Okay… Kiss fans are gonna freak on me one way or another but, when your a fan like I am, sometimes things in your KISS universe boil up on one topic or another and we feel the need to reach out to the Kiss Army; I now believe this to be normal. The web has its victims.
I was watching Animalize Live & Uncensored the other night for no other reason than, well… it was time to do so (again). Any way, I had an epiphany in Kiss / Bruce Kulick terms. Contrary to many a Kiss fans insistence that Revenge is the high tide mark for the humble shredder, I believe Kulick’s finest hour (minus the Blazefest in Chicago in which I heard him settle in a way that I wish happened more often) may just be this very hyper piece of Kisstory. Talk about a fuckin’ pro, Bruce Kulick stands tall like a redwood on this classic 80’s concert vid.
Bruce’s Achilles heel to me, and Gene & Paul might admit it if we were on a stuck together on the ‘Kiss Clipper’ headed for the eastern rim, is that he’s not a true “closer’. Maybe just ‘cuz he’s a mellow guy and not an type-A personality. Often the most important thing you say isn’t actually the first, especially in show biz and rock & roll. All the greats from Page on have asked, “but how do I get out” when they’ve got something going but know it’s all about how you end it. Guitar solos that is. Closing was Ace Frehley‘s forte = big space boots. This was the first time we were seeing Kiss on tv live, without make-up, without Ace and Bruce kicked ass.
For my buck, Bruce is better in the studio than live ….not on this Animalize evening in Detroit in 1984. Ironically, he almost seems more comfortable with the idea of being a random gunslinger than he was after being handed the lead duties full-on w/ Asylum (even though, yes I know… take it easy, Bruce was already in the fold on Animalize the disc and played on a couple cuts, the best stuff on the disc too lead wise (see “Lonely is The Hunter”)).
At this stage of the game, Bruce had not a lot of time to think about it and played it straight from the heart — the result is Kiss at their 80’s finest on a particularly “hot nite for rock & roll!”. It’s so cool to watch now ‘cuz Bruce was literally “Under The Gun” on that Animalize tour: For outsiders, ‘BK’ was originally a fill-in for the late Mark St. John who, in a strange twist of fate, acquired a rare disease that affected his hands to the extent that he could no longer play guitar …just after having learned to play Kiss music on the bitchn’ Stanley-fueled Animalize. Go figure. I think most of us were excited about Mark at that point and figured Gene & Paul had done their homework and we were all systems go, then another Kiss-hiccup It took a while for that news to get out and so it was kinda like… uh, is that Mark St. John?
Bruce’s tone on the show isn’t my fave but at least he wasn’t overriding a chorus as he was later prone, practically a vocation for guitarists in the 80’s. At times though he sears and showcases some impeccable timing and picking. He’s super fucking well-versed in all things rock guitar, old school to the tapping that ruled the day MTV in the mid-80’s.
But know why he shines on this show most? Because he is playing the very role he was born to play – the underdog. Ace was similar in that regard, ultimately becoming a rock god “spacing out and having fun” in the role and big shadows of mega front-men Gene Simmons & Paul Stanley. Fans were always generally rooting for Ace, still are. Similarly, Bruce had nothing to lose and a sincerity about him that comes off his fretboard, especially here as he walked the “Kiss gauntlet” (Gene’s words) . To the KISS ARmy , Bruce was just some dude we didn’t even know, and thus Animailze Live & Uncensored a very cool live introduction, one in which he both rocked and didn’t suck; hard to do in ’84 when you think about it. Though it’s over simplifying things a bit, this is the day he won the gig for all intents and purposes. KISStory indeed!
In some ways Bruce Kulick saved Kiss when he became the lead player. He was the team player us Kiss fans could love and still miss Ace because, above all, it was clear Bruce ‘got it’ on every level. The storm was over and we felt secure again as fans. The ‘who-the-fuck-is-going-to-be-our-lead-guitarist’ crisis finally averted, Kiss would get back on an even keel with set line up until the loss of Eric Carr to a brain tumor in 1991. With Bruce now in place, Kiss was a true ‘band’ again for the first time since the original line-up really. In the wings, current guitarist Tommy Thayer must have observed Bruce’s low-key approach and used it to his benefit in filling in for the Space Ace.
Not one damn misstep best I can tell on this whole concert which was “GOIN’ OUT LIVE ON THE RADIO / BEING FILMED FOR AN MTV CONCERT!”. Best solo’s on it? Well, a few were semi-mimicked in one way or another but, over all (always gotta qualify shit with Kiss fans) Bruce does whatever the hell he wants to Kiss classics one after another, basically kicking the shit out of the material. I recommend “I Still Love You, “War Machine”, “Under The Gun”, “Thrills In The Night” and perhaps his laser tare on “Love Gun”? His playing “Black Diamond” is interesting too if not downright blasphemous: maybe his best ever solo w/ Kiss save “Hell or High Water” or “Tears Are Falling”. “Turn On The Night” and “Rise To It” are other Kulick favs of mine.
It’s clear on this show that Kulick locks in with the band seamlessly and, given the circumstances, never looks nervous or like he’s unsure he fits in. Not an easy gig to pick up. In modern terms, he really owned it. There must have been high fives all around backstage that night and later when they watched the show, Bruce made the grade in spades. Go ahead >>> log off and Animalize! back to ’84 for the best Kiss non-make-up era concert money can buy. Kiss fans owe a debt to Bruce …raise your glasses, people.