by Matthew Wilkening
The non-makeup version of KISS got their one and only shot at strutting their stuff on a live album with the release of 1993′s ‘Alive III.’
Of course, you can’t hear greasepaint on an audio recording. So the most important changes found on the long-awaited follow up to the band’s two iconic ’70s live albums were the replacement of founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss by guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer.
Although the majority of ‘Alive III”s 17 tracks were chosen from albums released after 1977′s ‘Alive II,’ it did mark the first time KISS re-used songs that had been on other live albums. This gave listeners an opportunity to compare the changes all those years and lineup changes had brought to tracks like ‘Detroit Rock City’ and ‘Watchin’ You.’
Bassist Gene Simmons explained the differences well in the book ‘KISS: Behind the Mask‘ when he said, “It’s clear to me there’s better musicianship, we’re singing better and the songs have a better feel. But there’s no denying that rock n’ roll is this kind of primitive music that often is loved more for its primitiveness, not for how well the songs are played.”
Indeed, little touches like the use of double-kick drums, and a greater emphasis on technical ability tend to pull things a hair too far from rock and towards metal on ‘Alive III.’ As Singer, who’s been in the makeup-wearing version of the group nearly non-stop since 2001, explains in ‘Behind the Mask,’ “I tend to approach the songs differently now. I tend to play them now much more simplistic and more straightforward.”
Still, the record’s got good energy and spirit. Simmons and fellow founding frontman Paul Stanley are as charismatic as ever. Singer and Kulick are clearly more fluid and accomplished players than their predecessors. In particular, Kulick shines throughout — much as he did on the band’s 1992 studio album ‘Revenge‘ — maintaining a healthy respect for the original material while still putting his own distinct stamp on things, particularly on an absolutely smoking run through ‘Deuce.’
Unexpectedly, ‘Alive III’ turned out to be the last major harrah for this lineup of KISS. A few years later, Simmons and Stanley reunited with Criss and Frehley for a massively successful reunion tour. Kulick launched a solo career, and since 2000 has also been a member of Grand Funk Railroad. The original foursome split in half into their traditional camps again a few years later, with Singer returning to the fold and Tommy Thayer taking over for Frehley.