Size always matters with KISS
Has any band personified the adage that “size matters” better than KISS? From the scope of the group’s catalogue to the length of Gene Simmons’ prodigious tongue, everything about the legendary Kabuki-esque rockers has been B-I-G. And interestingly, where size matters most, KISS the merchandising entity has been as successful, if not more so, than KISS the recording artist. That said, it’s no surprise that KISSology Vol. I 1974-1977 boasts over 400 minutes of vintage KISS concert footage, comfortably fitting into the existing KISS catalogue despite its gargantuan scope.
For past and present members of the KISS Army, KISSology Vol. I 1974-1977 is a welcome veteran’s benefit. The sheer magnitude of the collection is as daunting as it is impressive. Chronicling the initial years of the KISS career, the twin DVD set provides a fascinating time portal into the band’s rapid ascension from glam oddity to international sensation. And make no mistake, the trajectory that KISS experienced to stardom is nothing short of remarkable based upon the musical landscape of the mid-‘70s. With acts like the Who and Led Zeppelin dominating the arena rock scene, and hard chargers like Lynyrd Skynyrd coming into their own, KISS stepped up to the proverbial plate in 1974, and stared down some serious competition. Though initially viewed as purveyors of theatrical gimmickry, KISS quickly proved to be a formidable live force.
Disc One brings fans a view from those early days, opening with live 1974 footage, including a memorable interview and performance on The Mike Douglas Show. The band is seen coming into its own, with distinctive rock chops illuminated against modest stage settings and work-in-progress costumes. Yet within nary a year’s time, the band’s confidence (and subsequent stage presentation) grew dramatically. Comparing the ‘74 footage with that of the January 1975 Winterland performance is ample proof of KISS’ maturation, as the band churns through soon-to-be classics like “Deuce”, “Strutter” and “Cold Gin” with precision. The four band members are also clearly establishing their own individual traits: Paul Stanley as the charismatic front man; Gene Simmons as the dominant anchor; Peter Criss as the free-wheeling time keeper; Ace Frehley as guitar-god-in-training. By 1975, the KISS juggernaut was building steam, readying itself to conquer the globe.
Before achieving world domination however, KISS succeeded in overwhelming the quaint suburban locale of Cadillac, Michigan. The included documentary film snippet is self explanatory in showcasing the band as a phenomenon; even the mighty Rolling Stones have never been lauded by humble townsfolk in such an impassioned manner. The sequence also confirms the importance (and influence) of KISS to the mid-‘70s music scene. By the time the fearsome foursome hit Detroit’s Cobo Hall in January 1976, stardom was fast becoming super-stardom, as the concert footage features the core set list of what would be the band’s greatest achievement: Alive!. A baker’s dozen tracks comprise the Cobo concert, with the group in prime form, and approaching its performance peak. And say what you will about Frehley’s skills versus his showmanship quotient, Space Ace and his Les Paul influenced more air guitarists and blossoming fret board wizards than anyone in the ‘70s.
If nearly three-and-a-half hours of vintage KISS footage is insufficient to quench one’s thirst, then Disc Two is the answer. Three more hours of live performances from the band’s post-Alive! era contain a potpourri of material. Beginning with a brief British docu-program on the band’s inaugural visit to England, the disc proceeds to the fabulously cheesy lip-synched appearance on 1976’s The Paul Lynde Halloween Special and deposits viewers into prime seating at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall in the spring of 1977. By this point, KISS had become international mega-stars, and the stage production was in fully developed bombastic brilliance. Replete with huge stacks of equipment, KISS explodes through the set, with lesser known tracks (“Take Me”) mixed seamlessly with budding classics (“Rock and Roll All Nite”), and there is no doubt as to who the biggest band in the land is. Most importantly though, the Tokyo concert demonstrates how solid KISS had become as a hard rock act, dismissing style-over-substance criticisms with barely a slow moment in the entire show.
A trio of songs from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert segues into yet another 1977 concert, this time from the Summit in Houston, Texas. As with the Tokyo performance, KISS is simply unstoppable on stage. And despite having issued a treasure trove of studio material since Alive! (Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun) the band was, in 1977, directly associated with its live persona. Nugent had Cat Scratch Fever, Frampton had come alive, and punk was giving way to disco, but KISS was a certified platinum seller, and dominant force on the tour circuit. And the band’s ever-growing commercial appeal could be directly correlated to the proportions of Criss’ absurdly large drum kit … he is barely visible on the riser, a position only befitting a drummer in a band of KISS’ stature.
But wait, there’s more …
KISSology Vol. I adds a bonus disc for the most ardent aficionados: Seven tracks from the band’s homecoming to Madison Square Garden in February 1977. The material is familiar, but the concert footage is well worth the time to enjoy as it again captures a legendary act at the pinnacle of its career. The additional offering brings the total to roughly seven hours of KISS viewing, a staggering amount in a single package, even by KISS standards. Some might say too much, others, too little, but for the most enthusiastic and loyal KISS fans, the three DVDs are just right. Though KISS has lasted in various incarnations into the 21st century, it was never better, or more prolific, than during the span of 1974-1977. And in the case of KISSology Vol. I, size does matter. You wanted the best, you got the best … the hottest band in the world on DVD, KISS.