The sticky weather and on- and off-again drizzle weren’t enough to keep the KISS Army loyalists away from Fiesta Days in the northwest Chicago suburb of McHenry, IL. Along with the car show, carnival rides, funnel cakes, and corn dogs, the McHenry Chamber of Commerce was serving up classic rock in the form of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and founding KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, along with opening act, former Ratt vocalist Stephen Pearcy and the Rat Bastards.
Full photo gallery below.
After a slight reprieve, the rain began again as Frehley took the stage at about 9:15, opening the show with the top 40 single “Rocket Ride” from KISS’ 1977 double live LP “Alive II.” The small and slightly waterlogged crowd, several in “Space Ace” face paint, were on their feet, fists in the air as Ace delivered the space travel double entendre in his trademark nasal deadpan before effortlessly peeling off the solo from his signature Gibson Les Paul.
Not content to be purely a blast of nostalgia, the ensuing 20 song setlist contained several tracks from Ace’s current release, the 2014 top 10 charting “Space Invader,” as well as the prerequisite Frehley penned KSS deep cuts, 80s solo material, and even a few KISS staples written by his former bandmates Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.
Current bandmates Chris Wyse (bass / vocals), Scot Coogan (drums / vocals) and returning long time Frehley sidekick Richie Scarlet (guitar / vocals) do a lot to ease the “front man burden” from the more stoic axeman, each taking turns at lead vocals throughout the night, allowing Ace to deliver the fretwork that has inspired thousands of budding guitarist over the past 40 years. Scarlet in particular helps energize the show with his dynamic presence, interacting with the crowd and his bandmates, criss-crossing the stage, leaping about and striking bigger-than-life rock star poses. Coogan, though trapped at the back of the stage behind his drum kit is a whirlwind and appears to be having the time of his life, huge grin affixed to his face. Wyse gets his turn to shine during an unaccompanied bass solo incorporating flashy finger work, even weaving in the crowd-pleasing theme from John Carpenter’s slasher classic “Halloween,” before taking on lead vocals on another KISS gem, “Strange Ways,” from 1974’s “Hotter Than Hell”.
The grease paint and over-the-top pyrotechnics of his KISS years are gone – but there are still a few special effects in Ace’s bag of tricks, the first being his pulsating lighted guitar, used on the chart-topping “New York Groove” from his 1978 eponymous solo album. The second, his smoking Gibson Les Paul, used for 1977’s “Shock Me,” is synonymous with classic KISS, the image of Ace as his “Space Man” character holding the smoke-belching Les Paul aloft is burned in the mind’s eye of many children of the 1970s.
After finishing the main set with “Rip It Out” (the opening cut from his 1978 solo release), the band returned to the stage for a double shot of classic KISS, with Coogan taking lead vocal duties on the anthemic “Detroit Rock City,” and finally closing the show with Frehley and Scarlett trading solos at the conclusion of “Deuce.” The rain may have put a bit of a damper on things, but overall it was a tight performance by a seasoned band cranking out long time favorites to the delight of the diehard fans.
Along with the rain, there were some minor technical issues. Some rumbling feedback caused some problems during “New York Groove,” which brought out a few comments from nearby audience members that they thought the tempo of a few songs was just a little slower than they felt they should be.
With the Space Invader tour continuing through the fall and a covers LP in the works, there should be no shortage of everybody’s favorite “Space Man” for the foreseeable future. Head over to acefrehley.com for tour, meet and greet, and album information.
Article and photos by Dave Burke for 10 Wire Up. ©2015 Dave Burke, all rights reserved.
“I’m obsessed with music – it’s a huge part of who I am. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents’ records. In addition to music, the best bands always had great imagery to go with it. It’s the combination of those that led me to concert photography. “My goal is to not only bring myself closer to the music I love but to share it and hopefully inspire others the way I’ve been inspired.” –Dave Burke, 2015