To appreciate the music of KISS is to do so with the complete package – not just the music, but the aesthetic and unmistakable imagery that comes with it. It’s for this reason not much is remembered of the years in which KISS didn’t don their facepaint – and, by extension, why something always feels missing when watching the original Spaceman himself, Ace Frehley. Backed by a formidable group of ring-ins, Frehley does his best to rile up those in attendance with a mix of both KISS classics and deep-cuts. He’s already got those with their vintage KISS shirts on-side from the get-go, but it never quite clicks with the outer reaches.
This could well be the fact that the context of the show is about as un-rock & roll as it can be – Canberra, on a Monday night, at a sports centre – but it’s also indicative of the key issues facing Frehley and co. Performing these KISS tracks as is without any of the flair, energy or showmanship means that they’re reduced to strictly bare bones. As such, you’re not left with much to chew on – it becomes a bland meal all too quickly, and not even Frehley pulling out his classic smoke-machine guitar is enough to salvage things entirely. Perhaps the best metaphor for the experience comes with how the set was introduced: A roadie walking on stage and saying “You wanted the best – Ace Frehley Band!” There’s probably some legality involved as to why Frehley can’t use the classic KISS intro, but even alluding to it feels like a pale imitation – and no matter how hard they try, the Frehley band can’t shake the fact something’s missing.
Allow a seasonally-timely analogy to express what seeing Alice Cooper live is like. No doubt horror afficionados have a key selection of films that they will watch every single year come Halloween. They know the characters, they know the dialogue, they know who gets killed and exactly where it happens – and yet, there’s a reason they continually come back to them. Even if you know every twist, there’s still a thrill in taking the ride again. So it goes with the veteran Cooper, who has been coming to Australia for 40 years exactly – and, at the time of his maiden voyage, had the quickest-selling Australian tour on record. There are a myriad of faded tour shirts mixed in with the brand-new ones picked up at the merch desk tonight, reflecting the cross-generational appeal and the cemented legacy that comes with the name. When the banner drops and the band rips into the one-two of “Brutal Planet” and the classic “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Canberra is finally awake.
Yes, it’s a Monday. No, that doesn’t matter – there’s too much fun to be had when Cooper and co. have numbers like “Department of Youth” and “Billion Dollar Babies” up their sleeve. Everyone is firing off on all cylinders – particularly Nita Strauss, who heads up the triple guitar attack with both style and precision; more than holding her own as a key central focus alongside the man of the hour. The big moments of the set arrive just as expected – the transmogrifying “Feed My Frankenstein,” the insane-asylum tango of “Only Women Bleed” – and the joy is still very much there in watching it unfurl. The kids in attendance go bug-eyed as their hero gets his head chopped off by his minions. The repeat offenders smile, knowing he’ll soon return – bloodied apron and all – to perform the song that started it all, “I’m Eighteen.” Cue fanfare. Cue the balloons. Cue “School’s Out.” The movie’s over – let’s watch it again sometime soon, shall we? It’s an undisputed classic, after all.