Review: KIX Rocks The Whisky A Go-Go

Winding down a busy year of touring, '80s metal band KIX headlined the Whisky A Go-Go earlier this month. Featuring a line up that includes Brian "Damage" Forsythe (guitar), Ronnie "10/10" Younkins (guitar), Steve Whiteman (vocals), Jimmy "Chocolate" Chalfant (drums) and Mark Schenker (bass), a packed house was treated to a high octane 90-minute show from one of rock & roll's hardest working bands. Featuring selections off their 1988 platinum-selling album Blow My Fuse, fans were transported back to a time when the fertile metal music scene thrived and KIX was on a trajectory to stardom. Having not experienced the band in decades, I was immediately impressed by their ability to take command of the stage and engage the audience as they flawlessly navigated through a powerful setlist. If you haven’t seen KIX in concert, do yourself a favor and go witness a band that that plays their heart out! You won't be disappointed!

Formed in Hagerstown, MD in 1978, KIX graduated from the ranks of a popular cover band, performing the classic songs of AC/DC, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and April Wine, to a promising original metal band. KIX signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1981. They released five albums for the label giant, KIX (1981), Cool Kids (1983), Midnight Dynamite (1985), and Blow My Fuse (1988), which featured the band's biggest hit, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” The song reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album achieved platinum sales and peaked at #46 on the Billboard Top 200, making it the band's most successful release.

“In the early days, we started as a cover band even though the main goal was to write originals and get a record deal at some point,” recalls Forsythe. “It was years of riding around in a van with an equipment truck. We didn’t get a full tour with a tour bus until 1988, so it was a long, slow build-up. When I look back at all the gigs and everything we went through to get there it was crazy.”

“Donnie just kept getting better as a songwriter so the records got progressively better,” adds Forsythe. “When we did Blow My Fuse, we had finally gotten our management in place, had a really good record and everything came together at that point. It was just like a whirlwind. Going into that record there was a feeling in the air that the universe was getting behind us. It took a long time to get to a platinum album. It was a long process. I was surprised it didn’t hit platinum sooner. But then looking back at it I figured out why. The record company would have had to give us a bonus. They waited 10 years until the contact relapsed to the old contract and then it went platinum, so no bonus.”

Their fifth and final album with Atlantic, Hot Wire, peaked at #64 on Billboards Top 200 album charts but failed to reach the success of Blow My Fuse. Their disappointing follow-up album $how Bu$ine$$ (1995), released through CMC International, led to the break of the band, and the permanent departure of founding member and principal songwriter Donnie Purnell.

“'Hotwire,' which I think was an even better record," says Forsythe, “was going to be our breakthrough and we were going to be like an arena band finally.  We wanted to be the next AC/DC. Hotwire came out the same week Nirvana came out and that was the end of it.”

“We started sinking fast, so I jumped ship’,” adds Forsythe. “It was disillusioning because we worked so hard to get to that peak and it just wasn’t quite there. After all those years, I couldn’t see going back through what we had just gone through, I needed a break at that point."

KIX reunited in 2008 selling out gigs on their home turf in Hagerstown. Performing in front of 20,000 rock and roll fans alongside Sammy Hagar and Alice Cooper at Rocklahoma, they solidified their return as a musical force more than capable of delivering a memorable concert.

Following the release of their 2012 reunion Live in Baltimore CD and DVD, KIX returned to the studio in 2014 to record the album Rock Your Face Off (Loud & Proud Records). The album debuted at #1 on Amazon’s “Hard Rock and Metal “chart, in the Top 50 on Billboard’s “Top 200 Albums” chart, #5 on the “Independent Albums “chart, #11 on the “Top Internet “chart, #17 on the “Top Rock Albums” chart, #27 on the “Indy/Small Chain Core Stores” chart and #33 on the “Physical” chart.

KIX last released CAN’T STOP THE SHOW: THE RETURN OF KIX in the fall of 2016, a two-disc DVD/CD set that entered the Billboard Top Music Video Sales chart at #3, and rose to the #1 position, the band’s highest-charting debut and first #1 ever in their 35-year history. The 71-minute film offered an in-depth look into KIX’s decision to record their first new album, 2014’s Rock Your Face Off, in almost 20 years.

KIX spent 2018 touring in support of the 30th anniversary of the release of their Blow My Fuse album. To commemorate this historic event, they released a two-disc special edition package featuring a remixed version of “Blow My Fuse” and never-before-released demo recordings of all 10 tracks.

“We started talking about doing something for Blow My Fuse because it was the biggest record,” says Schenker. The thing I always got from the guys was, even though it was the most popular album that they did, everyone had a tiny disappointment with it production-wise. I remember back when they were doing the album I was given a demo tape, which I used to listen to in my car all the time before the record came out. So I knew those songs well. I remember thinking, ‘Man, this is great. I get to hear the record before it comes out.' Then the record came out and I said, ‘Wait a minute, the record doesn’t sound that much different than the demo tape.' The demo tapes were so good that these guys at that label essentially redid the demos, this is the story that they told, so I’m just retelling the story. I remember feeling disappointed. I thought it was going to be this giant huge sounding record. So we’re lucky to be able to get to redo that and sort of set the record straight as it were. I’m really happy with it, and I wasn’t even involved with the original one.”

"In many ways, this is for the KIX diehards as much as it is for us," adds Forsythe. ”When we started doing this again, tons of fans came out of the woodwork. They'd show up with their kids, and it was just incredible to see. We had to deliver to them.”

With the days of being at the mercy of a major record label and the pressure of having to sell millions of records behind them, KIX continues to move toward a promising future on their terms. Coveting a loyal following and a new generation of fans that are discovering the band,  their best could very well be in front of them.

“I'm grateful to be still doing this after all the years and not having to have a day job,” says Forsythe. “That was my ultimate goal, just play music. I’m one of those people looking at the next mountain and I want to see what’s over the top of that mountain, and just keep going. This was my life’s goal to do this so I’m not going to give up, there’s just no way!”

“We all like each other,” adds Schenker. “We all make decisions together. It’s easy-going because nobody disagrees. We’re all sensible people. If somebody has a good point, everybody can see the light. This is how we perform and everybody does the best they can. It just so happens that the mix of the five of us on stage is better than a lot of other bands, and people see that and they’re just blown away.”

To stay up to date with KIX visit kixband.com

Photos by Rob Nagy 2019
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