Gene Simmons came to town for the systemic price gouging event known as Wizard World. Even though I had already had the privilege of interviewing Gene by telephone in February, I ponied up the exorbitant fee to briefly stand beside him in person and have him sign an album. Here was the KISS demon, a man who exudes cool and dominates a room like no one I had ever observed. A man who confidently walked into the football stadium where the convention was held, and asked the staff about its capacity, knowing he had filled venues of this size before, and could do so again with a few phone calls. Still, as much as I enjoyed observing him in the element of celebrity and businessman, it paled in comparison to watching him in his true element of the stage. The lower levels of the Pageant Theater were mostly filled for a much more fairly priced performance by his solo band.
When I had interviewed Gene in February about his upcoming solo tour I asked him about the set list. He was tight lipped about the details at the time, but indicated it would feature several selections from the roots of rock-n-roll, such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Roy Head, and might not be as many KISS songs as the audience would think. A solo tour is a perfect opportunity for a rock innovator such as Simmons to pay homage to his influences. It might also be true the audience, having seen many KISS shows, would enjoy seeing Simmons open a set with something other than “Deuce”. This was fine by me, as I purchased a ticket fully expecting half the songs to be covers. However, when Simmons and his band did indeed storm the stage with a thunderous rendition of “Deuce” I discovered it was exactly what I wanted to hear. It did not let up from there, as the set was almost entirely glorious and mighty KISS songs. The lone exception being when the band covered “Johnny Be Goode” in tribute to the recently deceased Chuck Berry. Simmons attended Berry’s funeral the following day.
Gene was not in demon make-up or character. There was no signature monster walk or side to side head bob. No fire breathing or blood spitting. Somewhat disappointingly, there were only a couple of brief glimpses of his famous tongue. Excepting the poor sound guy who was several times berated by Gene (I cannot speak to the quality of the levels in the on-stage monitors, but from where I stood the sound quality was always perfect), his interactions with the audience were playful, humorous and poignant. Most importantly the music was wonderful. The set list was exactly as I would have wished it, consisting of a mix of KISS classics along with several rare tunes which never get played at a full KISS show. He frequently mentioned Ace and Paul when discussing their songwriting contributions.
I believe KISS are underrated as musicians, and their songs, stripped of all theatrics, are still great. I even read an internet theory Gene doesn’t actually play on stage, but rather has an offstage bassist cover his parts. This is absolutely not true. Gene attacked the bass with a ferocity befitting a musician a third his age. His bass melodies groove and drive a song as well as any other bass player I have seen. Simply put, the Gene Simmons Band sounded incredible and Gene was in fine form. This solo tour showcased the musical substance of KISS, which is regularly overlooked by dismissive outsiders who assume the band is of no consequence without costumes and pyrotechnics.
Gene Simmons had several things to prove on this tour. He is not slowing down, he can rock the house without Paul, and the music of KISS is every bit as bombastic without the bombs as it is with them. All these things were proven. I may have overpaid for his autograph, but I walked out of the Pageant feeling I had just gotten the best deal in town.
|Guitarist Ryan Cook|
|Gene lays down the groove|
|Guitarist Jeremy Asbrock|
|The legend himself, Gene Simmons|