutter, I Was Made For Loving You, and of course Rock 'n Roll All Night.  With an Australian orchestra also in makeup, I was not sure what to expect, and even the bonus interviews with the band and production people emphasizes how much work was involved in getting this huge endeavor together in only a few days rehearsal.  Yes, that was days, only three in fact.

While this show's lineup does not include Ace Frehley, Tommy Theyer does an excellent musical job and even has similar makeup and Les Paul guitar to fill the famous lead guitar position. The booklet that accompanies the two disc set also lists the Melbourne (Australia) Symphony Orchestra members, which is quite nice.  Many classical recordings do not even bother with this little "thank you."  

It should be noted that part of the show is KISS without the orchestra, as noted here:

DISC ONE:  The KISS Symphony Story and ACT 3 (band with orchestra)  Detroit Rock City, King of the Night Time World, Do You Love Me, Great Expectations, Shout it Out Loud, God of Thunder, Love Gun, I Was Made for Loving You, Black Diamond, Rock and Roll All Nite

DISC TWO:  ACT 1:  KISS w/o orchestra performing Deuce, Strutter, Let Me Go Rock and Roll, Lick it Up, Calling Dr. Love, Psycho Circus.  ACT 2:  with orchestra Beth, Forever, Goin’ Blind, Sure Know Something, Shandi. ACT 3 (same as Disc One)

Video  ****

A crisp, clear picture and camera angles which are not too jumpy make it work.  Not an easy job to get close-ups of the orchestra members and the band too.   No flaws that I could see in the bonus footage or concert.

Audio ***1/2

KISS is given the DTS treatment as they deserve, and the mix between the orchestra and the band is excellent, but the surround channels are not fully utilized.  While you can hear everything, the rear channels are used very minimally and the subwoofer only woofs instead of rocks.   It needs just a bit more rollover and less Beethoven but still a very good. 

Features ***

Disc One has plenty of rehearsal and interview footage and Disc Two has more interviews and a performance of “Sure Know Something” with a smaller part of the orchestra on the Australian TV show ROVE LIVE!  There are also web links.

Summary:

KISS with an orchestra?  It works, and even if you do not care for orchestral music, KISS fans will eat this up.  If you are not already a fan, this DVD will probably make you one.  Makeup not included!