Ace Frehley at Diamond Jo Casino - photo by Sal Serio
September 11th… a date that will live in infamy. Not only because of the tragedy in New York City and Pennsylvania in 2001, but because of the brutal rock ‘n roll concert that completely leveled Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2015! This show was apocalyptic! Another conspicuous anniversary was that this Dubuque concert was almost 40 years to the day since the definitive live album of the 1970s, ‘KISS Alive!’, was released.
The large concert room at Diamond Jo’s (named the Mississippi Moon Bar) has always been a favorite concert venue of mine because of it’s comfort level, excellent sight lines, and the sound is typically impeccable. The Ace Frehley concert on 9-11 was no exception… but, now if they could only do something about the train tracks on 5th Street that lead in to the casino. I literally waited almost a half hour for the train to move out of the intersection so I could get to the place!
Opening the show was the young, hungry, and extremely talented band Wicked Inquisition from Minneapolis. I had seen this group 3 times in the past 9 months and was immediately struck by how great they sounded through the large P.A. system, and by how much more confident and professional their show has become. Led by singer/guitarist Nate Towle, the quartet grabbed the attention of every single person in the room, and this is no easy feat when you’re opening for an iconic rock star such as Ace Frehley! I heard not one single shout of “Ace!” during Wicked Inquisition’s set. In fact, everybody that I could see was riveted to the stage, grooving along with the heavy music, and many were taking photos or capturing video while Wicked Inquisition was on stage, which was simply stellar. An inspired late addition to this opening set was a cool cover of the Budgie song “Hot As A Docker’s Armpit”! I highly recommend their debut, self-titled, CD, and would encourage everybody to check out Wicked Inquisition whenever possible.
Then… it was Space Ace time! The artwork from the latest Ace Frehley album ‘Space Invader’ was draped behind Scot Coogan’s drum kit, and one side of the stage was lined with large bass cabinets, while the other side was all Marshall amplification. Ear plug time, right? No!! Again, the acoustics are so good in the Mississippi Moon Bar that ear protection was not necessary.
The smokin’ 100 minute Ace Frehley Band set opened with the new song “Toys”, which I found an inspired choice. I’ve seen Ace’s solo projects many times over the years (starting in 1987) and typically an older chestnut like “Rip It Out” or maybe a KISS song would open the set, but this time it was evident that Ace and the band felt comfortable launching right in to something from ‘Space Invader’, based on the strength of the new material. And there was no question that the crowd responded with enthusiasm, with fists in the air and cameras going off like fireworks. Another new song, “Gimme A Feelin’’ followed suit.
But, then the time was ripe for some primo vintage Frehley… “Rocket Ride”, “Parasite”, and “Love Gun” showed why Ace is a living legend, and the crowd went nuts for every single second of it. Drummer Scot Coogan’s vocals on “Love Gun” were spot on, even more reminiscent of 70s era Paul Stanley than Stanley himself sounds these days! Coogan (Lita Ford, Lynch Mob) has been a constant in Ace’s band since Frehley’s return to performing after achieving sobriety in 2007.
One of the beautiful things about Ace’s current group is that all four musicians sing, and his co-guitarist is longtime collaborator Richie Scarlet (Mountain, Bruce Dunaway & Smith). Scarlet, with his heavy mascara and vintage Keith Richards rooster hairstyle, took center stage for the Frehley’s Comet classic “Breakout”, before the band launched in to another newer number, the title track off of ‘Space Invader’.
Dipping back in to the early solo Ace days, “Snow Blind” and “Rock Soldiers” were next, including the always fun (and sort of funny) audience call-and-response when Frehley sings the line, “And if the devil wants to play his card game now…”, trying to get the crowd to yell “He’s going to have to play without an ace in his deck”! Which, clearly, is sort of a long and awkward phrase to use as call-and-response. Frehley keeps that in his set though. It always makes me chuckle!
A favorite part of the new show is the bass guitar showcase by Chris Wyse (Owl, The Cult) which is not your typical bass solo. Heavily enhanced by echoey and flanged effects, Wyse created a contemplative aural mood and also did quite a bit of rhythmic tapping. Sometimes a bass or drum solo is the cue to go to the bathroom, but not in this instance… everybody seemed transfixed and “in to it”. This led in to Wyse taking lead vocals on the vintage Frehley composition “Strange Ways”, originally on the ‘Hotter Than Hell’ album from 1974. This has always been one of my favorites from Frehley and KISS, because of it’s thunderously heavy riff and almost Hendrix-like guitar solo.
“New York Groove” provided a “dance party” reprieve from the heaviness when practically every female in the place (and this gig was far from being categorized as a “sausage fest”) got up and danced and sang along to the 1978 Ace Frehley radio hit, originally recorded by the somewhat obscure glam-power-pop band Hello.
Richie Scarlet again took the lead microphone to dedicate the late 80s Scarlet/Frehley composition “2 Young 2 Die” to everyone that passed away on September 11, 2001. This led in to a long jam section at the end of the song, with both Frehley and Scarlet sparring each other on in a frenzied lead guitar duel.
As documented on the 1977 live KISS album ‘Alive II’, Frehley’s spaced-out guitar solo is included as a part of the first song he ever sang lead vocal on, “Shock Me”, and this is still a part of his set. Wandering back and forth the length of the stage, Frehley kept wrenching howling notes and crunching riffs out of his Les Paul guitar until the pick-up started belching white clouds of smoke. Always a highlight of any Ace Frehley show, the trademark “smoking guitar solo” never disappoints!
The concert wound down with trio of classics, “Rip It Out”, “Detroit Rock City”, and “Deuce”, which again led in to a long guitar-duel jam between Frehley and Richie Scarlet. Even though the signature Ace Frehley songs “Cold Gin” and (Rolling Stones cover) “2000 Man” were not a part of this set, the audience was satisfied, and it was evident that the band, by now flushed and sweaty, had given the performance all they had. As the foursome lined up for the final curtain call, Coogan grabbed all of the picks that Frehley still had stuck to his guitar stand and personally handed them to fans in the front of the stage!
To quote the anthemic “Rock Soldiers” song from the debut Frehley’s Comet LP in 1987… “Ace is back and he told you so” !! ACK !!!