Gene Simmons / Ace Frehley – Enmore Theatre Sydney 31 Aug 2018

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Some rock n roll history went down at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre a couple of nights back – on Friday the 31st August – where two of the founding members of one of the world’s most iconic rock n roll outfits – KISS – graced the very same stage .

I am of course referring to the Gene Simmons/Ace Frehley show which was one of only four dates these two are doing together here in Australia. To be honest I’m still coming down from such as KISS high.

Who would’ve EVER thought it huh ? I mean as someone who lived through the euphoria of that Kiss tour of Australia back in November of 1980 that some 38 years later – we are gathered at a live venue – only a few short miles from where the former Lord Mayor of Sydney stood at the town hall and welcomed the band – which of course included new member Eric Carr – to a huge crowd below….and only a few short miles from Moore Park – where the band would perform some of the largest concerts ever held at the Sydney Showground.

Yet here we are all gathered again – and for some – it’s very much a religious experience – to witness the bat winged demon and the Spaceman from the planet Jendell for an evening of loud rock n roll. It would be easy for me to be that starry eyed kid again from 1980 and view an evening of rock n roll like this through red (and blue) coloured glasses. But folks – that ain’t my bag – I’ve moved on since then and when it comes to the world of loud rock n roll – have seen, heard – and reviewed – plenty. As a side note I even cop the odd and unwelcome blast of tinnitus now again – which I can partly attribute to standing in front of Ace Frehley’s loud Marshall stack at a Kiss re-union show in Zurich back in late 1996 but I digress….

In the past 18 months Australia has been treated to a lot of Kiss activity….as recently as last October Ace and his band were here opening up shows for Alice Cooper, Peter Criss gave some of his last ever live performances in Melbourne in May of last year – and around about that same time period, we had Bruce Kulick doing some Aussie dates as well. Now Gene Simmons had originally scheduled these recent gigs for back in February – which were postponed – I’m assuming – due to a heavy work schedule surrounding his ‘Vault Experience’ solo shows and the like.

At the surprisingly early time of around 7.30pm the house lights dim and the intro music – being the instrumental taken from his 1978 solo album called ‘Fractured Mirror’ fills the air / before Ace Frehley and band (who are also Gene’s backing band) kick into their set with a fiery take of Kiss’ 1974 track ‘Parasite’. Personally speaking, I’ve always much preferred Frehley’s lead vocals on this over the Simmons-sung studio effort – it just sounds more palatable and the song suits Frehley’s vocals so so well. Kinda ironic that Ace – from what I understand – was insecure about his singing ability before the track was originally recorded and handed it over to Gene who sung it on Kiss’s second record back in 74…

OK right from the start and I realize that we are only one song in but I’m floored by how good Ace is looking and sounding. He’s been sober for many years now and it shows. Tonight, his solo’s were spot on and his solid backing band add a lot of strength to the songs – and they didn’t miss a beat. These guys are slick and have tons of energy which in turn makes Ace go up a notch and perform better. It’s great to see.

As a kid here in Australia – both the Dynasty and Unmasked records were crucial introductions to the world of Kiss and many of us know those two things backwards. 2000 Man from Dynasty cops an airing and kicks arse – we all dig the Stones, but let’s face it – Frehley really has made this song his own over the years and should rightfully get a cut from all those sales of the Stones’ ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ LP – which have been bought by curious Kiss fans over the years…

Frehley has always been a fan favourite and it’s easy to see why. He’s authentic in a leather jacket/street level/dirty rock n roll kinda way – like Keith Richards, Malcolm Young or Joe Perry – very much the real rock n roll deal.

The highly underrated track called Rock Soldiers – lifted from that debut Frehley’s Comet  album is next and as someone who bought that album at the time of release, gives smile a mile wide when I hear it – but then again, I’ve got a fondness for that time period in Ace’s career.

From memory the hard driving Rip It Out was blasted out next – and I am instantly transported to being locked away in my bedroom as a suburban Sydney kid – where I would play Ace’s solo record until I wore the grooves out. I mean, how good is it ? it is 40 years count em 40 years since he released that incredible solo record – and yet here he is only a few metres away from me, looking and sounding superb, and again, I for one am very grateful.

For me, an unnecessary Love Gun follows and it’s a tune I could possibly do without – I’ve just heard it waaaaay too many times over the years and for me it’s a little stale. Don’t get me wrong, Frehley and his band’s delivery of the song was top shelf, but I’d rather hear something like the current single Rockin With The Boys or better still, the single which was released before that, titled Bronx Boy. For mine that is THE BEST track Ace has done in a long long time.. but I digress…

Time for another deep cut – and this time it’s the tune Strange Ways from the Hotter Than Hell record – which sees strong lead vocals from drummer Christopher Williams. Top stuff. Strange Ways by the way was the name of a very very short lived fanzine from the mid 80’s which …if you were around back then, you may’ve heard of. I still have fond memories of zines like that.

Although he didn’t write it – New York Groove, dare I say possibly Ace’s signature tune sounds loud as hell tonight and his vocals on this are spot on. Saw him do this on the re-union tour at a gig in Chicago back in 96 which for me was the real highlight of that evening and tonight’s effort sounds just as good if not better. If I could’ve done without the aforementioned Love Gun – Detroit Rock City falls into the same category. Great tunes, but ones I, along with zillions of other fans know backwards..Tonight is not a Kiss show where the setlist is often chosen with the average fan in mind – tonight’s crowd is packed (and I mean packed) with Kiss die-hards, purists who wouldn’t have minded shuffling the set up a little more. How’s about including a track like ‘Insane’, or the ELO cover Do Ya ? What about Shot Full of Rock from Trouble Walkin ? Y;know when Frehley in superb form as he is this evening I have nothing to complain about – but with such a rich rock n roll catalogue, I would rather hear another lost rarity instead of a couple of the well-known Kiss classics  – just my two cents worth….

