Category Archives: Reviews

Book review: “Face the Music: A Life Exposed” by Paul Stanley

Each night is the only night that counts to the people at that show. They weren’t at the show the night before, and they won’t be at the one tomorrow. I won’t let them down.

Paul Stanley's "Face The Music: A Life Exposed" covers everything from the origins of KISS tro many of the band's misfires in the 1980s to the powerful lineup in place today.

Paul Stanley’s “Face The Music: A Life Exposed” covers everything from the origins of KISS tro many of the band’s misfires in the 1980s to the powerful lineup in place today.

That passage is from the 65th chapter of Paul Stanley’s autobiography, “Face the Music: A Life Exposed,” which was released April 8, 2014, and it’s as fitting a description for the frontman and driving force of hall of fame act KISS as any before or since.

Stanley, who formed the band in the early 1970s with original members Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, never takes a night off on stage. Part inspiration, part perspiration and total determination, Stanley – at age 63 – still completes aerial stunts onstage in massive, platform shoes. In his book, Stanley credits the massive KISS Army for his ability to perform such acrobatics at an advanced age.

If you’ve seen KISS in concert, you know what I’m talking about. Stanley reveres his position in the band and in rock history. Confident, sexified and strut-tastic, Stanley sets the bar high for rock frontmen. He’s as good as it gets, and he basks in it.

Stanley, the last original member of KISS to pen an autobiography, takes the same approach to his book, and with a thoughtful retrospection one might expect from someone who’s had significant ups and a few downs during an epic four decades with KISS. Stanley delves into his upbringing – from his detached, unemotional parents to his difficult older sister to the pain he felt growing up deaf in one ear, which was also deformed.

A prevailing theme in the book is Stanley’s struggles with self-confidence stemming from his deformed ear. He sought fame, fortune and women in an attempt to mask the pain. None of it ended up working, though he achieved all his goals in ample proportions.

Stanley eventually found peace, and fathered four children. He cooks, he cares and he’s optimistic. Unlike books by Frehley and Criss, Stanley holds no grudges and it comes across as painfully truthful. Stanley doesn’t hide his disappointment in Frehley’s and Criss’ poor play as the reasons why KISS’ reunion in the 1990s fell apart. He openly makes fun of some of the music he made in the 1980s. He even holds no punches with Simmons, whom Stanley said takes far too much credit in the band’s success.

But Stanley never comes across as bitter. It’s just not in his nature.

That’s is why I dubbed Stanley, “The Walt Disney of rock and roll” following a particularly excellent KISS show at Star Lake Amphitheater in Burgettstown. (Sorry sponsors, it will always be Star Lake.)

Stanley’s tale is beyond extraordinary, yet it comes across as relatable. It’s well-written, thoughtful and, just like Stanley on stage, it doesn’t let the reader down.

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Concert review: Ace Frehley invades Greensburg

Ace Frehley’s reputation as a rock and roll wildman is well-deserved. The former lead guitarist of KISS is as heralded for his exploits away from the stage as the RnR Hall of Fame-caliber licks he delivers on it.

But that reputation is in need of a makeover.

There's still something magical about an Ace Frehley guitar solo.

There’s still something magical about an Ace Frehley guitar solo.

It’s been years since Frehley lost his sobriety, and, as he and his backing band hit Greensburg’s Palce Theater Saturday night for the third gig on his Space Invader tour, which backs an album of the same name, it’s apparent Frehley takes his business seriously. Granted, he didn’t hit the stage until about 10 p.m., but it didn’t take long for the original Spaceman to captivate the crowd his high-decibel rock.

Frehley’s set list at the Palace Theater (11/15/14): Lost in Limbo, Gimme a Feelin’, Toys, Parasite, Snowblind, Love Gun, Breakout, Space Invader, King of the Night Time World, Strutter, Bass solo, Strange Ways, Rock Soldiers, New York Groove, Shock Me, Guitar solo, Rocket Ride, 2 Young 2 Die, Shot Full of Rock. Encore: Detroit Rock City, Cold Gin, Deuce.

One thing is certain at a Frehley concert – volume. Chances are your ears will still be ringing the next morning. But the blasts of volume aren’t disguising anything with Ace’s outfit, which includes drummer Scot Coogan, bassist Chris Wyse and guitarist Richie Scarlett. It’s an outstanding group, particularly the talented Coogan, who handled vocals on multiple KISS songs.

Ace Frehley's rock soldiers at the Palace Theater in Greensburg,

Ace Frehley’s rock soldiers at the Palace Theater in Greensburg,

And Frehley doesn’t shy away from his past. The setlist is loaded with KISS classics, some of which Frehley had a hand in writing. Love Gun, with Coogan’s searing Stanleyesque vocals, was a highlight. King of the Night Time World, an underplayed KISS classic, was a pleasant surprise. