Ace Frehley - The Space Invader Tour
Arcada Theater in St. Charles, IL
November 29, 2014
The mood was festive near the historic Arcada Theater on this chilly evening in late November. The dust from Black Friday had just settled, and the town of St. Charles was ushering in the Christmas season with their Parade Of Lights down Main Street. Earlier in the day, Ron Onesti, owner of the Arcada and all around great guy, hosted a showing of The Polar Express free of charge for anyone looking for the Christmas spirit. So, as I arrived at the Arcada there were smiles and good cheer all around. And, being that I was about to see the legend that is ex-Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley in the Arcada's intimate setting, there were multiple reasons to join in the joy.
I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about what kind of quality I was going to get from Ace. Having seen YouTube clips of him tumbling off stages, and hearing of other misfortunes due to alcohol and drug addiction, I was hoping to see a refreshed, drug-free Ace. So, as spirits were running high and smiles were everywhere, it came time for Ace to hit the stage and either play the part of a hard rock Santa and deliver his musical gifts, or perhaps play the Grinch and crash the party.
As his young, energetic band ran out and took their places, they looked charged and ready to go. And, with Ace making a slow and cool descent onto the spacious stage, it was hard to read his state of mind. But, as the band launched into "Rip It Out," it quickly became clear that Ace was about to play the role of jolly ol' St. Nick.
The setlist that this sold out crowd was treated to was chock full of solo tunes, as well as some classic Kiss songs. I thought his choice to play four tracks from his latest solo effort Space Invader showed strong belief in the material, which sounded good and went over well here. (Like any good Santa, he even delivered "Toys," a song from the record.) But, this crowd came to hear the classic Kiss songs, and they were not disappointed. Frehley's voice is holding up pretty well these days, and he sang his parts sufficiently. Never really a stellar talent with his voice, he made a smart move bringing in a band that could help out with some vocal range. With drummer Scot Coogan handling the Paul Stanley vocal parts like a champ and bassist Chris Wyse singing "Strange Ways" with near perfection, having Ace play all those classic solos precisely made it something extra special. Truthfully, I didn't expect to get those solos played tightly, note-for-note. Just before playing his solo tune "Snowblind" he told the crowd that everyone was doing cocaine back in the day, "except for Paul and Gene." He then went on to tell us that he has been clean and sober for 8 years. And, with his ability to play those solos with the kind of accuracy that he had on display, I believe every word of it.
Some of the highlights of the set came by way of crazed guitarist Richie Scarlet. He had a punk rock energy with a hard rock/metal sound. He's a guy that's fun to watch, but also fun to listen to.
The theatrics of Frehley's smoking guitar solo is always fun. As Ace graces the stage alone and caresses his axe, smoke starts to pour out of the body of his Les Paul. It's a great effect that never gets old.
"Rock Soldiers" from the Frehley's Comet record was one built for a live audience and it didn't disappoint. Hearing the crowd sing along and joining in on the anthemic chorus defined good time rock and roll music.
Some of the "deeper cuts" that I didn't fully expect to hear were welcomed with open ears. "Deuce," "Strange Ways," "Parasite," and "King of the Nighttime World" were all extremely impressive, with the latter being the tightest song in the set. "King of the Nighttime World" isn't one of my favorite songs, but it was on this evening. The band took everything to another level with this song.
As Ace and his band finished their 20-song set with the Kiss classics "Detroit Rock City," "Cold Gin," and "Deuce," I felt like Christmas came a bit early. I did fear getting a lump of coal from Ace this year, but instead I got a precious gift. I got the gift of a sober and worthy Ace Frehley. I got the gift of excellent music played excellently. And most of all, I got the gift of hope; a hope that Ace will continue to stay sharp, take care of himself, and return to play shows like this one for many years to come.
1 Rip It Out
2 Gimme a Feelin'
6 Love Gun
8 Space Invader
9 King of the Night Time World
12 Strange Ways
13 Rock Soldiers
14 New York Groove
15 Shock Me
Ace Frehley Guitar Solo
16 2 Young 2 Die
17 Rocket Ride
18 Detroit Rock City
19 Cold Gin