Released: May 18, 1993
Label: Mercury Records[/alert][/one_third]Once again, like they had by having Bob Ezrin produce Revenge, KISS tried to recapture the magic of the past by reuniting with an old friend of the band. This time around they brought back Eddie Kramer, who had produced Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun, Ace Frehley’s debut album, and most pertinently in this case, the first two Alive! records. So the band brought Kramer along to record a pair of shows at the Palace of Auburn Hills, outside of Detroit which has always been KISS biggest stronghold. During the recording of Alive II, KISS made a point of not playing on songs that were featured on the first album but that was tossed aside for the third edition. Songs from all eras of KISS were played and to tie into that and acknowledging their past , featured in the liner notes is a KISS Family Tree that ties in all of KISS members, as well as bands that current and former KISS members were in. This is most notable for the fact that Tony Iommi’s Black Sabbath (who Eric Singer drummed for in the late ’80s) is misidentified as Tommy Iommi’s Black Sabbath. I find this inexplicably gutbustingly hilarious.
A lot of fans thought this paled in comparison to the first two due partly to the facts that keyboards were heavily featured (as they had been since the Hot in the Shade tour) and extensive overdubbing was done but I somewhat disagree. While this album falls far short of KISS first live album, I think it’s on par with the second album. The Simmons-Stanley-Kulick-Singer lineup was on the top of its game and it includes some adventurous by KISS standard takes on their classics.
Alive III debuted at #9 on the Billboard charts in May of ’93 but like Revenge, quickly fell off the charts and failed to go Platinum. So if KISS reuniting with the producers of its biggest albums failed to achieve massive success then KISS decided to go another route to achieve relevancy in the ’90s. Reunite with the original members? Nah, that’s the next entry! KISS was going to have some of the most popular stars of the ’90s record covers of KISS’ Greatest Hits!
KISS Gets Regrooved
Released: June 21, 1994
Label: Mercury Records[/alert][/one_third]KISS My Ass: Classic KISS Regrooved was a project that Gene Simmons had been waxing poetic about for years. Released to coincide with the 20th Anniversary of KISS first album, the album featured alt rock stars of the day covering KISS hits of the ’70s (with the only exception being German punk band Die Arzte coveringRevenge‘s “Unholy”). Gene Simmons hyped the album as featuring some of the biggest stars of the day; Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, and Megadeth. Unfortunately, none of these acts materialized due to a variety of reasons (Gene Simmons just being a namedropping, lying goof, record label issues, and the fact that Kurt Cobain had to get selfish and die on us.) However, they did manage to get a massive star. The singer who is behind only Elvis and The Beatles in terms of the most albums sold all time in the United States and an unexpected KISS fan, Garth Brooks. KISS, who originally were only going to serve as consultants on the album, jumped at the unique chance to be the backing band to the reigning King of Country. Brooks originally wanted to sing a rocker like “King of the Night Time World” or “Detroit Rock City” but Paul Stanley wisely suggested a song more in Brooks’ wheelhouse, “Hard Luck Woman”.
Outside of Brooks, the starpower on the album was significantly dimmer than what Simmons had hyped. There were watered down alt rockers (Gin Blossoms, Toad The Wet Sprocket), actual alt rockers (Dinosaur Jr, Lemonheads), the expected metal bands of varying degrees of hardness (Anthrax, Extreme) and a then mostly unknown Mighty Mighty Bosstones with a few foreign language tracks thrown in because why not? Stevie Wonder even made an appearance on the album, playing harmonica on Lenny Kravitz’s funked up cover of “Deuce”. Unlike Bob Dylan, somebody must have not informed Stevie that he was appearing on a KISS related album.
There was another onslaught of promotion for KISS My Ass‘ release in June of 1994. The Gin Blossoms (at the height of their New Miserable Experience) sang their cover of “Christine Sixteen” with Gene & Paul on The Late Show with David Letterman, a video was filmed for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones cover of “Detroit Rock City” with Gene making a cameo, and KISS backed up Garth Brooks on an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The album peaked at #19 on the Billboard charts and it went Gold but it wasn’t the mega success that KISS was expecting for their 20th Anniversary album. Undeterred, KISS’ next move was not to go for the fences but appeal to the hardcore fans who had stuck with them through the lean years (and withstood Music From “The Elder”).
