Gene Simmons is a busy man. A flurry of recent activity has seen the Kiss bassist attempt to trademark devil horns, release a movie from his new production company, publish a business manual, revive his S&M comic book and hawk a $2,000 box set. So one wouldn’t expect a reunion with Ace Frehley, with whom he hadn’t played live for 16 years, to be a priority. Yet it does indeed materialise on a beautiful late-September evening at the minor-league baseball stadium CHS Field, for a charity concert to aid victims of recent hurricanes.
Alt.country vets The Jayhawks open the show with a too-short set of casually sublime buttoned-down Americana, including their shoulda-been-a-smash Blue, and Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces from 2016’s quietly stunning Paging Mr. Proust.
They’re followed, somewhat incongruously, by fellow Minnesotans, the newly reactivated glam-rock overachievers Flipp. Superficially resembling Kiss in both their boisterous anthems and cartoonish theatrics, they play two songs from their 1997 self-titled debut and two from 2004’s Volume – the very definition of criminally overlooked.
A few minutes after a time-sucking audience participation bit unravels Flipp’s otherwise frenetic set, Simmons urges the crowd to, “Open up your ears, spread your cheeks for the best effin rock’n’roll band in the universe.” Cheap Trick proceed to live up to that hype with a 35-minute set that checks off their staples Dream Police, I Want You To Want Me and Surrender, but also features a strutting Long Time Coming from their recent studio album. After they close with an epic Gonna Raise Hell, highlighted by a raucous Daxx Nielsen drum solo and Robin Zander’s preternaturally ironclad pipes, it’s shocking to realise that for two bands whose fan bases are so inextricably linked, this marks the first time Cheap Trick have shared a bill with Kiss since 1979.
Cheap Trick are a tough act to follow and ex-Eagle Don Felder knows it, which may be why he’s invited Zander to harmonise on Take It Easy, and Nielsen’s dad Rick to upstage him on a cover of Steve Ray Vaughn’s Pride And Joy.
Last up is the man of the hour with his recently recruited solo players. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Simmons is without his Demon get-up. He comes on strong with lascivious banter when he’s not ranting about how much better records used to sound or mistakenly referring to the previous performer as “Don Henley”. Tonight is also very likely the first time many in the audience have ever heard the word “schmeckle” (Yiddish for todger) uttered at a rock concert.
It’s a good thing the Gene Simmons Band are so competent. With three guitars to compete with, Simmons’s bass has been turned way up, which reveals just how inventive his playing is. Three songs in, Simmons introduces 13-year-old drumming prodigy Logan ‘Robot’ Gladden. He pounds out the anal sex-obsessed Nothin’ To Lose and later launches into the jailbait anthem Christine Sixteen, arguably questionable choices for an event called The Children Matter.
Then comes the moment for which the crowd has been primed. After an aggressive Calling Dr. Love, out steps a down-to-earth Space Ace, who launches into the ferocious locomotive riff of Parasite and slays with the solo. Though the follow-up, Cold Gin, suffers from a tentative opening, the former bandmates lock in on the crunchy groove of Shock Me and it’s as if years of animosity have melted away.
It all ends in an exhilarating shambles when Simmons invites 30 fans up, then berates a girl sitting on the steps for blocking access, and insists that security take an accurate count when they finally assemble to offer gang vocals on Rock And Roll All Nite. Gene, after all, will be Gene.