A frenzied and very rockin Shock Me is cranked out – which for me, is alone worth the price of an entry ticket. As many will know, this song was Frehley’s debut vocal performance with Kiss and epitomizes the rock n roll swagger which runs through his veins. Beyond cool.

Back in the day I owned an Ace bootleg called Back In The Groove – recorded live at The Lamour, New York City in 1985 – that was the first time I’d heard the track ‘We Got your Rock – which wound up on the 1987 Frehley’s Comet album – would’ve loved to hear that one tonight, but alas, he cant play em all – and overall, Frehley’s set kicked some serious arse.

There’s a lot to like about Ace Frehley circa 2018. I cannot state strongly enough how strong his vocals and guitar playing is. I recently did a video review of Ace’s single Rockin With The Boys and in a strange co-incidence about an hour before this show someone left a comment on that video saying Ace is ‘Wayyyyy past his peak’. Friend – on tonight’s performance I could not disagree more. In fact if tonight’s performance is anything to go by, Ace Frehley has turned back the rock n roll clock and is in white hot form, and with his new album ‘Spaceman’ due to hit the shelves on October 19th, the guy is back on top of his game and then some….

After a short break, the house lights dim and the intro music from the track Radioactive signals Gene Simmons and his re-charged backing band to the stage. I would’ve preferred the band to continue on and open with Radioactive (which he did play later) instead of losing momentum with a pause before kicking into Kiss’s Shout It Out loud as the opener, but it’s cool.

Most of Gene’s set was fairly loose with an emphasis on fan-filled-fun. Second track aired is ‘I’ which I never ever thought I would hear played live….it’s a song which is quite familiar to many Australian fans – many of whom, like me picked up The Elder back in the day – no doubt still feeling light headed after the big KISS tour here late in 1980 .
The anthemic Are You Ready is lifted from Gene’s vault and sounds cool in the live environment. Lyrical points for rhyming ‘lyin’ and ‘shine’ by the way – anyway, it makes you wonder how close it came to being included on a Kiss album –

Simmons set was littered with many highlights – including a rippin’ take of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally, which I’m assuming he would’ve digested as a Beatles fan in the early 60’s. Love Theme From Kiss, Watchin You and even a rocked up version of She’s So European (which tonight was renamed to ‘She Is So Australian’) is up next and is great.

It seemed that back in 1980 everyone from your neighbour to the kid at the end of your street had a copy of the Unmasked record – one which the record buying public here in Australia really took too. And it’s a fact which is duly noted by Simmons and Kiss whenever they tour here – often playing tracks off it.

Having powerful local vocalist Virginia Lillye take the stage to handle much of the vocals on I Was Made For Loving You was a treat, and it was a sight to watch the stage fill with fans who joined Simmons and his band on stage for a couple of songs to do quote unquote guest vocals. I’m fairly certain these fans paid big sums of money as part of Simmons Vault experience to get the chance to jump on stage and perform with him and the band. No doubt the thrill of a lifetime for some.

There’s not much in the set to complain about. War Machine sounds as cool as ever, but I could do without hearing I Love It Loud again. It rocked the hell out of me in the early 80’s but I would’ve rather he included some more deep cuts…..Mr. Make Believe or Burning Up With Fever anyone ?

Set highlight for me was an absolutely stunning take of Charisma, one of Kiss’ most underrated songs and one of my all time favourites. It’s 4 or so minutes of nothing but catchy, riff-heavy rock n roll and one of the best things Simmons and Kiss has recorded. 1979 never sounded so damn good.

Having Ace walk out and rip into Deuce with Gene Simmons in 2018 is the stuff of Kiss dreams – and I know many Kissers around the planet who would’ve loved to witness that tonight. Frehley, Simmons and his band – along with the fans who bought the vault/stage experience – close out the set with the obligatory Rock n Roll All Nite and it’s a great way to end the set….

To summarise – tonight’s gig was all about the joy of rock n roll – No lights, bombs, bells or whistles – this evening was all about one thing: the music . Some of the earlier songs from the Kiss catalogue (74/75 era) still sound as raw and as lean as when they were cut – whilst the more well-known tunes are always gonna be appreciated by die hard fans – hungry to devour the band’s signature material. I’m guessing the majority of punters in attendance tonight got more than there’s money worth – filing away rock n roll memories to be reminisced over at a later date and if you did walk away from this gig disappointed – you’d be pretty hard to please.

So what’s left for guys like Frehley and Simmons left to accomplish ? Will there be another Kiss studio record ? Will there be one mammoth final world tour for Kiss – where all four original members are re-united in paint ? Maybe there will be a run of select concerts around the world – where all current and former members – (including Vinnie Vincent and Bruce Kulick) will have a moment to shine on stage during the show – before all members take the stage on a long and loud encore of Rock n Roll All Nite. However it plays out over the next 18 months – I’m saying that Kiss fans in Australia have not seen the last of Ace and Gene.

There was some hype around these shows tonight and in my opinion both Simmons and Frehley more than lived up to the expectations.

I enjoyed tonight’s Simmons and Frehley double-header immensely – sure there was some nostalgia attached – but I nevertheless viewed the show with a critical eye to match my wide grin. What I saw were\ two seasons pro’s who looked like they enjoyed every moment of being on stage – this no doubt contributed to what I was feeling from the crowd.

Two thumbs up on a great evening of rock n roll I will always cherish !

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