Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ace Frehley Invades Anaheim: An Ace Frehley Show Review

The last time I saw Ace play was with KISS was in 2000 on the KISS Farewell Tour and, as been well documented, he was not in very good form. His playing was sloppy, even by Ace standards and, by that time, he was simply mailing it in. That performance was reminiscent of the last two times I saw Ace solo, 1993 and '94. Both times he was a mess and both times I left the club feeling sad and disappointed. Sad because of what one of my heroes had become and disappointed because I was always rooting for Ace to be great. How could this be the same guy that played so amazingly on those first six KISS studio records and '78 solo album? He wasn't even the same guy an underage me with a fake ID saw at The Palace in Hollywood on the Trouble Walking tour just a few years before. Ace was great that night. Peter Criss even joined him onstage to play Deuce!

So when I saw Ace was going to tour Space Invader and had announced a show in Anaheim,  CA only a few miles from where I live, I couldn't get my ticket fast enough. The show was scheduled 3 days after my birthday so that gave me all the justification I needed to go all out and pony up for the VIP meet and greet. I had met Ace once before in the early 90's at the NAMM show. Not surprisingly, he arrived well after his scheduled time and was completely out of it. I was lucky he was able to sign his name. I needed a redo.

I'll admit I was more than a little nervous in the days leading up this show. By all accounts, Ace was playing great, but was still having some, shall we say, punctuality issues. I also knew that I was going to be writing this review and just as I was 20 years earlier, I was rooting for Ace to be great.

Even though I had purchased my ticket and meet and greet over a month in advance, beyond a purchase confirmation email, I did not receive any details about the meet and greet. I emailed the provided contact, John Ostrosky, Ace's tour manager, twice prior to the show with no response. I even tried reaching him through Facebook. I get that you're busy, but if you can't respond to questions from an email address you provided, hire someone who can. Finally, less than 24 hours before the show, I received a group email with instructions for the meet and greet. I knew it was a group email because I could see the emails of all the other recipients and, presumably, they could see mine. I'm no IT guy, but it's not hard to mask this info. It was starting to feel a bit like amateur hour. I don't expect perfection, but more than 24-hour notice for an arrival time and not publishing my email to strangers isn't asking for a lot.

The night of the show, I arrived at the venue, as instructed at 7:30 only to find the box office had not yet been given a list of those doing the meet and greet. It would be another 30 minutes before me and the other 50 or so received our tickets and passes. Once inside, we were first ushered downstairs to the merch booth to receive our t-shirts. We were told the rest of the meet and greet items (CD, small poster, 8x10, picks) would be given out later so back upstairs to line up for the meet and greet. It's now about 8:15 and we're told the meet and greet will begin at 9:00. The opening band is already on and all I could think about was people have been waiting in a general admission venue packed like sardines since 7:30 and the meet and greet isn't even starting until 9:00. What time in Ace planning on going on? I hope he got his wake up call.

The meet and great finally got rolling at 9:30. A full two hours since we were told to be at the venue and over an hour since we lined up inside. I could tell the standing room only, near capacity, crowd was getting restless. They too had been on their feet for the better part of two hours. I had read that Ace had been forced to cut songs from previous dates due to curfews. I knew the House of Blues in Anaheim typically does not have a curfew so while it was shaping up to be a late night, at least I felt there was a good chance we'd get a full set. Finally, we were ushered in one at a time to see Ace. He was seated behind a table wearing his familiar sunglasses. He was quiet and did not say anything as I worked my way around the table and said hello. In addition to all the provided goodies, Ace will sign one personal item so long as it's not a guitar or guitar part. Ace perked up a little when he saw what I had brought for him to sign, a Love Gun artist print signed by the artist, Ken Kelly. He asked me about the print and where I'd like him to sign it. He then reached out to shake my hand, thanked me and said "enjoy the show". One of the House of Blues employees assigned to him took a photo with my phone and I was shuffled out of the room. All in all, I'm happy did the meet and greet. I had my do over and got my print signed. If you're thinking about doing the meet and greet just set your expectations accordingly. My experience was it was quick, inefficient, and a bit disorganized. Ace's tour manager, seems to be doing his best, but appeared to be overwhelmed at times. My advice to Ace or any artist charging fans for a meet and greet is if your going take money from your fans for a "meet and greet", be on time, smile, be in a good mood and interact with the fans, even if you're having a bad day and don't want to be there. If you can't do that, then don't do them at all.

