words // photos: Sarah Rix (@sarahrix)
'...It’s nice that Simmons and crew are making legions of KISS fans’ dreams come true.'
There’s something to be said for stripping things back. Gone was the elaborate stage makeup, pyrotechnics, and platform leather boots that made KISS shows the stuff of theatrical legend. In its place, two aging rock n’ rollers (albeit two aging rock n’ rollers that still know how to work a stage.)
So, let’s get it out of the way: it’s obviously hard to hold up a Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley solo show against the expectations of a KISS concert. If you didn’t know anything about where Simmons or Frehley came from, though, you’d be wholly impressed by the heavy riffs they and their shared four-piece backing band of Nashville-bred musicians brought to a busy Festival Hall in Melbourne.
Ace Frehley opened the night, big on meaty instrumentals for songs like “Rock Soldiers” and “New York Groove”. Frehley showed off his instrumental abilities, his guitar (literally) smoking through “Shock Me” – the 67-year-old later telling the crowd, “I’ve still got it.”
He let his backing band take lead vocals for “Detroit Rock City”, a KISS classic that the crowd ate up in the relatively intimate setting.
While Frehley didn’t say much, the outspoken Simmons more than made up for it. His frequent banter brought a level of approachability to the entire night – as did the fact that he pulled up a selection of audience members not once, not twice, but three times(!) during his 19-song set, rich in KISS material.
It’s nice that Simmons and crew are making legions of KISS fans’ dreams come true, but I feel the need to throw in something here about self-awareness. Please. Audience members. For the love of all that is good and pure in the world, once your song with Gene Simmons is done, just get off the stage. The Melbourne audience was unfortunately left to bear witness to the awkward encounter between Simmons and a female fan who repeatedly asked him to sing another song with her.
Oh god. It was awkward. The kind of, maybe-the-floor-will-swallow-me-whole-and-it’ll-be-fine kind of awkward that leaves everyone uncomfortable. To Simmons’ credit, he handled the situation in a well-practiced way. He kind of just let it unfold, then he swooped in and was very kind to her, telling her she’d be able to return for the night’s final song, “Rock and Roll All Nite”. I’m unclear, though, whether she ever did make it back to the stage or if the floor did, indeed, swallow her whole.
Crowd interaction aside, Simmons’ own solo material – including the lead single from 2017’s aptly-titled Gene Simmons Vault, “Are You Ready” – was less well-received, but still well-delivered. He was also wise to give the people what they wanted: KISS hits.
Amy Lehpamer, who currently stars in the School of Rock production, joined Simmons on stage for “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”. Simmons’ comments on her looks seemed dated in a “oh grandpa” kind of way, but in truth it was the drumming and guitar that carried the song well – the audience all too happy to sing along. “War Machine” played well, Simmons delivering it with some guttural vocals, bass in hand. Frehley returned to join him on stage for the penultimate “Let Me Go, Rock ’N’ Roll”, from 1974’s Hotter than Hell, too.
If anything, the night was a good tease of what to get excited for in 2019. Simmons did, after all, promise the crowd of diehards that KISS would be back next year. Start working on your face paint and all-leather outfits now, folks.