Turning up to see Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley play at Festival Hall on a cold, wet Thursday night had me thinking “I’m glad I’m they are seeing my idols” because to be honest if this was some band that I had never heard of I probably would have chosen staying at home in the warm and watching the latest season of iZombie. But thanks to a music loving Dad I had a healthy dose of KISS as a youngster and as a result they are frequently played every now and there was no way that I was going to miss these living legends play live.
It was when I was close to the music Mecca that is Festival Hall that things suddenly seemed weird. I did the usual ‘drive-down-the-street-behind-Festival-Hall-and-try-to-find-a-free-parking-spot’, now normally this may net yourself a free park with a twenty minute walk to the venue if you’re lucky… seeing that everybody seems to do it. I was expecting that I wouldn’t even find one of those tonight considering that the KISS Army would be out in full swing. So I did the drive and found myself driving closer and closer to the venue with carpark upon carpark empty. “Weird” I thought, so weird that by the time I pulled into my carpark, less than five minutes from the venue with still more carparks around me I actually checked my email again to make sure that the concert hadn’t been moved. Still the closeness to the venue did allow an advantage, dinner with my wife at the beautiful Royal Mail Hotel on Spencer which served the best Parma I have had in ages.
Then when I arrived at Festival Hall it took all of two-mintues to collect my ticket and get seated, only to find that my wife and I had the entire row of seats to ourselves… yes this was one of the strangest things I had ever seen… “where the hell was the KISS Army?” Well, I guess that question will never be answered for me but what they did miss out on was a very special night.
The benefit of a small crowd was no wait time at the Bar so I settled back with my drink ready to experience Ace Frehley and boo I was not disappointed. While at times it was hard to understand while he was explaining about songs when he performed he delivered. Once he launched into the hard rock gem that is Fractured Mirror I was kicking myself even more for having missed him before Alice Cooper last year. Everything Mr. Frehley did had me singing along. Of course the crowd joined in on classic KISS songs like Shock Me and Detroit Rock City but I found myself enjoying tracks like Love Gun and Rocket Ride a lot more. They conjured up memories of years ago and hearing Ace sing them live had me savouring just how much I love KISS as a band.
Ace’s set was made even better by his amazing band and every song sounded amazing. His Rolling Stones cover 2000 Man went down well live while his cover of New York Groove by Hello was a huge surprise and me instantly falling in love with it, although the most amount of fun was singing along to Rock Soldiers.
Then came the intermission which saw some of the rowdier and drunker crowd members shown the door by security, yes I don’t know why but for some reason there were a lot of hecklers present on the night, both Gene and Ace seem to cop it as did some of the poor people that were part of the crowd participation (more on that later)… but now it was time for man himself… Gene.
Gene came to the stage with the same band as Ace used, not that I was complaining these guys were on fire and quickly won over the crowd with witty antidotes and with great performances of KISS classics Deuce and Shout It Our Loud. Gene gave little history lessons about himself and KISS between songs and he gave just the right amount – just enough to learn something but not enough to get bored. And of course he was his usual Gene Calling Dr Love and Charisma became ‘flirting’ songs but it was his performances of tracks like Almost Human and Plaster Caster that had me on the edge of my seat… they sounded amazing live. She’s So European became She’s So Australian while hearing the rare instrumental Love Theme From Kiss performed live was a highlight, as was the full-on cover of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally.
The only disappointment was the crowd participation, while it was an interesting concept that those with VIP tickets got to interact with the show by going on stage it did get very tired very quickly when people on stage proceeded to tell Gene how they dreamed about him coming out of the sky as a child and how much she loved him for five minutes, bearing their ass to show their Gene tattoo and the ultimate the girl who hijacked the mic and demanded to sing with Gene but then wasted five minutes trying to decide what she should sing because her favourite was already performed… the crowd became restless during this time as they had every right to, ten years ago she probably would have been crash tackled by security and thrown back into the crowd… but now we live in PC times so she was just let go while Gene watched awkwardly… damn PC times. It was also disappointing that the crowd participation was during some of KISS’s biggest and most classic songs which led to Gene and the band being drowned out by out of tune singers.
As a result though while I enjoyed the renditions of I Was Made For Loving You and Rock And Roll All Nite (minus the out of tune audience vocals) my favourite Gene track for the night was War Machine, which I was still singing along to as I left the venue.
So what we learned on the night is that Ace and Gene are still both amazing live, too much audience participation leads to disaster and perhaps most important is that KISS are touring Australia in 2019… that came as a promise from Gene himself… now that I cannot wait for.
Photography by John Raptis