KISS Gets Unplugged
The Revenge tour ended not with a bang but a whimper with just 3,000 people showing up at the 20,000 seat capacity America West Arena in Phoenix for the finale. KISS simply couldn’t afford to keep staging extravagant shows for tours with erratic attendance numbers. They would either have to downsize the show and move to smaller venues or do package tours with other acts of its era catering to middle aged audiences with money to spare. Somewhat surprisingly, the band chose the former option.
Since the late ’80s, KISS fans had been having unofficial conventions where the band’s memorabilia and merchandise would be displayed and former members like Peter Criss and Mark St. John would participate in Q&A sessions. As nostalgia for the ’70s grew so did the size of these conventions. What used to be an informal gathering of a few dozen fans turned into a small fortune for promoters with hundreds of people showing up to collect KISS memorabilia, hear tribute bands, and listen to The Catman gripe about how he was the true heart and soul of the band. Sensing there was money being made just underneath their noses – Gene & Paul decided to check out a convention and confiscate some vintage KISS costumes…
The success of these conventions did realize that there was a core audience that would be willing to pay hand over fist to see KISS in an intimate setting. So throughout 1995, KISS decided to put on its own official conventions (or Konvention as they cleverly called it) at hotel ballrooms all over the World where they would display their memorabilia over the years, feature performances of officially sanctioned tribute bands, and culminate with an acoustic performance by the band, playing a combination of their greatest hits and deep cuts. All for a cool $100 admission fee.
The tour was full of surprises (KISS weddings!) but the biggest surprise came on the first date of the U.S. tour in June of 1995 in Los Angeles when Peter Criss jumped onstage for the band’s encore to sing “Hard Luck Woman” and “Nothin’ To Lose” and performed with Gene & Paul for the first time in sixteen years.
Released: March 12, 1996
Label: Mercury Records[/alert][/one_third]A producer of the then wildly popular series MTV Unplugged Alex Coletti took notice of this and wanted to feature the band on an episode of the series which featured bands putting on acoustic performances of their hits. He didn’t just want Gene & Paul with Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer though. If KISS were going to do the show, they would have to include Ace & Peter in some capacity. Gene and Paul were initially a bit reluctant but realized how big of an opportunity this was and agreed. Peter also eagerly jumped on board. Ace was a harder sell since he had a marginally successful solo career and was doing well on the club circuit on his own but eventually agreed.
In August of 1995, KISS began rehearsing at Manhattan’s SIR Studios for the special. Though KISS had been playing acoustic shows throughout 1995, they needed to modify their set to fit Unplugged standards so gone were the amps and Paul and Bruce’s electro-acoustic guitars. Luckily, there were little complications with Ace and Peter arrived at the studios. The years of hostility subsided (temporarily) and the four set about modifying their hard charging songs to the Unplugged setting.
On August 9th, 1995, the band filmed their episode of MTV Unplugged. The first 75% of the episode featured the current lineup of KISS with Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer playing a set of the band’s deep cuts from over the years. Then, Bruce and Eric stepped aside and Gene and Paul introduced their surprise guests, Ace and Peter. The audience exploded seeing the four original members together on stage again. They played “2000 Man” and “Beth” then welcomed Bruce and Eric back to the stage for a rousing encore with members of past and old singing “Nothin’ to Lose” and “Rock N Roll All Nite”.
There was a three month period in between the show’s taping and its debut on MTV and while all involved thought the show was a success, it didn’t seem to detour them from a plan. Peter Criss announced he was recording another solo album while Frehley’s Comet set about a cross country tour in the Fall of ’95. Meanwhile, Gene and Paul and Bruce and Eric planned on going further in the direction they took on Revenge and hired Slayer and Alice in Chains producer Toby Wright to produce their next album with production beginning in November of 1995. They had little idea of what was to come in 1996 (or maybe they did!)
Next time on Connor’s KISS Korner: KISS goes grunge (well, tries to) about four years too late and records its darkest album ever. Join me, Gene, Paul, Eric and Bruce for a trip to the Carnival of Souls.