Ace Frehley @ HQ (Adelaide), 4 Feb 2010

The original spaceman of rock touring Australia for the first time solo, and quite possibly the first time sober. Nostalgia never sounded so good!

It was with mild trepidation that I went along to see the spaceman Ace Frehley on Thursday night at HQ.  When I was a spotty, skinny, teen geek Kiss were “my” band, they were everything to me and Ace was the main reason behind that love.  To me and my small band of geek friends, Kiss were for a brief while, the be all and end all.  We spent endless nights listening to the albums over and over, analysing every moment, every riff – hell the first bootleg album I ever bought was Kiss My Axe!  In the 70s, in a country town of 500 people, liking Kiss was guaranteed alienation for us teen geeks, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way - and it was Ace Frehley, the alienated space freak from another world that was our hero, our link to the outside world. But time passes, and even spacemen need to come down to earth sometime, so it wasn’t the space ace we saw on stage but a grizzled rock/blues veteran who’s done away with the makeup and platform shoes, and armed himself with nothing more than a guitar, a back-catalogue of killer songs, and a band of rock’n’roll mercenaries who kicked some serious arse. 

First though we were entertained with a short, sharp set from support act L.U.S.T. from Sydney. Good, solid rock and roll with a splash of punk attitude and a guitarist who has the look, the moves and can ring that neck as good as any cathouse/glam rocker you might come across. They kept the punters happy, which is always a hard job when everyone is there to see a legend, but they lacked something. They had some great songs, a great voice up front, that guitar hero... but there was still a lack of real presence. On a Saturday night in a smoky bar they would come across a treat I’m sure, but on the big stage they’ve got a lot of work to do.   Not a bad band at all, you understand, but nothing to make them stand out either.  Still they had a fistful of decent songs, and See You In Hell is one killer track, so you never know.

While the roadies set up for Ace I was entertained by the variety of t-shirts on display on the punters – every Kiss tour you could imagine, these guys and gals had dug them out to proudly display their love of the man and the band.  I was glad I hadn’t worn my Vinnie Vincent shirt after all, might have been torn to pieces.  As for the age group, hell I saw people older than me there! As well as kids who were probably not even an idea in the back of their old man’s nut sack when Kiss first toured the great southern land back in 1980.  Surprisingly, there was only a touch of face paint in the crowd with most just sticking to the t-shirts to show their love.  Of course there was a hell of a lot of hair, though, as well as a lot of baldies!

Maybe because of the age group or maybe because we were all here to see the coolest, most laidback guitarist on the planet, there wasn’t the usual rush forward or pushing and shoving as Fractured Mirror started playing over the sound system.  Instead it was just cheering, devil’s horns and calls for Ace.  I’d managed to keep my place near the front of the stage despite the crowd starting to pack the floor, and was maybe four or five back when the band, led by drummer Scot Coogan (Brides Of Destruction), ambled out onto stage to kick things into gear.  Frehley stepped out, an old rocker in shades and beard, looking comfortable in t-shirt, jacket and jeans, cranked up the guitar, and the band kicked straight into Rocket Ride.

With the drums and bass pushing the air out of my lungs with every thump Ace didn’t miss a beat and you could feel the crowd moving with his fingers as we all waited to see if he could still pull off the solos, could still wring that neck.  We needn’t have worried; this is the new model, sober, clean, confident and ready to give his all.  Kiss classic Parasite followed straight up before Ace casually mentioned his cocaine daze to introduce Snow Blind from his 1978 solo album.  The band were doing a great job, Ace was sounding slick, I was surprised I admit.  Two tracks from his new album Anomaly followed: Sister and the first single Outer Space, both delivered with aplomb and power before things temporarily lost momentum. 

Ace was having trouble with the volume, cranking his guitar up more and more and during Speeding Back To My Baby he occasionally lost his way, Rock Soldiers suffered the same fate.  The drums were miked fucking loud, the air would hit you hard every time Coogan laid into the bass drum and Ace seemed to be struggling with getting the sound right ‘tween he and his boys.  But after this temporary stumble, the band burnt through a great version of Love Her All I Can with Scot taking lead vocals, ably supported by bassist Anthony Esposito (Lynch Mob) and doing a bloody good job of it too. The band were enjoying themselves it seemed, and so was Ace. 

Talk To Me followed, and then there was the Stone's cover Two Thousand Man from Dynasty with the crowd singing along to the opening lines, surely a pointer to when a lot of these folks had discovered the masked marvels.  Funnier still was New York Groove, a great song but still a touch of disco there; and to see all these metal heads grooving along was a sight to behold.  Ace pulled out a great solo during the song though, showing he could still add some new touches to his old classics. Strangely, Frehley announced Hard Times as having come from his 78 solo effort not Dynasty but hell, he probably can’t remember much of that time anyway! 

Then it was Foxy & Free from Anomaly before a Cold Gin tease, just a lick to get the crowd cheering and screaming for more.  The band, Esposito, Coogan and Todd Youth (Danzig) on rhythm guitar were looking like they were having fun and that sense continued through Shock Me with Ace pulling out all stops.  Considering how bad his vocals were when this song first came out (come on we all know he has a ‘unique’ voice) Ace was sounding pretty good tonight; and for me, this is the song where you really notice that change in vocals.  He dug out the big solo, too, complete with the smoking guitar, before the band came back on and we were hit with Shout It Out Loud!  Yes, the Kiss tunes were coming out now and I’m still not sure if I like the idea or not.  The songs Ace had something to do with, whether it was writing ala Parasite or singing ala Rocket Ride are fine, but this one?  It was getting dangerously close to party band at Clipsal material. [For readers unfamiliar with this phrase, the Clipsal 500 is a car race held annually in Adelaide. - Ed]

Off for a break before the encores, I was still pondering the party band line when the band hit the stage with Deuce.  Now I knew it was wrong.  This is Gene’s baby, maybe Ace was making a statement?  The boys even lined up for the swaying guitar moves, I mean, come on!! Love Gun followed with Coogan leading with some stunning work on the drums but I still had that Saturday Night Clipsal feeling happening. Finishing with Cold Gin though put things back in the black, Ace let rip, Todd got a solo, the band were having fun, the crowd, now a little drunker, sweatier and louder were going off, and with a final nod to Black Diamond it was over. 

We’d seen the spaceman, he had done his thing, sure there were some technical problems (this was only the second gig of the tour) but they rode them out. The band, led really by Coogan, were fucking tight, the crowd was pumped. And Ace, well he was Ace: laconic, laidback, guitar playing spaceman slash blues rocker.  He has reinvented himself, no more stadiums you feel for Ace, but then he doesn’t seem to mind at all. And neither did we.