Things were looking up for our heroes at the end of 2007’s descriptively titled Kissology: The Ultimate Kiss Collection Vol. 2 1978-1991, the most recent volume in Kiss’ mammoth three-part multiple-DVD series of live archival releases. The outlandish 1970s rock gods had limped into the ’80s at half-power as guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss, both coping with substance-abuse issues, quit the band. Times were changing fast, and Kiss seemed like a wounded dinosaur lumbering through the rock ’n’ roll jungle.
But as Volume 2 demonstrated, the band worked hard and persistently to become relevant again. Leaders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons filled out the lineup with drummer Eric Carr and guitarist Bruce Kulick, and the band removed its trademark makeup in 1983. By the end of the ’80s, Kiss was functioning splendidly as both a contemporary and classic act, reveling in its history while keeping up with the competition.
Despite Carr’s untimely death from cancer in 1991, Kissology: The Ultimate Kiss Collection Vol. 3: 1992-2000 opens on a roaring high note. The first disc begins with a 1992 Detroit show that ably demonstrates the kick of Carr replacement Eric Singer and new songs from Kiss’ best album in a decade, the snarling Revenge. Throughout the show the group hops confidently from one end of its history to another.
On the same disc we find the complete version of Kiss’ 1995 MTV Unplugged taping, featuring some previously unseen fun, like a brief country version of “God of Thunder” and an impromptu romp through the Revenge obscurity “Spit.” But the show’s climax provided the moment we’d all really been waiting for: the first reunion of Kiss’ original lineup since 1979. Frehley and Criss are rapturously received by an audience naturally shocked that such an event could occur, given the many ways the two warring factions had found over the years to describe how they despised one another.
Loot outweighs loathing, and so the tentative truce was extended to a full-blown reunion—a makeup-and-all extravaganza meant to recapture the spectacle of Kiss’ storied 1970s tours. The reunited lineup made its debut with an abbreviated set at a radio-sponsored festival show, an appearance found on a bonus DVD included with Kissology at most retailers; Best Buy customers get a 1994 show instead, while Wal-Mart buyers get a 1996 New York concert. Kiss has a long and sordid tradition of extracting the most money possible from its most diehard fans’ wallets—Simmons, in particular, seems to view the band largely as a vehicle for creative merchandising. Perhaps such mercenary tactics can be given a pass just this once, as each of the Kissology volumes is actually quite reasonably priced with or without a bonus disc.
The official unveiling of the reunion tour, a stadium date in Detroit, is on the third disc here. While its historical import is inarguable, its other virtues are iffier—the sound is OK, but onstage video screens are the source for the picture, as they are for the remainder of the shows here. (Couldn’t just one show have been professionally filmed?) The performances are understandably shaky for the first night of a tour; Criss, no longer the ferocious hard hitter seen back in Vol. 1, sometimes seems to be barely hanging in.
A 1998 Los Angeles concert supporting the then-new Psycho Circus album finds the group tighter and stronger, clearly pleased to be offering fresh material alongside the leftovers. But the third disc concludes with a sluggish 2000 show from the group’s alleged “farewell” tour, by which point the members seem pretty well tired of the whole affair. It’s no surprise that Simmons describes the entire reunion period as “torture” in the liner notes.
(The fourth disc throws in a nifty curio: the earliest available footage of the group, performing in New York in 1973.)
So Kisstory ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Criss and Frehley both quit over the course of the farewell tour, with Singer and Tommy Thayer, respectively, inheriting their makeup. The band has a few overseas dates planned this year, but no new studio work seems likely. A dozen years ago, the reunion seemed like every Kiss Army member’s dream come true: a new beginning. Watching Kissology, it just seems like the beginning of the end.