UNMASKED gets better every time

Yup. As David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap would say: “Check me on this…am I losing my fucking mind?” UNMASKED is way better than I remembered. Maybe’s it’s the high-end turn table and brand new Shure headphones that aided in this recent KISSTory lesson? In any event, some random observations and quips in no order….

Well, swear to God, it’s actually a cool mix. I give Vini Poncia long overdue high marks for how he transformed KISS on Unmasked,  They wanted pop, and they got it.  Each song gets a slightly different treatment one may only catch on a great system, or with the speakers spread far apart, or in headphones, or on an actual record. A band? If it doesn’t sound like a band, it’s because it wasn’t – in terms of dis-function, it may KISS’s White Album.

Guitars? There is not a bad solo on this record, they all just fit like a glove. Paul’s on “Shandi” is a crowning achievement and Ace’s are easy as it seems and right-on high points of each track, as is customary.  Really catchy and singable. In fact some of his most ‘pro’ sounding shit, period. I hear drop in’s here and there on guitar to carry small parts through that I believe are Paul as I really can’t imagine Ace sitting through the process to add color on such poppy stuff, at least not the stuff that he didn’t write.  Plus, Paul usually knows what he wants already. he must have done the solo on Gene’s “Your All That I Want” as well and, during its’ fade, Paul is stellar is not, dare I say better than Ace? Damn right dreamy. The rhythm guitars are also nicely distinct throughout the record . If you listen close, they are a tad more intricate also than the standard KISS fare ….you’ll see.

Drums? It’s the drum sound that sucks the sheer life out of the record, from the kick to the snare and on and on, save for “Shandi”. On the other cuts, the cheez-verb is a serious distraction. Not that Anton doesn’t play really well-crafted, tight drum patterns/parts on every tune, he does — but the snare sound alone is enough to make you want to look for one of Pete’s old Pearl snares in the vault. It’s second only to the disaster that was the drums (especially the snare) on Hotter Than Hell.  It’s a damn good Peter impersonation by Anton but, even as a kid when I first heard it, I was like “Wow Peter sounds really good on “Torpedo Girl” huh? Maybe he was trained by Krupa after all?

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The Spaceman? Unless your high and full of shit, it’s clear Ace’s contributions shine far above everything else on the album. While we don’t know the behind the scenes on Unmasked (yet), I find the quality of his cuts here fly in the face of everything Gene & Paul have said about the Spaceman’s lack of effort to bring in new material. The fact that Ace to get “Torpedo Girl” on the record speaks volumes to pecking order of the day. He played the bass and apparently all the guitars on his cuts and they are super-duper, no? Go back and listen – headphones.

Our Starchild? With “Shandi”, “Easy As It Seems” and “Is That You”, a cover, Paul’s tunes verge on minor pop revelations (at least in KISS terms) and are downright gutsy in retrospect, as if he literally was able to forget who he once was, and what they once were entirely. That shipped sailed when “I Was Made For Loving You” hit the airwaves in ’79.  If Dynasty was the KISSco record heard around the world, Unmasked was the full-departure that set the table for the next ill-conceived experiment; The Elder.

The Demonic Bat-Lizard? Gene’s whole thing gets a little fractured on the record but I still say “Naked City” is a semi-cinematic KISSterpiece in production, vibe and content. I feel it’s a way under-rated snapshot of the demon in reflective flux that highlights his versatility as a songwriter and singer.  At one point in the tune, one can even hear the influence of The Police in the bass line and quasi-reggae / faux-sca guitar tags. It’s very cool. In fact Gene’s baseline’s on the record are pretty out of the box and don’t sound like anyone else. Pretty fun.

Oh yeah, great back vocals all over this record and the keyboards? Take them out and you’ feel a sadness no KISStorian wants to feel, betcha.

It’s almost an arrogant effort and I still love it, better with every listen somehow. Perhaps for that very reason, because KISS does what KISS does and well, no matter what it is. No one seems to want to talk about or remembers anything about it leaving me to wonder if they planned to angle Unmasked‘s promotion over-seas from the albums inception? I’ll assume they knew they couldn’t risk a proper US Tour in support of the album but to everyone else, KISS were still legends. In America, they had sold out and Unmasked was the final stake in the their rock coffin, not The Elder.

I bought a Van Halen shirt right after I heard Unmasked year and wore it every other day.  Even though I bought The Elder too, only Creatures could have really brought me back as it did, setting the table for the kick in the ass that was Lick It Up was for all of us holding out hope.

Except for the bubble-gum finger snapper “What Makes The World Go Round” and the regrettable chorus of “Tomorrow”, both Starchild offerings, I don’t know if I would change a thing on Unmasked and even then, how could I? You wouldn’t either!

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KISStory incomplete without Blazefest ’94

KISS BlazefestI hope you aren’t too jealous when I tell you this was one of the hottest shows ever performed by the band in any line-up configuration because, if you missed it, your KISStory timeline lacks a key ingredient. Thank god for Youtube — we can go back!!

It was April of ’94, the Revenge Tour was over, MTV Unplugged would be in August, and soon there after KISS would re-unite with Ace & Peter to conquer earth a second time. Of course, we had no clue then.

See, KISS always finds a way to stay in front of their audience. This was just another example of them being creative in coming up with cost effective solutions to do so while biding there time for, as always, what’s coming next.

The band had decided to do a couple of radio-sponsored one-off’s as it were to help promote the new venture / album, KISS MY ASS, in which a host of music legends would be performing & recording their favorite KISS songs at Gene’s behest including Toad The Wet Sprocket, Anthrax, The Gin Blossoms, Lenny Kravitz, Garth Brooks and even (yup) Stevie Wonder! Only KISS sets up their own tribute album. Well, at least then anyway; the duets may be coming soon.

Little did we know, and let me know if I am wrong, but this show may be the very last time Bruce Kulick performed live in concert with the band ‘plugged’ as it were and the very last performance of the Kulick/Singer/Stanley/Simmons roster.

scan0007Maybe that’s why they gave it so much love but it makes me  wonder (yes, it makes me wonder)  if they knew this might be the case. Or, maybe they were just rarin’ to play, having been off the road a bit and now performing without, as Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap once said, “all the mucky-muck” of a full blown tour scenario.

Another cool thing was that the boyz performed a set list picked entirely by fan voting that unearthed GOIN’ BLIND, I STOLE YOUR LOVE, STRUTTER, and, a major highlight, a hot version of GOT TO CHOOSE. As I recall, and listen back now, Bruce played his very best and seemed way more comfortable in this setting, on a small stage with encroaching amps and an audience he could reach out and touch. Eric Singer, who is always solid anyway, played seemingly inspired getting to play some of the cuts that he and Bruce had perhaps never played live with the band.

Want more gravitas? The band performed on a completely stark stage with no effects whatsoever: no KISS sign, no smoke, no blood, Only the banner of the now-defunct Chicago station The Blaze that stood behind them. For us Chicagoans it was refreshingly blue collar and natural, like seeing Cheap Trick @ Cubby Bear or something. This was like a gym with a stage on one wall, no seating, no stands. A mid-western barn-burner of sorts.

At the time, it was the best I had ever heard them. And so was the sound itself. Given the fact that they just flew in with guitars, the less robust PA resulted in a way warmer sound  than the typical KISS concert.  But what really struck me as a KISSTorrian was seeing and hearing the living breathing proof that KISS, with no frills, in an intimate setting, were simply a top flight rock & roll band firing on all cylinders. That night it felt to me like they had finally become as close to classic KISS as possible with the new line-up.  They had seasoned as a group. Even KISStory has it’s irony.