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The Story of Kiss’ ‘Symphony: Alive IV’

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Kiss first live album saved their career. The second confirmed their place as global superstars, and the third proved they could succeed without two original members and their famous face paint. So what could Kiss possibly do to make their fourth live album different?

Go to the symphony, of course. The group, now back in makeup and costumes, performed a special concert in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in February 2003, and released the bombastic results as a double live album on July 22 that year.

Originally, Alive IV was intended to celebrate the reunion of the original Kiss lineup. Back in 1996, original lead guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss returned to join Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley for a tour that sold out in arenas around the world. A concert from New Year’s Eve 1999 was recorded and scheduled for release, then scrapped. (It would emerge a few years later as part of the Kiss Alive! 1975-2000 box set.)

By the time the Melbourne concert came around, Frehley had once again departed the group, leaving new guitarist Tommy Thayer with a rather daunting task. Not only would his first public show as a member of Kiss be recorded and filmed for future release, but it would be set up unlike any show in the group’s history. No pressure!

After playing six songs by themselves, Kiss were joined by the orchestra’s string section for a five-song acoustic set featuring ballads such as “Beth” and “Shandi,” which was a massive hit for the group down under back in 1980. Then, all hell broke loose, as the full 60-member orchestra joined the group for over-the-top readings of their biggest hits.

In most cases, the extra firepower was used to turbocharge rather than reinterpret the songs, making this more of a fun experiment than a revelatory listening experience. But there are some clever additions, such as the dramatic string counterpoints on “God of Thunder.”

At the very least, Symphony: Alive IV proves that Kiss are willing to do just about anything to create a spectacle that will entertain their fans. The concert was also released on home video, which is probably really how it should be experienced: There’s something undeniably great about seeing dozens of classically trained musicians wearing Kiss makeup as bombs and fireworks go off all around them.

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