The latest project from Gene Simmons may be his most introverted yet, which is saying a lot for a man who calls himself The Demon, is known to spit fire and vomit blood on stage and was reportedly banned for life from appearing on Fox News after reported lewd behavior while promoting a book last November.
GENE SIMMONS BAND
When: 7:30 p.m. May 3
Where: The Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles
In fact, unlike the shenanigans of Kiss, The Gene Simmons Band is the closest you might get to an unplugged set from the rock maestro — a makeup-free, pyro-free deep dive into obscure tracks and tributes that reflect the 68-year-old’s musical journey.
“By the end I get the chance to bring as many people from the audience as we can fit on the stage to sing with me,” he says during a recent phone call, highlighting what’s in store for the band’s stop at the Arcada Theatre on May 3.
The Gene Simmons Band — which features Brian Fitz on drums, Jeremy Asbrock, Ryan Cook and Phil Shouse on guitar and Simmons of course on bass and vocals — recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Its most recent tour dates are closely aligned with the release of the Gene Simmons Vault, a three-foot tall, 40-pound safe decorated with metal regalia that holds 167 recordings capturing 50 years of Simmons’ contributions to music, from 1966 to 2016. Included are original versions of Kiss classics like “Rock N Roll All Night” and “Calling Dr. Love” as well as three songs Simmons wrote with Bob Dylan in the early 2000s and 1978 collaborations with Eddie and Alex Van Halen among other golden nuggets. There’s also a new action figure, commemorative oversized “In Gene We Trust” coin and photo book.
Simmons claims it’s the “largest box set of all time, the Rolls-Royce of music. … If you sat down without a [bathroom] break, you would be listening to music for over 10 hours.”
The Vault carries a hefty price tag of $2,000, which also includes hand-delivery from Simmons at a fan meetup in select cities with special guests. “My beloved Shannon might pop up,” he suggests of the upcoming Vault Experience date in Chicago May 12. Shannon of course being Shannon Tweed, Simmons’ wife who appeared alongside him and their two children, Nick and Sophie, on the A&E reality show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” for seven seasons up until 2012.
Other recent Vault Experience guest stars have also included fellow Kiss henchmen, including co-founder Paul Stanley and former drummer Peter Criss. Simmons’ recent welcome mat for Criss and former guitarist Ace Frehley (who will open up several Gene Simmons Band dates in Australia this year) after a long estrangement have had many fans wondering if fences are being mended for an upcoming farewell tour. The fact that Kiss Catalog Ltd., which owns the band’s intellectual property, filed a trademark application to register “The End Of the Road” under the umbrella of live performances also has the rumor mill turning.
“There will be one at some point,” admits Simmons. “We can’t keep doing this forever. We are the hardest-working band in show business. If Jagger stepped into my Dragon Boots he couldn’t last a half hour.” More importantly, Simmons says, the band “doesn’t want to stay on stage a day longer than when we feel valid. … Remember we introduced ourselves as ‘When you wanted the best you got the best, the hottest band in the world.’ Not we ‘used to be’ the best.”
Though for now there have been no final announcements, and Kiss hits the road again in July, Simmons is also keen to focus on other projects. He and Stanley will soon unveil their Rock & Brews restaurant concept in the Chicago area (with a planned 12 to 15 locations over several years time) and Simmons recently became an ambassador for cannabis company Invictus MD Strategies—an odd partnership considering he claims to have never done any kind of recreational drug or been drunk in his life. It’s part of the reason Simmons believes he was able to escape becoming part of the notorious 27 Club, which is the focus on the debut book he will release on his new imprint Simmons Books (part of PowerHouse Books) in September.
“It’s shocking from the Elephant Man in 1800s to Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. Everybody for some reason at 27 just, boom! Gone. All the most talented artists of their generation. There’s no other Cobain, no one who can sing like Morrison.”
It also bothers Simmons that we won’t ever see other artists of their ilk again. “When we all started in this business, up until 30 years ago, there was actually a record ‘business.’ But once people started giving away music for free, the record industry died. Which means new bands couldn’t make a living and couldn’t quit their day job. Record companies were the best friends acts could have — they paid us money so you could quit your day job and be devoted to your art, which is the reason I got here.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.