Let’s get one thing out of the way: KISS is my favorite band of all-time. Then, now, and they always will be. There’s a certain magic and mystique about the comic book look/vibe and genuine rock n’ roll sound they have that I will never tire of. I have so many fond memories of listening to them growing up in the late ‘70s, throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, listening to them on tape and CD, seeing their various incarnations and lineups live on stage and on VHS/DVD/Blu-ray at different junctures of my life, from being a kid to a full-grown man. I have KISS CDs, DVDs, toys, comic books, books, T-shirts, collectibles, and all that good stuff. As much of a huge Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd fan that I am, KISS will forever be my desert island band, my go-to if I only had to pick one band to listen to for the rest of my days.
That being said, I haven’t been excited for a good number of years to see them either in concert or to buy anything they’ve released. I didn’t even go see them for their “End of the Road Tour” at either of the two stops they made in my town back in 2019. Paul Stanley, as much as I love him, doesn’t have the pipes he once had. And rightfully so—the man is 69 years old and has been singing for the vast majority of his life almost on a daily basis. My favorite band member has always been Ace Frehley, followed closely by Paul Stanley. I never cared for Peter Criss as a drummer; to me, Eric Singer—their drummer for the past 20 years—is my favorite of the three drummers they’ve had over the years (I really liked Eric Carr as well). As I said, I haven’t been looking forward to anything KISS-related in a while—that is, until word spread around that they were going to start releasing a series of official bootlegs of some vintage concerts, titled Off the Soundboard. When it was announced that the first release would be of their 2001 Tokyo show featuring an as-of-yet officially undocumented lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Eric Singer, I was absolutely stoked! This lineup only existed for about 14 months and has got to be in my top three lineups to hear KISS play live. Add to that the fact that we’re getting a full concert, no studio overdubs and polish-up jobs the way the Alive releases were given, giving us KISS at their raw best, and you’ve got yourself the potential for something truly special. And special it is, my friends; this 2 CD/3 LP/Digital release is a bona fide gem!
Let’s go back in time a bit and explain what led to this lineup for those of you who lost track of who was in KISS at that time. Back in 1996, the original KISS lineup (Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss) reunited during a special MTV Unplugged. From that point forward, KISS put the makeup back on and went on tour for almost two years. In 1998 they recorded and released Psycho Circus, their first album of new material with the original band since 1980. Then began the Farewell Tour—every band/artist does one and it’s never really the end; case in point, they’re doing another final tour 20 years later! Anyhow, in January 2001 of this Farewell Tour, Peter Criss leaves the band. Eric Singer, who’d been with KISS since 1991 until the reformed original lineup, returns behind the drums. So now we have a very cool lineup which is what we have on this fantastic live double CD/triple LP. This lineup would only last until March 2002 when this time it would be Ace who would depart to be replaced by Tommy Thayer (who also happens to be KISS’s current lead guitarist). Strangely enough, Peter Criss would return briefly for KISS Symphony: Alive IV in Melbourne, Australia only to quit after a little over a year for good this time. The current lineup of KISS with Paul Stanley on vocals/rhythm guitar, Gene Simmons on vocals/bass, Tommy Thayer on lead guitar/vocals, and Eric Singer on drums/vocals is the longest running lineup and have been playing together since February 2004.
I won’t be doing a track by track review; instead I’ll point out what were the highlights of the album for me and talk about the setlist a bit. The band is in rare form and plays very tight together, Ace is on fire with his guitar solos, and this is back when Paul still had that iconic voice of his and could pull off his magic on the mic. “Alright, Tokyo! You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world: KISS!” With these words, the fiery concert of March 13th, 2001 in the Tokyo Dome begins. They kick it off with a high energy version of “Detroit Rock City”. It’s followed by superb renditions of “Deuce” and ‘Shout It Out Loud”, two staples of classic KISS. Next up is a stellar performance of Ace’s “Talk To Me”, which is awesome to hear Ace on vocals on a song that just isn’t the same when Tommy Thayer sings it (or when KISS does it at all these days since it’s an Ace song). We’re treated to decent to amazing versions of classics like “I Love It Loud”, “Firehouse”, “Do You Love Me”, “Calling Dr. Love”, to a particularly solid rendition of “Heaven’s on Fire”—a fun song to hear Ace play on since he wasn’t on the 1984 Animalize album from which it comes from. We get a standard performance of “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” followed by a killer “Shock Me” with Ace on vocals again, segueing into a fantastic 10-minute guitar solo; truly one of the highlights of the album. Disk one ends with the excellent “Psycho Circus”, which to me always fits really well alongside their ‘70s material and sounds awesome here.
Disk two starts with a really fun performance of “Lick It Up”, another cool song to hear Ace do his guitar thing on since he didn’t play on its studio counterpart, followed by a bit of a boring Gene solo—maybe it’s just me but I never find his solos particularly interesting unless I have visuals to go along with them or that I’m actually in the crowd at a show. “God of Thunder” is pretty great, sounding ominous as ever, followed by Eric Singer banging the drums for a solo. Peter Criss was never as powerful or imposing a presence as Eric Singer on the drums, in my personal opinion. Then we get to “Cold Gin”, one of my top three favorite KISS songs of all-time, and it’s a fantastic, live reference version we’re treated to here. It’s followed up by an equally phenomenal interpretation of “100,000 Years”. And the hits keep on coming with “Love Gun”, probably my fave KISS track of them all, with Paul’s usual flying to get up close with the crowd. Next up is a very special treat in the form of “I Still Love You”, from 1982’s Creatures of the Night (one of their top three albums in my humble opinion). This is a song that’s rarely performed live and it’s done here stripped, with only Paul singing and playing guitar by himself. It’s not the full song either, but it’s just perfect the way it is. It segues into the always brilliant “Black Diamond”, with Eric Singer doing a terrific job on vocals. The show winds down with a stellar performance of “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, a song still hated by many hardcore KISS fans, but one that I’ve cherished since I first heard it when I was a wee boy of six years old. Things wrap up as usual with “Rock and Roll All Nite”, which honestly, I could care less if I never heard it again. They do a good job of it, but at this point, to me this song is the only song that’s been played too many times, whether it’s used for TV commercials, in movies, when KISS performs at events or are guests on TV shows; it’s overkill. I wish they’d have shelved it for a while and unearthed it after a number of years.
The verdict, as you can already tell if you’ve read this far, speaks for itself: this is one of the all-time best live releases from KISS and a must-own album if you consider yourself a KISS fan in any way, shape or form. It ranks up there with the first Alive, as blasphemous as some of you might think me for saying this. Look, it’s a fantastic lineup, they’re on fire, the song selection is diverse with some nice little-heard gems squeezed into the setlist, and it’s a full-length concert, warts and all. In terms of bootlegs, for those of you who collect such things, it’s on the level of the outstanding New Zealand 1980 boot taken from the final night of the Unmasked Tour. In terms of official releases, this show is a very good portrait of an almost undocumented era of KISS and just as important in the scheme of things as, say, their Dodger Stadium show of Halloween 1998 (another bootleg I’d love to see released officially, although the video version appears in full on the third KISSology DVD set). I’ll be revisiting this album quite often in the days/weeks/years to come and I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of the next volume in the Off the Soundboard series.Visit KISS’s Off the Soundboard Shop