All photos by Rosa Guerrero
Better Than: The Audiobooks version of Oriental travel guide Yellow River, by Frehley's distant relation I.P.
Download: Try this YouTube clip of Frehley and KISS doing "Shock Me" at the Summit in 1977 on for size
It's hard to imagine an environment seething with more testosterone than Monday's Ace Frehley show. A mixed-martial-arts competition or stock-trading pit, perhaps. Scouting the sausagefest that was the line waiting to get in, my photographer companion reckoned "maybe one [guy] in ten had a girlfriend," and receding hairlines outnumbered acne outbreaks by a similar margin. But the Meridian's main room was better than three-quarters full; the KISS army lives, even if its ranks have been diminished by time.
Proving you're never too old to wear leather pants, Frehley and his three-piece, significantly younger band - including a drummer stationed on a ceiling-scraping riser - took the stage promptly at 9:15. Opener "Rip It Out," a series of simple commands ("Rip it out!" "Shout it out!"), established the evening's musical template, from which the subsequent 75-minute set diverged very little: throttling riffs triangulated between Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Cream, and lyrics loaded with the kind of hedonism that made KISS icons to a generation. "Snowblind," it's safe to assume, is not about a winter weather advisory, while the ritual of "Baby Likes to Rock It" involves the subject going down on her knees, because she likes to please. (Why else?)
So, albeit in a slightly different way, does Frehley. "I read this book and I thought it would make a great song title," Frehley, resembling character actor Danny Trejo (From Dusk Til Dawn, Anchorman) in his long hair and wraparound shades, told the audience in his heavy Bronx accent. "It's called 'Stranger in a Strange Land.'" It fits, maybe more than he knows. Though profoundly influential on the entire hair-metal era, from the blistering fretwork (Frehley peeled more than a few righteous solos out of his Les Paul Monday) to the hyper-theatrical stage productions, KISS' lumbering cod-rock has long since fallen from popular favor, supplanted by the withering fire of Guns 'N' Roses and then the earthier attitudes of grunge and its descendents.
Monday, that didn't matter a lick to Frehley's faithful, who screamed and pumped their fists like the past 30 years were a mere formality. KISS still inspires a degree of loyalty unmatched by all but a few newer bands, and its legacy lives on in bands like the Donnas, Buckcherry, Friday Meridian guests Nashville Pussy and Texans Amplified Heat, whose drummer Chris Ortiz was glad to hear the Stonesy "Shock Me" Monday. Until they're dead and buried in their KISS coffins, the KISS army lies in hibernation still, waiting only for a summons from Frehley and his estranged bandmates to resume active duty.
Personal Bias: Minimal. I was too young by half to get swept up in KISS mania, but it's hard not to admire the band's merchandising moxie; several people brought vintage lunchboxes for Frehley to autograph.
Random Detail: Further KISS memorabilia available on eBay includes Eric Singer Signature Zildjian Drumsticks ($8.99), a Destroyer figurine ($50) and a Johnny Lightning 1996 Peter Criss Funny Car (one red cent).
By the Way: Overheard on the patio: "Fuckin' ass! That's how I'm doing!" Whether this meant the speaker was faring good or ill was unclear, though his enthusiastic tone suggested the former. - Chris Gray