Back in the New York Groove

Ace Frehley - Nokia Theatre, April 4, 2008Being an Ace Frehley fan is not without its frustrations. His last studio album, Trouble Walkin, was released nearly 19 years ago and relatively little had been seen or heard from him since he left Kiss (again) in early 2002. What he’s been up to during the last 6 years – other than recording a yet-to-be released solo album and rocking executive meetings across America – is anyone’s guess, so it came as a pretty big surprise late last year when he announced his first full-fledged solo tour since before the original Kiss reunion in 1996.

Frehley and his band (rhythm guitarist Derrek Hawkins, bassist/vocalist Anthony Esposito, and drummer/vocalist Scot Coogan) kicked off the Rocket Ride Tour in earnest in late December and rolled into New York City’s Nokia Theatre last night for the conclusion of the tour’s first leg (the American portion anyway). While reported attendance at some of the tour’s earlier dates was spotty, the line snaking around the block before the doors opened indicated that this would be a packed house, a good sign for a great night of rock ‘n’ roll.

The festivities got underway with an introduction from radio/TV personality (and Frehley pal) Eddie Trunk, who apparently parachutes into any New York-area venue with electric guitars. After a ridiculously long setup time, the Trews came out for the opening set. Hailing from Canada, they were one of the more impressive openers I’ve seen in some time. They played a strong blend of power pop and straight rock, augmented by solid if not spectacular playing and some very good vocal harmonies.

After yet another long wait and a restarted intro piece, Frehley and his band (decked in black jumpsuits) took the stage some time after 10 p.m. From the opening chords of “Rip It Out”, the energy level never waned while the crowd of about 2,000 and the band clearly fed off each other. The set list was an Ace fan’s delight, featuring just about every notable song he wrote as the lead guitarist and sometimes vocalist of Kiss, as well as a healthy dose of solo favorites and other Kiss chestnuts.

Frehley, who is reportedly clean and sober after a decades-long battle with the bottle, was in full control throughout the show and played with fire and intensity. He made a few veiled references to his past troubles and was in good humor all night (his jokes are just as dry and un-PC as they’ve always been).

Thanks to the aforementioned setlist, the evening was full of highlights. Frehley/Kiss classics like “Shock Me”, “2000 Man”, “Parasite”, and “Cold Gin” were all performed with aplomb, as were deeper cuts such as “Hard Times” and “Strange Ways”. Coogan proved to be an excellent addition as a vocalist, taking the lead on “Breakout” (dedicated to late Kiss drummer Eric Carr) and “Love Gun”.

There were some pleasant surprises as well – “Torpedo Girl” made its way into the set as part of a four-song medley, while “Love Her All I Can” (performed only once ever by the original Kiss lineup) came from out of nowhere during the encore. Otherwise all the Frehley trademarks were present, the light-up guitar during “New York Groove” and the smoking guitar during the “Shock Me” solo among them.

In an era where old-time rockers large and small are taking their show on the road to varying degrees of popularity and success, Ace Frehley quieted all the naysayers with his performance last night. My puny foam ear plugs were overmatched by the raw intensity of Frehley and his band, and the long-anticipated release of his next album (and perhaps the accompanying tour) can now be met with excitement rather than apprehension. At one point he remarked that he couldn’t believe he didn’t take his show on the road earlier, to which I can only agree wholeheartedly.

Rip It Out
Hard Times
Snowblind / I Want You (tag)
Rock Soldiers
Into the Void
Strange Ways
medley: Torpedo Girl / Speedin’ Back to My Baby / Five Card Stud / Trouble Walkin’
Stranger in a Strange Land
New York Groove
2000 Man
Shock Me
Rocket Ride

Love Her All I Can
Love Gun
Cold Gin / Black Diamond (coda)