Ace and his band finally took the stage at 10:30 and just in the nick of time. The crowd, most of whom had now been waiting upwards of three hours were beginning to scream obscenities and make single finger gestures at the roadies or anyone else who dare walk onto the stage. Occasionally, a cup or other item would fly from the audience onto the stage. I had to squeeze in against the back wall of the room as there was no area roped off or saved for those of us doing the meet and greet. I learned from talking to people who had seen other shows that there were such accommodations. This must be venue specific so if you care about where you view the show from, do your homework before you pony up for the meet and greet. Once Ace came out and played that familiar intro to Rip it Out, all was immediately forgiven. Ace spend the next hour and forty five minutes ripping through a 20 song set. The band around him was tight and included, Scott Coogan on drums, Chris Wyse on bass, and familiar face, Richie Scarlet on guitar. All four took turns on lead vocals. Time and hard living has taken it's toll on Richie. Think Johnny Thunders meets Keith Richards. His playing and singing were not great this night, but he's got that rock and roll attitude and vibe that makes up for it.

I'll list the complete set list below but, as a fan of Ace, and let's face it, the 900 or so other people in that room were not casual KISS fans, I would have liked to see fewer non-Ace KISS songs. While, drummer Scott Coogan does a fine job singing the Paul Stanley vocal, I could have done without the likes of Strutter, Detroit Rock City, King of the Nighttime World and Love Gun. I recognize that Ace was in the band when those were recorded and they contain some classic solos, to me, they just don't belong in an Ace Frehley solo set. Whether I want to or not, I get nearly all those songs when I go see KISS. I would have much rather seen Ace break into, 2000 Man, Dark Light, Into the Night, Hard Times, Talk to Me, or almost anything else off the '78 solo record. Let's hope Ace will consider adding some of those in the set should he add more dates next year.

As I watched Ace, I really felt as
though he was playing with a chip on his shoulder. Like he had something to prove. There was a fire I hadn't see maybe ever. Perhaps he was out to prove to Paul and Gene that he could still play a quality two hour set. Maybe that's what drove some of his set list choices. At a couple points in the set, Ace couldn't help but take a couple verbal digs at Paul Stanley from the stage. For as much trash talk that has gone on between the two camps in the press, it should stay there. Taking shots from the stage comes off cheap and unnecessary. I've never seen or heard of Paul or Gene take a shot at Ace or Peter from the stage during a KISS show.

If Ace was out to prove he could still handle the guitar duties in KISS, then mission accomplished. But as good as he played an sang, his punctuality and inability to put on a happy face for a meet and greet all but ensures that day will never come, and I'm just fine with that because, on this night,
Ace Frehley was great.

Set List

1.       Rip it Out
2.       Gimme a Feelin’
3.       Toys
4.       Parasite
5.       Snowblind
6.       Love Gun – Coogan Vocal
7.       Breakout – Scarlet Vocal
8.       Space Invader
9.       King of the Nighttime World – Coogan Vocal
10.     Strutter – Coogan Vocal
11.     Change
12.     Bass Solo/Strange Ways – Wyse Vocal
13.     Rock Soldiers
14.     New York Groove
15.     Shock Me
16.     Ace Solo/Smoke Guitar
17.     Too Young to Die – Scarlet Vocal
18.     Rocket Ride
19.     Detroit Rock City – Coogan Vocal
20.     Cold Gin
21.     Deuce

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rated X Album Review

It used to be artists, with few exceptions, were identified primarily for one specific band. Rarely, if ever, did they stray from that band. Occasionally, artists, for any number of reasons, would step outside to do a solo record or come together with other established musicians outside the bands for which they were known. These groups were often called supergroups due to each of the members’ high level of individual accomplishment. Today, the musical landscape has changed dramatically in this regard. It’s not uncommon for artists to be involved in two or more projects or bands at the same time. Many of these projects come and go so quickly that they never even do a live date together. No sooner does the album drop than some of the members are off to promoting the next project. This is not only a quantity issue. Quality suffers as well. These albums are commonly feel rushed and limited production-wise by tight budgets. They result is often a few gems lost within a whole lot of mediocre. Among all this confusion and dilution, there is occasionally a band that comes a long that is a reminder of an earlier time, a time when supergroup meant something. Rated X is one of those bands.

The idea for Rated X was born with Frontiers Records President, Serefino Perugino, who approached Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple, Yngwie Malmsteen) about creating a group of A-list musicians to create a top notch hard rock record. Frontiers label-mate Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Ozzy Osbourne, Blue Murder, King Kobra) was the first to come aboard, followed by fretless bassist extraordinaire, Tony Franklin (The Firm, Blue Murder, Kenny Wayne Shepherd). Turner and the reunited classic Blue Murder rhythm section, was rounded out by Joe Lynn Turner's guitarist and KISS collaborator, Karl Cochran. KISS fans know Cochran as the guy who co-wrote Into the Void with Ace Frehley for the Psycho Circus album and also served as Ace's touring bassist for a time. The sound of Rated X can be best described as what you'd get if Joe Lynn Turner were to have joined Blue Murder. Catchy melodies, huge choruses, pounding drums and killer guitar riffs. There's also plenty of opportunity for Tony Franklin to lay down plenty of tasty fretless bass melodies. Use of keyboards and more complex instrumental sections, at times, give the songs a classic Deep Purple/Rainbow feel.

Rated X track listing:

"Get Back My Crown": Strong opener. Great riff. Classic Turner sound with very Deep Purple/Rainbow keyboard solo. A tip of he hat to the great Jon Lord. Cochran shines right out of the gate.

"This Is Who I Am": One of two songs released with the pre-order. The chorus makes this song. Dare you to not be singing along before it's over. The rhythm sections, particularly Appice, drives this one.

"Fire And Ice": Franking shines on this one, The fretless bass takes the lead on the intro. Another classic Joe Lynn Turner chorus. Hook for days. Cool Zeppelin-like interlude leading to the guitar solo.

"I Don’t Cry No More": Turner's Malmsteen meets Rainbow. The solo section stands out on this one. The keyboard and guitar trade licks before kicking into a harmony solo.

"Lhasa": 7 minutes long and Blue Murder all the way. Could have been called Valley of the Kings Part II". At least it would appear intentional as "Valley of the Kings" is referenced in the first line of the song. The interlude section which features Franklin and Appice is the highlight on this one.

"Devil In Disguise": This track is just okay. Not a terrible song, but average relative to the high bar set by the rest of the record. To me nothing really stands out above the rest here. Maybe it will grow on me over time.

"You Are The Music": If there's a weak point on the record, this is it. I have high expectations for a Joe Lynn Turner ballad and this one just falls short. Musically, it's not all that bad, but lyrically it's lost on me.

"Peace Of Mind": The record starts to get back on track after somewhat lackluster offerings in tracks 6 and 7. Definitely better than "Devil In Disguise" and a hint of things to come. This track features a cool bass solo.

"Maybe Tonight": Strong mid-tempo rocker. Turner's melodic AOR rock side is on full display on this one, especially the chorus. Closest to a Turner solo track as anything on the record. Nice use of piano on the intro.

"On The Way To Paradise": Straight ahead  rocker. Great track. Main riff and extended solo/bridge section reminds of Turner's Rainbow days. Cochran drives this one.

"Our Love Is Not Over": Finally! The classic Joe Lynn Turner ballad I was hoping for with track 7. Worth the wait. Cochran channels his inner Gary Moore on this one. Get that lighter out.

"Stranger In Us All": The second song released early with the pre-order. Strong finish to the record. Franklin's fretless shines again in the solo section. Another reminder of what a monster Tony Franklin is.

For those unaware, Karl Cochran suffered a serious stroke in April, 2014. He beat the odds and is now facing a long road to recovery. Please help support Karl by checking out this record and, if you dig it, please purchase up a copy. Its available on CD and digitally from Amazon and iTunes.

