Sunday, August 27, 2023

Ace Frehley, Nashua Center for the Arts (Aug. 2023)--a review

We had good seats... up close and personal with Ace Frehley.
Wildly unexpected: Ace Frehley played a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” at the Nashua Center for the Arts last night. But I’ve come to expect the unexpected out of Ace.

The former KISS lead guitarist has always been a loose cannon. That’s what led to his departure from the band; Ace quit in 1982 but his time was coming to an end regardless. He loved booze and drugs too much, lacked discipline and seriousness, and was unreliable. Which of course put him at direct odds with the businessmen and defenders of the KISS brand, Paul and Gene.

Ace went on to have a moderately successful solo career with Frehley’s Comet, famously reunited with the band for a reunion tour in 1996, and left again in another huff in 2002. In his wild biography No Regrets Ace sends most of his ire in the direction of the controlling, sex-addicted Gene Simmons; today he is openly quarreling with Paul Stanley, who himself stooped to Ace’s level by denigrating Ace’s playing and professionalism (despite the fact that Paul is openly using vocal tracks to cover up his shot voice).

It's rather pathetic, watching the infighting of 70-year-old men who hit the equivalent of the lottery in the 70s but can’t seem to get beyond their own egos and let the past remain there.

But to be honest, it’s also fucking fun, in a watching a train wreck from afar, guiltily, kind of way.

When you’re a deep fan of KISS--the kind who goes beyond the music and explores their crazy history, the rise and fall and glorious return, the nonsense of albums like Unmasked and The Elder and weird transient members like Vinnie Vincent, and all the merchandise spinoffs and now public beefs and shit-stirring—it’s like participating in a reality TV show spanning 50 years, with dozens of spinoffs and subplots. It’s endless and endlessly fascinating.

There aren’t really a lot of good guys.

KISS (the current incarnation) does not precisely even play concerts anymore, but put on a highly choreographed performance; everything is calculated and planned. Zero spontaneity. Yeah, Gene/Paul/Tommy/Eric put on a much bigger, brighter, and more colorful show than Ace, and KISS sounds much better, but it’s plastic. For almost 20 years now, perhaps since the “farewell” tour of 2001, it’s been essentially the same thing; the last unique show I remember KISS putting on was Psycho Circus and its ill-conceived 3D effects. 

Ace has slouched along with his own solo career since the mid-80s. He’s never had a good voice, never taken care of himself physically (though he says he’s been sober since 2006), BUT he does his brand of loose, boozy rock well, and has surrounded himself with a talented band including three dudes who can all sing, and share the vocal duties and take the load off what is clearly at this stage a very frail Frehley.

So KISS isn't great these days, and neither is Ace. But I still love them both.

Concerts have always for me been about good times with friends, and unique experiences, first, and the music, while important, is second. Last night was a fun experience, and the music was OK too. It checked the boxes for a good time. And it was.

Ace busted out a lot of old KISS tunes including “Parasite,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Cold Gin,” “Shock Me,” “Deuce” and “Love Gun.” He played many solo hits, including (of course) “New York Groove,” but also “Rip It Out,” “Rock Soldiers,” “Snowblind,” “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” and “Hard Times.”

I think I got them all, but I wasn’t taking notes, either.

Oh yeah, and “Emerald,” which was a pleasant surprise

Wayne and I. 
The usual weird Ace-ness accompanied all of this. Ace slagged Paul once; Ace admitted he can’t sing Love Gun, “but neither can Paul” before turning over the vocals to his drummer. He told a weirdly placed story about falling down his stairs in his own home in a sort of half apology for not being as spry on stage (he never has been). An odd fedora wearing promoter who resembled a faux pro wrestling manager lurked along the side of the stage taking pictures, and at the end of the show held open a bathrobe for Ace to step into. 

Ace shared interesting short anecdotes about old KISS songs (conceiving the riff for Cold Gin on the subway, Gene admitting not knowing what lyrics of Deuce meant, etc.). And of course he played a smoke show solo.

Nashua is a little rough around the edges but the main drag was loaded with breweries, restaurants, and pubs. We watched one overserved dude make an ass of himself before moving on.

Fun stuff, quirky, unique. Another one for the record books. 

My friend Wayne and I both remarked that this may be the last time Ace comes this way, based on his condition, but one never knows. He is after all, a wild card, and may yet have an Ace in his deck. OK, that's enough card metaphors for one day.


Paul R. McNamee said...

The fact you went to the show in a Spinal Tap t-shirt when considering all you posted about the history and the soap opera drama. :D Well played.

Brian Murphy said...

:) It can't be helped with KISS. And in case someone thinks I'm not a fan, or I'm being cruel, I've probably seen these dudes... 15 times? And Ace another 6 or more times, solo? Bought all their albums, and a lot of ancillary merch. And defend them, even in their less popular phases, as here:

That said, they are consistently their own worst enemies. I'm not making anything up, just amplifying what they are already saying. It is all rather petty and childish and... Spinal Tap-esque.