Big Al's Metal Shop

Just a few weeks ago, I was able to get my ears around what was supposed to be Kiss’ Alive IV. Recorded at British Columbia Place Stadium in Vancouver on December 31, 1999, this was to be the show to end all shows — as the world’s computers screens went blank and chaos enveloped us. What better way to enter that uncertainty than with Gene, Paul, Peter, and Ace? We bought the T-shirts, and all we needed afterwards as proof was hearing ourselves screaming on the aforementioned CD. Sadly, as with all projects, there is the risk that things get shelved, and perhaps ignored, as time passes. But for those of us there, it was a magical night that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Vancouver was a sleepy town, afraid of its own shadow ever since the Stanley Cup riots of ’94. Public festivals and events were canceled or just picked up and left due to the restrictions in keeping with this fear of mass violence and revelry. Pretty much the only fun we had during that decade was watching the World Cup together on Commercial Drive, but that’s another story. Making things worse, the radio stations were boring due to Canadian content regulations and our music scene struggled with venue closings. All this left us: the rock fans who couldn’t stand to hear another Sarah Maclachlan song on the “rock stations.” You can only deny someone their birthright for so long — and although we had to wait until the close of the century for a spectacle like Kiss’s millennium show, it also gave us hope that the coming years would be more fun. And we were right.

That night, I remember stumbling toward the cavernous dome with my good friend to the end, Sudeep Bala. The best shows, as I’ve written before, are the ones where the atmosphere outside the venue is as tense as the backup singers coughing up backstage. With an empty bottle of Jack, we arrived in style to the white elephant that is B.C. Place. To this day, I don’t know how on earth we made it through those air-lock doors, and I especially don’t know how we convinced a couple of young ladies to get us on the floor, but we did. Most baffling, however, is how we were able to stand the 30 minutes or so of Nickleback, the opening act. Yes, I know that they are Canadian, but we have been apologizing for that for the last decade, so lay off.

Anyway, as the chants of “KISS KISS KISS” grew louder, the lights dimmed, and the video montage began. Reaching back to the early days, the footage showed the band’s first appearances on stage, a fresh, puppy-faced Paul Stanley, pointing into the camera much as he does now. With sense-rattling explosions, Kiss came out to “Psycho Circus,” and immediately afterwards launched into “Shout it out Loud” and “Deuce.” Anybody who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing can tell you that one beer and I’m out — imagine what flash pots, lasers, and loud firebombs did to a half a bottle of J.D.

Awesome, considering the classic Kiss lineup and I’m guessing at least 30,000 fellow Kiss Army members surrounding us. Just as cool was watching Ace handle ’80s Kiss amazingly, with “Lick it Up”, my favourite tune of that period, reborn in his hands. “I Love it Loud,” “Love Gun,” and the surprising (to me) “Black Diamond” all rocked, but then all good things must come to an end. As the final strains of “Rock and Roll All Nite” rang in my head the next two hours, all I could remember was the feeling of completion — that way you feel after knowing that something good just happened and that something even better may be on its way.

Listening to the album now, seven years after, I can maybe hear the strains of a band at the end of its reunion, or maybe tired after years of touring. Maybe. Mostly, though, I hear the sound of something that I had the privilege of experiencing that I’ll cherish forever. Seven years later, Vancouver is a thriving metal and rock town. Shows that we had to hop on I-5 down to Seattle to catch now come up north, and we have not one but two metal radio shows on the air. Combine that with a metal-only record shop and the result is something that we could only imagine growing up. Venues have reopened and the city is becoming fun again — perhaps you can blame a little of that on Kiss. You too can hear this album, along with the other Alive albums as part of the new Kiss Alive! 1975–2000 box set, which is now available.

Before I go, I’ve had a lot of fun these last five years in Pittsburgh writing for you — I have a feeling that also may come to a close as I look to finish my doctorate here. Wherever I go next, I’ll always take a piece of this town along with Metropol, Rock Jungle, the Rex Theater, the Palace in Greensburg, Starlake Pavillion, and the sorely missed Club Laga. Please keep the live scene here going — tons of shows are coming up like Mastodon/Priestess at the Rex on February 9 and Unearth on February 14. And while you’re at it, buy a T-shirt and feed the band!