Below is the video for "This is Who I Am"

A Tour of Mike Tramp's Museum

Museum is the latest solo release from former White Lion vocalist and songwriter, Mike Tramp. Tramp may be best known for his years in White Lion, but he has remained consistently active since the original White Lion last roared in 1991. In the years since White Lion’s last record, Mane Attraction was released, Tramp has delivered over 15 albums, including 3 from the highly underrated Freak of Nature, 6 solo albums, multiple live albums, an album as Tramps White Lion, 2 albums from his Rock “N” Roll Circuz project, and a career-spanning box set of rarities and demos. While Tramp continued to enjoy success in many parts of the world, the changing musical landscape of the 90’s rendered his post-White Lion work unsupported by the record company machine and virtually all but lost in the United States. The good news is that now, after many years, much of this extensive catalog is now available online through Tramp’s own online store and other online outlets. If you are fan of White Lion, I encourage you to explore Tramps post-White Lion work. Begin by checking out his first post-White Lion band, Freak of Nature followed by his first two solo records, Capricorn and Recovering the Wasted Years. 

Now off to the “Museum”. Museum is a collection of largely acoustic driven songs that picks up where his last record, 2013’s Cobblestone Street left off and is stronger overall than its predecessor. Typical of Tramp’s style, the songs are well-written with catchy melodies and driven by Tramps unmistakable voice, which is as strong as ever. Lyrically, He again dives head first into deeply personal, political, and social issues without restraint. Even with White Lion, Tramp has never been a one to crank out a bunch of party songs, A reason why much of the White Lion material holds up extraordinarily well some 30 years later.
From the opening track, Museum comes out of the gate swinging. “Trust in Yourself”, “New World Coming” and “Commitment” are stripped down and classic Tramp all the way. All three of these songs could have fit right in on Recovering the Wasted Years. “Freedom” finds Tramp looking for some space among the chaos and might be the best track on the record. “Better” “Time for Me to Go” and “Mother” are a change of pace as piano takes the center stage over the guitars. The latter, a heartfelt tribute to his mother, is a beautifully arranged.  Museum does differ from its predecessor by adding more electric guitars and percussion on “Down South”, “And You Were Gone” and “Slave”. These songs find Tramp experimenting with sounds and rhythms that almost give the record a worldlier feel. No surprise Tramp has spent the last year on the road supporting Cobblestone Street. 

Mike Tramp, more than most artists from the 80's, plays straight from the heart. Forever a troubadour, his Bob Dylan influence always shining through. For better or worse and, his emotions reside plainly on his sleeve. Seemingly more comfortable behind an acoustic guitar than in front of a wall of Marshalls. If you want to know Mike Tramp, all you have to do is listen to his records and go see him live. Like an open book, his story is right there.

In the song Looking into You, Jackson Browne wrote the line " The Great Song Traveler passed though here and he opened my eyes to the view".  I'm not sure who Browne was referring to back in 1972, but it very well could have been written present day about Mike Tramp.

Museum and many other releases from Mike Tramp's catalog can be purchased from his web store, or digitally from iTunes and Amazon. As always, if you use Amazon to shop, please use the link from the Decibel Geek site.

Winger: Better Days Comin’

