Alive IV: Symphony (Sanctuary Records)
By: Vinnie Apicella
"You wanted the best and you got the best--" roars the familiar introduction for the "Hottest band in the world!" Yes, the name's the same; the song's the same; only the band, featuring a space-suited Thayer for Frehley substitute and full symphonic accompaniment, has changed. Rather than spew forth another "Alive" record spotlighting sub par studio outings from the "Psycho Circus" and beyond, the boys got creative by adding the Melbourne Symphony to soup up the same old same old and create something special for the fans. The combining of said elements between Rock and orchestra becomes a less risky proposition now that fellow legends like The Scorpions and Metallica have successfully navigated the route, not that our beloved costumed crusaders would shy away from the challenge in any event. The first of the two-disc 21 track set features six band-only live cuts featuring "Lick It Up," the oft ignored "Calling Dr. Love," and "Psycho Circus." Then after a short pause, they returned with the Melbourne Symphony Ensemble and Orchestra to successfully re-dramatize the stunning events of their storied past.
KISS' music, timeless though it is, does not always jive with the accentuated percussive, brass, and string arrangements laid out for them -- even the thought of "Do You Love Me" or "God Of Thunder" with woodwinds, lute, and lyre type instruments is enough to give ya the shakes. But then a few listens later, you realize the orchestration, more often than not, is a true accompaniment with the band's plugged in power at the core and tunes like "Detroit Rock City," "Black Diamond," and "Love Gun" are naturals.
Unsurprisingly it's the "softer" moments that shine brightest as with the five songs of "Act II" done with the considerably lighter case of the Ensemble: Peter's "Beth" is a beautiful rendition with an encompassing "live" feel that breathes new life into their biggest seller. "Forever" is another acoustic ballad that gains strength from the strike of the bow; "Goin Blind--" who even knew they'd play it? Ask any one of the tens of thousands in attendance and the answer you'd probably get is, "Played what?" An interesting selection that's probably better left on the shelf. There are a couple of long lost bastards thrown in the mix for effect, and most are pleasant surprises -- "Sure Know Something" and "Shandi," for instance, each gained a startling ovation, round out the act, and leave the listeners, presumably of their own accord, raising the volume and wanting more.
After a brief pause, the band returns for "Act III" with full Orchestra to run through their Greatest Hits, "Great Expectations," and lots of sparks, confetti, curtain call, and another hundred or so painted portraits of performers seated center stage six feet above the drum, dressed in black dropping their bows for a bow. In between, they open with a blazing version of their "Detroit Rock City" staple, step back momentarily to "Alive II" with the "King Of The Night Time World" follow up which sounds clunky, save for Peter's drumming(!); "Shout It Out Loud's" heightened immeasurably by the string section and brass, as is "God Of Thunder" with its hauntingly bass-heavy depth; "Black Diamond" with yet another improvised intro, belongs on any KISS "Hits" collection, live or otherwise, and comparative with "Love Gun" a song earlier, sounds monumental, as does Peter and Paul's collective chorus. "I Was Made For Lovin' You" got a proud ovation but sounded out of step with the rest; though I'd dare say Symphonizing a Disco song remains yet unprecedented for a Heavy Rock band, so we'll grant them their indulgence. They closed with a well-received classic from the "Dressed To Kill" album that was powerful but overemphasized by the flighty horn section.
Overall the orchestration was in fine form, ably adding the classical twist to the band's own age old classics. They didn't skimp on the necessities -- they being, in no particular order, the expected gems from their preceding live successes, "Deuce," "Strutter," "Detroit," "Shout," etc.; Paul's between song banter including inquiries about the "coolness" of the collective; the bomb blowing, blood spewing tradition; and they used the occasion to infuse a few lifelong expectation-defying "B-sides" while kindly neglecting to include the masterful "God Gave Rock N' Roll To You Too" torture that bewilderingly closed their previous chapter. All in all, another thoughtfully planned and produced package by the marketing masters of the stage, this time breaking bread and blowin' speakers with the likes of Brahms and Beethoven while makin' more "Kisstory" in Melbourne!
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