Live Photos and Gig Review Credit: Dave Burke (Photographer/Live Gig reporter)
Former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley made his return to Milwaukee, playing the Northern Lights Theater at Potowatomi Casino the day after Thanksgiving. Twelve years removed from his last stint in KISS and now eight years sober, Frehley has had a lot to be thankful for in 2014.
In April he and his former band mates, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss were given their long overdue induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his 5th post KISS solo disc ”Space Invader” (eOne Music) was released in August, reaching number 9 on the Billboard top 100 and now he is closing out the year with his first tour in 4 years.
This time around Ace’s touring band consist of Scot Coogan, best known from Nikki Sixx’s Brides of Destruction, on drums and vocals, Chris Wyse, formerly of The Cult on bass and vocals and frequent Frehley collaborator Richie “The Emperor of Rock n Roll” Scarlet on guitar and vocals. Scarlet’s return to the fold was celebrated by many fans as he and Ace had not worked together since the pre KISS reunion days of the mid 1990’s.
The Northern Lights Theater isn’t your typical rock venue, in fact with it’s plush booths and tables you’d expect to see dinner theater or a crooner like Paul Anka instead of the “Spaceman” from KISS. That being said, it’s a great sounding room and every seat in the house is a good one.
Happy to hear that there was no opening act the sold out crowd of roughly 1000 settled in and waited for the 9:00 show to begin.
At 9:15 after a brief introduction and to the pre recorded strains of “Fractured Mirror”, the instrumental from Ace’s 1978 self titled solo album, Ace and company walked calmly to center stage, counted off “1,2,3” and plunged into “Rip It Out”, also from the ’78 solo LP. Next up were “Gimme A Feeling” and “Toys”, both from “Space Invader”. Over the course of the night Ace would work 2 more new songs into the set, the title track and “Change”, all four were well received by the enthusiastic crowd. Next up was the fan favorite “Parasite” from KISS’ sophomore release, 1974’s “Hotter Than Hell” and “Snowblind”, again from his ’78 solo disc.
Coogan then took over lead vocal duties for the first time of the evening on the 1977 KISS classic “Love Gun”, after which Ace took a not so subtle dig at KISS front man Paul Stanley, saying “isn’t Scotty great?” “He sings ‘em like Paul USED to”.
Scarlet was up next on vocals taking his turn at “Break Out” from 1987’s “Frehley’s Comet”, followed by a few more from KISS’ 1970’s glory days, “King Of The Night Time World” and “Strutter”, again with Coogan on vocals.
Wyse was then left alone on stage for a brief but impressive bass solo, most notably working the theme from John Carpenter’s Halloween into his two handed tapping. Now it was Wyse’s turn at the mic for arguably one of KISS’ heaviest tunes, the Frehley penned “Strange Ways”, also from “Hotter Than Hell”. From there it was into the 80’s with the sing along of the autobiographical “Rock Solders” also from “Frehley’s Comet, followed by the stomp along good time of Ace’s biggest hit “New York Groove”, complete with lighted guitar pulsating to the beat.
Rounding out the set were Ace’s signature song “Shock Me”, from 1977’s “Love Gun”, with trademark smoking guitar solo, “2 Young 2 Die” from ’89’s “Trouble Walking”, with Scarlet taking his last turn on vocals and “Rocket Ride” from 1977’s “KISS Alive II”.
After the obligatory chants of “ACE, ACE, ACE” finally died down the band returned to finish out the night with some more KISS, “Detroit Rock City” with Coogan taking one last lead vocal spot, “Cold Gin” and “the Gene Simmons penned “Deuce”, both from KISS’ 1974 eponymous debut album.
Due to his years of substance abuse Ace has a bit of a reputation for being erratic, but his playing was totally on point, nailing every solo, hitting the stage on time (for rock n roll) and delivering a great straight ahead rock show.
Having seen Ace numerous times before, this is one of the best bands he’s had backing him up in my opinion. Coogan and Wyse are a powerful rhythm section and are both excellent vocalist. Richie Scarlet is a dynamo on stage, kind of a cross between Keith Richards, Johnny Thunders, with a little Angus Young sprinkled on top. His presence brings a great energy and takes some of the “front man” weight off of Ace.
Other than the smoking & lighted guitars, the over the top theatrics of the KISS years are gone, but this stripped down version is direct, in your face and as straight forward as Ace’s instantly recognizable guitar playing.