Winger is back. Better Days Comin’, the new album from Winger is their first since 2009’s Karma and their third since reforming (sans Paul Taylor) in 2006.
The dynamic between primary songwriters Kip Winger and guitarist Reb Beach gets stronger with each record. Winger’s songwriting continues to combine the perfect balance of Beach’s straightforward monster rock riffs and Winger’s progressively influenced arrangements and chord progressions. In addition to Winger and Beach, drummer Rod Morgenstein is a monster as usual and John Roth is solid as a rock.
This record hits hard right out of gate. The opening three tracks, “Midnight Driver of a Love Machine”, “Queen Babylon”, and “Rat Race” continue where their last record, Karma left off, simple, straight ahead riff-driven rock. The 60’s influenced title track is a surprise change of direction. The progressive vibe of “Tin Soldier” would have fit right in on the band’s 2006 release, “IV”. The ballads, “Ever Wonder“, “Be Who You Are, Now”, and “Out of this World” are beautifully arranged and are more reminiscent of Kip Winger’s solo work than 80’s Winger. Rounding out the record is “Storm in Me” another riff-driven rock song and “So Long China”, far and away the strongest track on the record. Awesome riff and a hook that will have you singing along after one listen whether you want to or not.
Better Days Comin’ shows Winger, like many bands these days, are making the records they want to make without the pressure of sales expectations. They are not forcing themselves into a style or formula to hit sales numbers or score a hit single.
Bottom line: Highly recommended. Top notch songs and musicianship. No filler songs whatsoever. Whether you’re die hard, fringe fan, or just rediscovering Winger is still making records, you won’t be disappointed
Better Day’s Comin’ is available as a digital download, CD/DVD and CD/DVD Deluxe Edition with bonus track and DVD containing two music videos and a “making of” documentary.

Raiding the Rock Vault – A Must-See Vegas Experience For Any Rock Fan

Its summer and many rock fans will be heading to Las Vegas for a little R&R. With many choices for entertainment, there’s really only one choice for fans of rock and that’s Raiding the Rock Vault. I've personally seen the show 3 times and can't wait to go back. Recently voted the #1 show in Vegas. Rock Vault is the brainchild of John Payne (Asia) and producer, David Kershenbaum, the show launched in 2013 and quickly became one of the top rated shows in town. Rock Vault takes the audience on a live chronological journey through the history or rock. Only this is not your ordinary cover band. Posters around town and in the casino advertise “Classic Rock by Those Who Rocked it” and that’s not an understatement or marketing ploy. The talent and pedigrees that makes up this band is just awesome. The two hour show flies by as there is non-stop entertainment. Era-specific mini-skits bridge the musical decades and enable the band to change clothes and take a quick breather.

From the opening chords of The Who’s “My Generation”  to final bow following  Van Halen’s “Jump” complete with a few lucky ladies getting invited to the stage to sing and dance with the band, the energy is awesome. Some of the highlights include Paul Shortino’s cranking out The Doors “Light my Fire” and The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women”, Robin McAuley killing it on Queen’s “We are the Champions” and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven” and Doug Aldrich and Howard Leese trading solos on Hotel California. Other songs in the set included,” “Jukebox Hero,” “Smoke On The Water,” “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “Separate Ways,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Here I Go Again,” “Highway To Hell,” “Alone,” “Addicted To Love,” “Dream On,” “Stayin’ Alive,” and “Another Brick In The Wall,”. It’s obvious the band loves what they do and is truly having a blast.

If you are reading this, then you know these names. The musicians that make up this show no doubt wrote and recorded some of your favorite records. Here’s a rundown of the band and just some of their credits.

Robin McAuley: Vocals (Grand Prix, Suvivor, McAuley-Schenker Group) 
Paul Shortino: Vocals (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot) 

Doug Aldrich: Guitar (Lion, Whitesnake, Dio, Burning Rain,  Hurricane, House of Lords) 

Howard Leese: Guitar (Heart, Bad Company, and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) 

Jay Schellen: Drums (Badfinger, Hurricane, Asia) 

Andrew Freeman: Vocals/Bass (Lynch Mob, Offspring)

Michael T. Ross: Keyboards (Lita Ford, Hardline, Missing Persons, Angel)

Hugh McDonald: Bass (Bon Jovi, Cher, Alice Cooper)

Carol Lyn-Liddle: Vocals (Masters of Rock)           

There’s also the occasional special guest. Past special guests have included, Bobby Kimball, Joe Lynn Turner, Jon Anderson, and Lou Gramm.

A VIP option is available which gives you a chance to go backstage for a meet and greet with the band prior to the show. The guys will even hangout after for autographs and photos with the audience.

As of the writing of this review, the band released a second volume of studio versions of some of the songs from the show. Songs from Raiding the Rock Vault volumes one and now two are available at the show and digitally through iTunes and

Raiding the Rock play 5 nights a week (dark Wednesdays and Thursdays) at the Westgate Hotel and Casino, formally the LVH. More information and tickets visit: