By David Glessner, special to the American-Statesman
Sure, the rain threatened Saturday’s downtown Batfest, but at least it wasn’t hotter than hell (or a typical August in Texas). By the time legendary rock guitar hero Ace Frehley landed on stage, the downpour dried and it was all systems go.
At the height of his galactic domination throughout the 1970s, Frehley and drummer Peter Criss were the “party-every-day” half of rock titans, KISS. Now solo, sober and free of the wobbly platform boots and iconic face paint that brought him riches, fame and bad habits, Frehley is still giving his fans what they want.
Opening with the hard-charging “Rip It Out” from his 1978 solo album (the best-selling of the individual KISS solo albums), Frehley prowled the stage with his trusty Les Paul and 24-7 shades. Backed by longtime partner-in-crime Richie Scarlet on guitar (a hair-metal pirate not unlike Keith Richards), bassist Chris Wyse (ex-The Cult) and drummer Scot Coogan (Brides of Destruction), Frehley is as comfortably suited for the small stage as he was for the arenas he once shared with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.
The beauty of being KISS’ underdog is the selection of Frehley-penned deep cuts. “Rocket Ride,” “Parasite,” “Strange Ways” (sung by Wyse) and “Snowblind” elated the KISS Army. “Cold Gin,” “Shock Me” and Frehley’s hit cover of Russ Ballard’s “New York Groove” were also chewed up and spit back like sing-along candy.
Not one to deny his former KISS mates (who unceremoniously snubbed Frehley and Criss at a ho-hum victory called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), Frehley prefaced “Love Gun” as a “great song Paul Stanley wrote” and later offered “Detroit Rock City” (both sung by Coogan) and “Deuce.” He also added his post-KISS solo songs “Rock Soldiers,” “Toys,” “Sister” and “2 Young 2 Die” (sung by Scarlet), but left out “Into the Night” and “Do Ya.”
Of course, no Frehley performance would be complete without his (literally) smoking guitar solo. It is, after all, the image and sound that inspired such future guitar heroes as Dimebag Darrell, Slash, John 5 and countless others.
In a fitting coincidence on the birthday of the late Phil Lynott, a blazing guitar duel between Frehley and Scarlet hit a fevered, melodic peak during a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald.”
Did the rain diminish the Batfest crowd? Sure. Did Ace deliver for those who rolled the dice? Pretty much in spades.