Concert Review- November 9, 2011
House of Blues – Chicago, IL
By Anthony Kuzminski
Ace Frehley is experiencing a well deserved resurgence. After leaving KISS in 2002, he vanished. He wasn’t abducted by aliens and didn’t take any magical pills that made him invisible; he simply turned inward, took care of himself and came out on the other side. Much of his life is chronicled in his excellent new memoir No Regrets where Frehley sets the story straight about his time in and out of KISS. Back in 2008 when he ventured to the road for his first solo tour in almost fifteen years, everyone held their breath but what occurred on the stage was an eye-opening experience. Here he was onstage rebooted and ready to rock. His no-nonsense band and Frehley’s catalog of music flourished. The truth is KISS fans are experiencing the best of both worlds. KISS is out on the road, still providing the flash and pizzazz they’re known for, whereas Frehley is performing in more intimate venues tearing through a rather exciting set of songs, many of which KISS has not or will not be performing again any time soon. It’s for this reason alone I find Frehley’s solo shows a must see every time they roll through town. His recent visit to the House of Blues in Chicago did not disappoint with Frehley delivering a KISS heavy set full of hits and deep album cuts.
Opening the show was a rugged and read hard rock band with a tip of the hat to 80’s rock, The Biters, but who clearly understand the passage of rock n’ roll history. They embody an area between Joan Jett, Tom Keifer and Liam Gallagher. This was their last show with Frehley, but trust me when I say you need to check them out if for no other reason than their driving cover of “I Need To Know” by Tom Petty which they introduced as “We’re going to play a cover and if you’re a Nickelback fan, you won’t know it”. Tongue-in-cheek for sure, but they’re sweat filled set was wholly memorable and I hope this is the first stepping stone to something bigger and better.
Ace Frehley, supported by three top-tier musicians took to the stage for a 100-minutes set with the intro music of “Fractured” before the Alive II track “Rocket Ride” took off. Astoundingly the song was never performed on any of the KISS reunions and this was one of plentiful highlights for KISS fans. Followed immediately by “Parasite” from Hotter Than Hell, Frehley and the band took the evening into overdrive and never looked back. The band is exceptionally well rehearsed but they’re not a well oiled machine lacking soul. They’re collective gusto leaps off the stage; drummer Scott Coogan is a marvel behind the kit and even took the lead vocals on several songs. Guitarist Todd Youth flexed his cocky six-string snarl with zest and bassist Anthony Esposito held the four piece together with his bracing rhythm and beats. All four band members took their turns at the microphone and despite what one may feel, it never ventured into cover band territory. Frehley was dressed in a leather jacket, sunglasses and complimented throughout the whole set by a series of Les Paul guitars.
Free from the shackles of space boots and layers of make-up, Frehley and his band tore through their 100-minute set like a well rehearsed garage band. This was refreshing. “Sister” from his excellent 2009 album, Anomaly was sadly the sole track from the record but proved this was an evening about more than mere wistfulness. Music fans live in the past, grow restless when acts perform new songs, but “Sister” captured the thrill of his best songs. Call me crazy, but I felt this was Frehley’s best guitar solo of the evening. “Rock Soldiers” threw the crowd into a frenzy with their fists flying in the air. The band's sonic grandiosity was showcased superbly on “Snowblind” with a “I Want You” coda. “What’s On Your Mind” was performed for the first time in Chicago from his 1978 solo record. Like George Harrison before him, Frehley was undervalued and underappreciated in the confines of KISS. He was released from the shackles placed upon him and he soared with the solo release in 1978. To his credit, his solo work has always been consistent with his best post-KISS releases being Trouble Walkin’ and Anomaly. He seemed more at ease and it showed in his playing.
The evening was split between stone cold KISS classics such as “Love Gun”, “New York Groove” (with an enthused sing-a-long), “Shock Me” (with smoking guitar), “Deuce” and “Shout It Out Loud” which featured all four band members trading off on vocals. The other half of the show was gripping in ways KISS shows aren’t. This isn’t a criticism of their shows but when performing to 10,000 people, acts shy away from unfamiliar material but Frehley knows these are hidden aces up his sleeve. The classic KISS catalog is stronger than most give it credit for, including KISS themselves. “Love Her All I Can” from Dressed to Kill is a song most have forgotten. Coogan and bassist took lead vocal duties while Frehley sat back and wailed away on his guitar like it was 1975. The psychedelic acoustic ditty “2000 Man” from the Rolling Stones Their Satanic Majesties Request is an absolute reinterpretation and perfectly suited for Frehley’s persona. The live version surpasses the studio cut ten fold with Coogan’s drums burning with power. Before introducing “She” Frehley told the crowd, “This is the correct way to play it”. A primary example of where arena rock bombast was absent and real blood, sweat and strings ruled. The sweating sexual intensity could be smelt inside the House of Blues with a solo that was greeted with open arms. The song was so influential that they key and tempo was modeled by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam on “Alive”. “Hard Times” from Dynasty was a huge shock while “Strange Ways” was menacing like Godzilla on a rampage. Todd Youth belted out “Flaming Youth” is an energizing performance.
The four musicians onstage were ferocious and fearless. Minimal over thinking occurred and they let their guts lead the way. This show transcended mere nostalgia but owes more to serving justice to the legacy. I’m sure Frehley has his detractors, but he’s does the best with what he has and in my estimation, this is a triumph. He delivered song after song with minimal flair and let the music do the talking. There may be technically better singers, guitarists and performers, but few can cast a net as wide as Ace Frehley. Between the last few live shows I’ve seen, his recent memoir and Anomaly, Ace Frehley is more vital than he ever has been. Despite only having a handful of solo records, he has never had a shortage of songs in his arsenal. This current tour is a showcase for his playing, which may not compare to the likes of Keith Richards or Jimi Hendrix, but it’s hard to argue that between 1976 and 1986 that almost anyone who picked up a guitar did so in some shape or form because of Ace Frehley. Inside of the House of Blues, I watched Frehley speak his own unique language through his six-string and it was the most impressive playing I’ve seen him display, even surpassing the 1996 KISS reunion tour. He may no longer be performing with KISS but that doesn’t mean he isn’t playing with a loaded and more potent deck than anyone could have imagined.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter