FREHLEY still celestial on “Spaceman” (E-One)

Now that the gloves are off, I thought it a good time to finally weigh in on the ever-rocking Ace Frehley‘s latest voyage, the self-produced Entertainment One release Spaceman, yet another aural sortie that finds the celestial one in a good place making vibrant new rock.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, or have given up on new rock & roll altogether, you may need a wake up call — Ace Frehley is one of the few old school true hard rock cats left carrying the torch with any efficiency. In the past decade, Frehley has put out (countem’) four albums, all with stellar cuts & euphoric rock moments worthy of his ever-ascending pedigree and any playlist.

Reality is, a lot of folks sold out, gave up or can’t quite give a fuck enough to figure out how to get their fans new music. Ace …you know, the notoriously lazy drunken lay-about, decided when he got truly sober years ago to take over the main command deck, learn the new tech cold and bring it on home ….to his home studio. He’s cut out the flack and has been doing what he loves to do most, and you can feel it in his records; Ace is in his element. With what he’s endured, it’s a miracle he’s alive, not jaded and is still in love with rock & roll.

Spaceman may not be the very best of the four, but it’s f-close at moments and is as endearing as anything he’s ever released. In fact, when the final chapters of KISStory are written, I believe there a number of songs, sentiments & performances on Spaceman that will end up as major notches on the time capsule.

Relistening to it here today, a smile came over my face as I found myself breaking on through the turbulent atmosphere to the other side …kinda like the gravity that used to hold me down somehow just didn’t exist no more?!

The album features long-time, par-excellence Ace Frehley Band member Scot Coogan on drums on most of the record with the exception of the re-appearance of Anton Fig on “Pursuit of Rock & Roll” and guest jams by Matt Starr on “Rockin’ With The Boys’, “I Wanna Go Back” & “Quantum Flux”. Ace plays most of the guitars and bass, minus Gene SImmons’ singular playing on “Without You I’m Nothing” …count down’s comin’ on, here we go:

WITHOUT YOU I’M NOTHING > A ballsy, earnest rocker co-written with former band mate Gene Simmons that wouldn’t have worked (ie – been convincing) coming from Simmons or KISS. Frehley though knocks it out of the park with a great lead vocal, edgy semi-autobiographical verse lyrics and a bitchin’ solo that quickly re-affirms why you developed a taste for the Blue Koolaid way back.

“Now through the years, I’ve hit some walls, with no regrets .. when we’re apart I get the blues”” 

ROCKIN’ WITH THE BOYS > More straight talk from Ace delivered with customary ‘don’t sweat it’ chill. This one grows on you like a new pair of favorite jeans and the comfy feel continues into the solo as Ace eases back on the throttle, laying in behind the beat to get ‘back’ in NY groove.

We’ve had our differences, now don’t make a fuss, we’ve had the best of times” 

YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND > Co-written also with Simmons, ‘Wish’ features a similarly luke-warm Simmons chorus / title benefiting again significantly from Ace’s well-honed pop sensibility on the verse melody & lyric. An ill-fated reunion of sorts, no surprise this is the only tune on the album that feels a little forced. Like with most old flames, you often find once is enough.

Seen many miracles, don’t be concerned, so few are chosen”

BRONX BOY > More street cred and a great P&L statement from Ace that takes us back to the ‘hard times’ as a teenage gangbanger that he may not have escaped were it not for his guitar & considerable swagger, drunk or sober!

“I’m just a street kid, we seek and destroy, I lived so much of it, I’m just a Bronx Boy.” 

PURSUIT OF ROCK & ROLL > A rock anthem to rival KISS’s many arena driven-forays over the years. Ace’s ‘State Of The Union’  is a rocket ride with Anton Fig burnin’ up the drum kit and Frehley high on the fumes, literally shouting out to The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and even The Beatles.

“Don’t want no strife, ‘cuz it’s the enemy, that gets into your soul” 

I WANNA GO BACK > It’s almost impossible not to love this cover of the Eddie Money hit. The choice, and Ace’s delivery of the bitter-sweet Money lament, is flat-out charming, further illuminating Ace’s range and deep love for a great hook, regardless the artist or era. It wasn’t a guitar tune until now, and it’s a fucking cool departure.

I wanna go back, and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know”

MISSION TO MARS > Were I Ace’s manager I would have tapped the glorious  “Mission To Mars” as the lead single (or “I Wanna Go Back”?) as it’s perhaps Ace’s best vocal since “Rip It Out” and tracks us on radar somewhere between ’74’s “Parasite”, ’89’s “Lost In Limbo”, 2009’s “Outer Space” and Elon Musk’s flying Tesla. Wonder how many times Frehley left the pavement in his DeLorean?

“My ships off course, by some unknown force ….Between heaven and earth, you know we’ll always be first, and that’s why”   

OFF MY BACK > Even if it’s now clear Ace never heard Spinal Taps’ “Bitch School”, this tune is super catchy and boasts the hottest solo on the album. If not Ace’s rawest Frehley fret  attack ever from the get-go, the solo outro shifts to urgent blues phrasing reminiscent of Leslie West of Mountain or Rory Gallagher!

“We go in circles with no end in sight”

QUANTUM FLUX > The closer is, as is tradition for Ace, a continuation of the instrumental epics that started in ’78 with the haunting powerhouse that is ‘Fractured Mirror’.  No exception to the fleet, ‘Flux’ is transcendent and takes Ace and us out of orbit into emotional time-scapes, reverberating key influences Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page while remaining pure Ace Frehley through and through.

The crazy thing is that, with Ace, you can go back. He still gives me that feeling. There’s ‘Space’ on board …Ace’s got you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KISS – Heaven, Hell or Houston?

Who better than KISS to round out a 40-year catalog with no less than 5 songs with HELL in the title.  Indeed with KISS, even “Heaven’s On Fire”.  Like a lotta rock, KISS bleeds biblical references, consider offerings like “‘Thou Shalt Not”,  “On The 8th Day”, “Unholy” and “God Gave Rock & Roll To You”.  KISStorian ranks KISS’s journey ‘Runnin’ With The Devil’.

HOTTER THAN HELL — Street-wise Stanley burns ya like the mid-day sun … KISS’s industrially murky “Cross Town Traffic” has one of the best outros in rock history with the duel-panned Frehley solos wailing out on the fade … Yes, HTH is as close to KISS HEAVEN as HELL gets, rivaling ACDC’s “Highway To Hell” as the best rock cut with HELL in the title, all-time. The groove on the live version on Alive is KISS at it’s very best …rip rip, rip & destroy!!!

ROCK & ROLL HELL — Gene seems to think it’s his destiny, whether he wrote it or not, and sings RR HELL like he owns it,  perhaps because he really did want out of the KISS biz circa ’82. Certainly Ace left to save his soul, leaving Dr. Love to contemplate who was Saint and who the Sinner. One could argue that Creatures of The Night marks the Demon’s final serious salvo …soon he would wander the wastelands, no longer Lord.

I’LL FIGHT HELL TO HOLD YOU — Pure 80’s super-Paul travels to the brink to be bye your side in this diabolically good Crazy Nights cut…There was never a video made for HELL TO HOLD YOU, but one can easily visualize it’s cinematic MTV potential appeal …I see Paul braving heavy terrain, high winds, torrential rains, eventually reaching the mountain top, searching for the lost Xanadu. The Starchild has our backs.

HELL OR HIGH WATER — Gene’s best cut off Crazy Nights and my favorite Bruce Kulick rock hunt, HELL OR HIGH WATER may be the only Simmons song in which he admits having his feelings hurt. But nobody puts Gene in the corner, he let’s you know in the festive, feel good doo-wop bridge ….”Baby don’t doubt it, ain’t no doubt about it” …considering he’s willing to brave HIGH WATER potentially, I find it down right heart-warming that the ‘Man of 1,000 Faces’ considers facing HELL to boot if need be.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL — Gene’s put you in purgatory, and he’s so hungry… ‘SOMEWHERE’ somehow worked on Hot In The Shade but the lyrics are so cheap novel cliche Simmons, and the hook so KISS sleepy, that it made us all long for days of yore when Gene was a Demon, not the ‘Albatross’.

 

KISStorian sees ACE FREHLEY’s true ‘Origins’ @ HOB Chicago

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Since the dawn of civilization people have made pilgrimages to pay homage to their Gods and gather with the tribe. That is the feeling before, during and after an Ace Frehley concert. You’re back in the ‘New York Groove’ and in your rock & roll happy place (space) with Ace at the controls.

Such was the case a couple of weeks back when Ace made an earthly appearance at House of Blues here in Chicago. Night orbits with Ace over the years in the Chi have been bumpy rides at times (Avalon, Cubby Bear, China Club, Dome Room) but I am happy to report that Ace’s head, band, and space are in a great trajectory at present, no matter how semi-dazed & confused the captain may be from the excesses of rock & roll.

What struck me about this show is that Ace really did take a deep dive into his true ‘Origins’ by choosing to do the stuff I think he is most comfortable playing, perhaps enjoys most. It was basically a few key Frehley solo cuts, a couple covers off the newbie ‘Origins’, several non-Ace KISS tunes and then of course the core Frehley-penned KISS classics delivered with renewed zest & love. A set of KISStoric Ace ‘feel goods’.

ace_hob52016’s stellar incarnation of ‘the Ace Frehley Band’ may in fact be Ace’s best live line-up ever. The addition of rock cosmonaut Chris Wyse on bass is nothing short of an Ace masterstroke. (Great bass solo Chris!) With Wyse’s well-honed hammer, drummer Scot Coogan‘s old school pocket, guitarist Richie Scarlet‘s razor rhythm attack and Frehley running the Les Paul warp drive, the band delivered cool grooves, cosmically faithful renderings and good vibrations all the way from Jendell!

A Tip of the Chicago Firehouse hats to hometown boy Coogan for kicking ass on every level required to do Ace proud. I get the sense now several years in that Scot may be the band leader in a sense. If  he’s not, he’s certainly the a heart & soul Rock Soldier that the KISS Army  need thank for his considerable tour of duty.

ace_hob2There were some fun moments during the show too. A couple of times we caught Ace watching co-guitarist Scarlet and being amused by the ‘Emperor of Rock’s’ mega antics stage left. For one thing, Scarlet has discovered a new move in which he whips his guitar with his scarf instead of picking it LOL.. During “Rock Soldiers”, Ace noticed ironically that his “old buddy Richie” was now rocking out stage right at the perfect time for Frehley to point at Scarlet when he sang the song’s lyric “and Satan on my right” laughing after he did so. Richie also took the liberty, while visiting the ‘windy city’, of dedicating “Bad Boys Are Comings” off Trouble Walkin’ to “Mr. Alfonso Capone”.

img_4857Early in the show, like four songs in, Ace wandered back to the kit between songs and was talking to drummer Scot Coogan when people starting yelling “ACE!! ACE!! ACE!!”. Eventually Frehley returned to the mic and said calmly “hey …I didn’t go anywhere?”

img_4821For the intro to “Shock Me” Ace inquired “Who do you thinks gonna win? ….Hillary or Trump?”  He paused for comic effect and then said ‘”Who Fucking Cares!!! … nothing would SHOCK ME!!!”

At one point Ace asked us, very subdued, “Is it loud enough? …. yeah? … why not make it louder?” He then brought us all on back home, back to ’74, when he shared a revelation of sorts before going in to “Parasite”. Oh what a cool moment it was when Ace informed us that he had written the song about “this girl that used to follow KISS around from city to city” and oh to meet that girl with the ‘Parasite Eyes’.

Ace is one of the few rock icon who has never changed his true stripes or sold out. Masked, unmasked, loaded, sober or otherwise, Frehley is a ‘National Treasure’. To me Ace is the American personification of Jimmy Page meets Keith Richards. When it comes to KISStory, you can never count Ace out, no matter what hand he’s holding.

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Purple Ace

I took this pic at HOB Chicago on the ‘Anomaly’ tour and it’s yet another Frehley ‘anomaly’. I believe Ace’s guitar started smoking during either the “Shock Me” extended outro solo or “Cold Gin” ….while the whole band was still on stage!! Everyone in the crowd went ape shit and so did the band, as is witnessed in the pic with bassist Anthony Esposito rockin’ out behind the Ace. I am not aware of another instance when Ace’s guitar smoked when he wasn’t alone on stage. To outsiders this may all sound rather trivial, if not down right Spinal Tapish, but to KISStorians, it’s KISStory. Trippy purple haze, the 2000 Man is like the headless horseman of rock & roll in this shot – AWK!

PurpleAce1

KISStorian issues demands

Until all the following demands are met, darkness will consume the land and silence will persist…..

KISS is required to re-mix both Unmasked & Crazy Nights, removing all keyboards.

KISS must immediately issue a live DVD from the Asylum tour.

KISS is implored to perform The Elder live on a pay-per-view.

KISS must engage Bob Ezrin or Eddie Kramer to record one more album with the band.

The Demon’s hand must be forced to release of the oft-threatened  ‘Gene Simmons 100’

Three Sides Of The Coin re-unites KISS Army

three sides of the coin Oh, the power of the world-wide web. Three Sides Of The Coin, a 3-person hosted, low-fi, webcam podcast available on iTunes, their Youtube channel et al just celebrated their 50th episode and are hands down the definitive KISS podcast. If you live under a rock or just discovered Kiss, then take a deep breath and start working your way through their archive and CHOOSE ONE!  In a fractured ranks divided into many camps, Three Sides Of The Coin bridges the gaps and goes into the void, fists up, mending fences and finding common ground in understanding KISStory.

Since starting their three-sided fanatical volleys have been shared lovingly by KissAsylum.com, the Kiss fans long-standing stand-bye. Each show is just over an hour or so and they also have had some amazing ‘well-in-the-kno’ exclusive guests and, in a very short time, have managed to provide a one-stop-shop for the real deal in a no spin zone the descerning fan can appreciate.

The 3-Kissketeers, which includes the increasingly giddy renown rock critic Mitch Lafon, former Kissonline.com founder with the actual band KISS / marketing guru Michael Brandvold and, for no reason immediately apparent, Tommy Sommers, a regular guy real estate agent from Minnesota who brings it all down to earth here and there with the occasionally necessary “what a minute, can you explain?”

largeIt all just works very well. They get along but also aren’t afraid to disagree and each has a unique perspective that works great in the simple three-window format which, to their credit, they could have done online without the visual. But instead, they bring us into their worlds in a format that makes it pretty hard to hide your feelings once you have watched someone for a bit. But, in their defense, there is so much to argue about!! And they do it for no other reason than that they are fans and what we get (for free it should be noted) is a glorious weekly intrusion into the psyche of three Kiss fans beyond help on the eve of what looks like Kiss’s induction finally into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a possible re-union of the four original cats no less!

I imagine mega-fans of other mega-bands would do well to take note of the simple formula as a solid template. Our undaunted brethren have covered a lot of ground already but I am hopeful they can keep it rolling as long as they can stand because it’s helping LOL!!!  Not to diminish some of the great stuff that folks like KISSfaq.com, DecibelGeeks.com and podKISSd.com and others have done, but for me Three Sides Of The Coin has managed to capture what it is to be a card-carrying KissArmy member and deliver hot content week after week, especially with the enthralling guest segments like epsiode #50 with That Metal Show host on VH1Classic Eddie Truck.

Or watch this episode in which the boys “sit down” as it were with the first KISS (former) member Bruce Kulick to recognize the show for what is: perhaps the best place to talk Kiss and reach the real fans. My guess is it won’t long before each band member is coming on the show and my guess is the next man up will be either Ace himself or the new ‘Spaceman’, Tommy Thayer, who recently sent in a note to the guys that they read on the show. How would be cool to hear Tommy actually talk and see him interact so we can get to know him a bit more, or Eric Singer for that matter?

eleven keys to indie band touring

2392252farsideone, always allow enough time to get from A to B to guarantee you aren’t late for load-in no matter what; sucks to start the night with excuses or an argument. if you’re gonna be late, you better call the venue or your booking agent so the club knows in advance.

two, arrive in a business like manner, there’ll be plenty of time to show your wonderful personality later on.

three, have one person speak for the band as it relates just about everything; … you don’t want each band member bothering staff, management or the sound man for that matter (sound check aside of course (often can’t be helped!)). Fine if they wanna make buddies after sound check, until then – shut up and get your gear on stage!

four, you are not rock stars yet, don’t forget it no matter how great the gig goes. the people running the place have seen it all before and will be more than ready to stereotype you as the beers flow and the ego hits over drive … stay cool yo.

five, the sound man is the most important person in your life: do what he says, be polite but not too friendly (or he may take the nite off), know how to sound check as a band in the shortest time possible, already know what you want in your goddamn monitor or ask for little to nothing, “get what you need” only, less is always more in this regard and, lastly, treat him with respect right outta the box and make him feel he is part of it. Never soundcheck full songs if you can help it.  Choose a tune to run that covers all the bases so you are able to hear your stage mix quickly and get out-of-the-way. Less is more in this arena. When you’re a star you can become a soundcheck diva, until then, plead the fifth. The better you sound check the better your chances are at the club because first impressions are often the most telling.

six, tell your friends there is no guest list and, if you have to put Mr. Big on the list, pay outta the bands pocket for the ticket and then have him added to the list – you will make a strong impression.

seven, after sound check, make yourselves scarce and don’t start drinking. if you are gonna be drinking early, don’t do it at the venue.

eight, always thank the soundman by his/her name from the stage and mention the openers / headliners at some point. you are there to make friends or you will never build your draw there.

nine, be seen listening to and enjoying the other bands on the bill, do not disappear backstage, it can empty a room out a bit and people start wondering when they are leaving too. you are there to make the club money, if they don’t, it wasn’t a good night no matter how good the board mix sounded in the van.

ten, humility and an eye on the prize is the only way you will make the venture, your gig that night, time well spent. the real clubs staff n’ mgmt. know who the real bands are even before they’ve heard’em, or think they do, and are right more often than not.

eleven, this one goes there ….know your rights and stand up for them if you have done all the above and still got the shaft, it’s a game, be ready to win it and bite your tongue here n’ there ….

KISS early American punk?

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Creem Magazine unmasked ’74

From the Encyclopedia Britannica: PUNK, also known as punk rock, aggressive form of rock music that coalesced into an international (though predominantly Anglo-American) aesthetic / movement in 1975–80. Often politicized and full of vital energy beneath a sarcastic, hostile facade, punk spread as an ideology and an esthetic approach, becoming an archetype of teen rebellion and alienation”

Maybe rock history has it (relatively) wrong? No doubt staunch critics of KISS (IE ‘music critics’) will scoff at the suggestion that KISS were originally essentially a punk act. If so, perhaps the most influential one of all time, just a few years too early and simply too singular to be part of the traditional discussion.

Suspend your disbelief, the proof is in the pudding. Like the punks and every movement in rock, KISS created their own thing, their own look and their own sound. Both gravitated to shock value and, like the punks, KISS had zero shame, eventually drawing you in with their sheer will, devotion and spectacle.

Sure, if they ever were punk, they didn’t remain it for long and, sure, they were far from political, although the assertion that they wanted to “Rock & Roll All Nite & Party Everyday” left little for the establishment to condone or moms to embrace. And, yeah. of course they ultimately totally sold out in a way that is perhaps the very anti-thesis of a punk ethos that demands failure by definition. It was Johnny Lydon who summed up punk fatalism most succinctly in the Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” with the ever-enduring refrain” no future, no future, no future for you”.

Perhaps we miss the analogy just because KISS became way too successful to be remembered as punks? I submit that they may have been classified as something slightly other than classic rock had they folded in 1975 before ALIVE! saved them. Decked out originally in black leather, studs and white face, the bands presentation was as raw as a fist fight and far from glam or glamorous.

I came upon this surprisingly reasonable revelation the other evening while re-watching KISS’s 1974 performance on ABC In Concert w/ Dick Clark. 

So cool. When Criss screams “Your days are sown with madness!” at the end of “BLACK DIAMOND” you realize KISS meant it and, as it turned out, were reflecting something that would soon have parents all over America puzzled. Worth noting that it takes only Frehley’s first frenetic solo on the opening number for chicks to stand up and the party is on. 

You had to be there, but somehow KISS were the band stateside to mega-articulate “fuck what the adults are telling you” to a generation waiting for something to happen. 

KISSOLOGY Vol. 1.documents the heady times well, especially with the Paul & Gene commentary feature punched. It was the wild west back then and it is well-known the band and their crew acted like devil-may-care renegades as openers both on and off stage. Refusing to tone it down, KISS were bounced off tour after tour by pissed-off headliners for feathers ruffled and bruised egos. KISS took no prisoners save the audience. The early live footage speaks for itself Youtubers, KISS were freaks on a mission and like punk, KISS aimed to kick your teeth in one way or another.

KISS74.56
did you see the opening band dude?

Musically speaking, early KISS (esp. the first two ‘offerings’) was darker and considerably slower than the general attack that punk ‘musicians’ hurled over the pond a few years later. Start with tunes like “PARASITE”, “BLACK DIAMOND”, “DEUCE”, “WATCHIN’ YOU”, “100,000 YEARS”, “GOIN’ BLIND”, “STRANGE WAYS”, “HOTTER THAN HELL”, “STRUTTER” and “SHE” for a keen snapshot of their no frills urgent ballsy attitude rock & roll.

Don’t buy the usual pundits backwash folks: KISS really could play, no way it would have worked if they didn’t rock man. Check the tapes: it was happening.

It may be Ace Frehley’s “COLD GIN” that supports the argument best —- a tune about getting drunk just to keep warm and ‘keeping it together’ (lol.). Way ahead of its time and certainly an honest blue-collar concern. That’s what Ace and Peter Criss brought to the band; legit fast-trigger, gang-tested attitude from the streets of the Bronx & Brooklyn. But, for business acumen, Gene & Paul might have been the biggest punks in town. No needles, no violence, but more attitude than anyone in their way.

Just think about it: you would have to be punk of sorts to be in KISS at its inception. Making any sense? KISS as an Americana precursor to punk? It’s not that far-fetched my friends. Hell, look at the crowd on the back of KISS’s 1975 deal sealer ALIVE!….half the people in the crowd look like they are in The Ramones (or relatives of the Hanson brothers from Slapshot).

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I Wanna Be Sedated & Party Every Day

Described early on as ripoffs of everything from the New York Dolls to Alice Cooper to Humble Pie to Free to Slade to Led Zep to Cream to The Faces to The Who to Sabbath to Ziggy to Hendrix meets the Beatles but, make no mistake, KISS were punks at heart.

Alienation? KISS were aliens.

Teen rebellion? Check.

An aesthetic? Um (gulp)….yeah.

Hostile facade? Hell yeah!

Ideology? Keep It Simple Stupid.

Aggressive? What was your daughter’s name again?