Whether or not it makes a big dent in the Hurricane Harvey relief effort, Wednesday night’s Children Matter benefit concert at CHS Field in St. Paul marked a big moment in the history of one of rock’s most storied bands.
Original Kiss members Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley reunited for the event, their first joint appearance in public since their group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Unlike that terse ceremony, however, this time they came to play — their first performance together in 16 years.
They didn’t rock ’n’ roll all night; curfew was 10:15 p.m. But the Kiss cronies did get to party all day with a couple of fellow Hall of Fame acts also on the lineup: ’70s hitmakers Cheap Trick and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. Two Minnesota music mainstays, the Jayhawks and Flipp, also played.
The crowd of about 3,000 was full of fans in Kiss Army T-shirts reveling in the rare chance to see the two ex-bandmates in one place. They had to wait until about three-quarters of the way through Simmons’ set with his solo band before the ringleader finally bellowed, “Tonight is very special.”
And with that, Frehley walked out and lit into “Parasite,” a song he wrote and Simmons sang on record in 1974.
The guitarist’s words were only semi-decipherable as he thanked his old bandmate for inviting him, after a decade and a half of them sparring verbally via interviews and in their respective autobiographies.
“I just decided a week ago I wanted to be here,” Frehley said on stage (or something close). His pioneering guitar stylings were crystal-clear from the get-go, though, as he then tore into “Cold Gin” and “Shock Me” before the must-do finale “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
Simmons’ willingness to yield the spotlight to Frehley underlined his commitment to the cause. He helped organize the concert on behalf of a Twin Cities-based charity he has worked with before, Matter.ngo, run by Minnetonka-based real estate moguls Dennis and Megan Doyle of Welsh Cos.
The charity’s overall focus is feeding and aiding children worldwide, but after Hurricane Harvey hit in late August, the concert’s theme turned specifically to assistance in Houston and surrounding areas. Its lineup greatly expanded in the interim, too.
In addition to Simmons and Frehley, the show featured a few other surprise pairings between the acts. Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander and guitarist Rick Nielsen each joined Felder for one song apiece: “Take It Easy” and the Stevie Ray Vaughan cover “Pride and Joy,” respectively.
With three-quarters of its original lineup and a full touring schedule, Cheap Trick was the true powerhouse act of the night, even with a too-short 35-minute set time. Zander sang full-throated through “Surrender” and “Dream Police” before a thundering finale of “Gonna Raise Hell.” Maybe the Trick can reunite with original drummer Bun E. Carlos to offer another special reunion if they do the concert again next year.
Simmons’ new band was a lot of fun, too. With three guitarists, the group effectively stripped away the flash and fire of a Kiss show and let the songs stand up on their own.
In such fan faves as “Shout It Out Loud” and “Do You Love Me,” the younger bandmates also sang Paul Stanley’s notes much better than the growingly croaky Kiss co-leader can nowadays.
OK, so maybe “Christine Sixteen” wasn’t the wisest song choice by Simmons at a concert dubbed the Children Matter, but that didn’t matter to the fans there to help support the cause.
See a photo gallery and read coverage of a news conference before the concert at startribune.com/music.