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DVD Review:
KISS Symphony: The DVD
By Matt Geraci

09.22.03


Whether or not you're a fan of KISS you certainly can't kiss them off as has-beens. Spanning over two decades, the band has filled that time quite respectfully and is destined for a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the likes of the Rolling Stones and, yes, we had to say it, Journey. These bands made tremendous selling albums but not tremendous sounding albums, save a couple of huge hits. But when you hear such songs as “It's Only Rock” or “Rock and Roll All Nite” or “Detroit Rock City” you forgive them for their misgivings with the other eight or nine tracks of filler material. These bands made the songs that the likes of Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, or even Prince would be proud to copy.

In a way, like the Greatful Dead, KISS is not necessarily deemed as one of the greatest bands in the world for their studio albums but more so for their live performances. They pour their heart-and-soul guts and whatever else they have left onto the stage like the tongue shout out to Gene Simmons. Alright, so you have a band that has over the years collected a plethora of hits that sound like AC/DC, Alice Cooper, and Tom Jones all mixed in one Jagged Little Pill that Alanis Morissette would never dare swallow, and to some that is greatness. Toss in the Melbourne Australia Symphony Orchestra and you have a blending of classical and classic rock. A once in a lifetime event (unless of course they decide to do it again later down the road). And that’s what you get in the brand new DVD release of KISS Symphony, out this week from Sanctuary Visual Entertainment.


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Fans of KISS want and expect the best, and this DVD is no exception…but is it the best? Quite honestly, we wanted the best too, and that would be Tupac with an orchestra ensemble, but sadly he's dead. And while this might not be even the next best thing, the concert definitely wasn't the Kiss of Death. And with the disc’s anamorphic widescreen first-rate transfer you at least have the best seat in the house.

Aside from a few shots here and there that look like the quality of the Girls Gone Wild videos, the footage is generally top-notch. The way the concert was shot with video instead of film gives it a retro look like old KISS appearances on television, although now with the higher resolution of DVD. It's a far cry from Metallica's Live DVD working with a symphony. That one was shot entirely on film, which gives it a more dramatic look. But this is not a movie; it's a concert and because it is not on film it has a more intimate, or some might say unpretentious, look. And whatever drama unfolds is really up to the performance and, even more important, the music itself.

As any member of the KISS Army knows, because there is much in the KISS arsenal, deciding which songs to choose can be a daunting task, only because they don't want to alienate some fans by choosing one song over another. They have to compromise. Being in a country that has different tastes than Americans also contributed to the set list. Thus, you don't really get all the songs you might have wanted to hear. For instance, they don't play “Heaven's on Fire” but they play “Lick It Up.” To their credit they run through songs that spanned over twenty some years quite evenly. Also take note that the symphony does not play with the band on every song.

Perhaps to ease the listener in gradually, the event is broken into three acts. The First Act is a traditional KISS rock concert. The Second Act opens with a very personal best by drummer Peter Chris when he sings the acoustic ballad, “Beth.” This song introduces us to some of the new recruits in the band: a smaller portion of the orchestra called an ensemble (the whole symphony appears later). When you hear the orchestra ride the melody like Tobey Mcquire on Seabiscuit you know you're in for a treat. The rest of the songs in act two are also acoustic ballads, albeit with a more upbeat tempo. The finale act is where we get the “Clash of the Titans” and what better song to open up with than “Detroit Rock City.” Not all the songs work with the orchestra, however, with “Do You Love Me” and “Shout It Out Loud” falling a bit short. But “Detroit Rock City” and “Black Diamond” are excellent examples of what was intended with this endeavor.

Of course instruments at a concert are only one half of the equation, so what about the vocals? Thankfully, they sound exactly as they do on record; so much so that it's hard to believe they are not lip-syncing. All of these songs come through in a crystal clear mix as long as you are in the 5.1 surround format that either the Dolby Digital or DTS tracks provide. You will, however, have to crank your subwoofer up to get much bass output. As far as the optional two-channel mix, a lot of the impact and dynamics of the orchestra get lost. So if you don't already have one get yourself a surround system. Now.

Disc extras include a behind-the-scenes documentary following the band around Melbourne Australia as they prepare for this concert only three days before. Rehearsal sessions with the symphony are seen, as are some last minute changes with the conductor. An Australian TV segment is also included where the band performs one of the songs from the concert.

When all’s said, this is definitely a well-executed rock concert DVD that will continue the KISS tradition of delivering a first rate experience. It is a testament to the band that in just three days they were able to play with a group of individuals who were trained on Bach, and a testament to the orchestra who learned a thing or two from KISS. For one night they told Beethoven to roll over and Tchaikovsky to move.


Concert: B+. While certainly an interesting concept and fun to watch, when you add the symphony it's no longer a true KISS concert. Additionally, some of the songs were specifically catered to an Australian audience. That's like a Lynard Skynard concert without them playing “Free Bird.”

The Look: A. The picture is excellent quality, but it's not film so it's not as hard to judge.

The Sound: B+. While it does lack some bass extension, the disc’s audio should keep you rocking all night long. Just be sure to keep it in the surround mix.

The Extras: C. While we enjoy seeing the band preparing for their Melbourne rockout, a bit more supplements would have been nice.

Overall: B. If you love KISS and you like movies with orchestral musical scores, then this might be right up your alley.



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