It was about thirty seconds into the show when somebody about ten feet in front of me on the general admission floor at House of Blues breathed fire... KISS fans are a rare breed and from that moment on, I knew seeing original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley in such an intimate venue for the first time would at the very least be... interesting. What I wasn't prepared for was just how good it would be.
Frehley combined his one-of-a-kind wit with an outstanding setlist that drew from his solo material, KISS tracks and covers for nearly two hours Wednesday night at House of Blues. Gone are the theatrics and the pyro from KISS tours gone by and in their place is a band that's tighter than the current incarnation of KISS (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer) I saw on tour in the summer of 2010.
Relentless drummer Scot Coogan attacked his instrument with a reckless fury that was displayed in his energetic fills and did his best Paul Stanley on the evening's KISS songs that required said vocals. Bassist Anthony Esposito took his share of lead vocal duties as well (primarily the Gene parts on Kiss songs). The duo added outstanding backing harmonies during the "ooooooh's" on "What's On Your Mind?" (I believe it was Derrek Hawkins who rounded out the band on rhythm guitar and vocals).
Frehley's "solo" 1978 KISS album was touched upon several times. In addition to "What's On Your Mind?" came Frehley's light up guitar during his version of Hello's "New York Groove" (once a top 20 hit for Ace) as well as a scorching rendition early on of the rumbling "Snow Blind."
But it wasn't only the music that took center stage on Wednesday. Also loud and clear was Ace's hilarious, though sometimes a bit irreverent, sense of humor... A sense of humor that was often displayed in the form of disdain for former KISS bandmate Gene Simmons and followed up with what has become his signature cackle.
"How come Gene Simmons is afraid of seafood restaurants?" quipped Frehley at one point. "'Cause there's CRABS on the menu!" (the joke of course referring to a story Ace tells in his new book No Regrets whereby Simmons allegedly gave all of his bandmates crabs when his tainted costume was stored with theirs following a show).
But he wasn't done with Simmons. "I just found out [my book] is #10 on the New York Times Bestseller list. If you look at my book and Gene's book... The people have spoken!"
Ace on politics? "Who's gonna be the next President? I got the perfect answer: I DON'T GIVE A SH*T!"
But as loudly as Ace spoke, the music spoke that much louder. And boy was there a lot of it as Ace covered virtually every era of his career. From 1987's Frehley's Comet came one of the evening's loudest sing-a-longs in "Rock Soldiers." From his 2009 album Anomaly (his first in nearly twenty years) came "Sister," while a cover of the Rolling Stones' "2000 Man" was thrown in for good measure as well.
Anyone wondering whether Ace was simply letting his band do the heavy lifting saw those fears alleviated as he took to the stage by himself following "Shock Me" for a ten minute solo that proved the guitarist remains as bold, fast and loud (dear God was this show loud) as he ever was. And true to form, Ace made sure the guitar smoked all the while. You see, this show wasn't completely without effects.
But it was the KISS tracks that made the night. Fans wanted the best and they got the best. Especially as the show wound to a close where Ace finished with "Shout it Out Loud," "Deuce," "Love Gun," and "Cold Gin" (Frehley told me before the show that "Deuce" and "Cold Gin" are two of his favorite KISS songs to play live).
Nearly five years sober, it's great to see Ace Frehley not only putting on great live shows but also releasing relevant new material in 2009's Anomaly and his new book No Regrets... a period of increased activity we haven't seen in nearly twenty years.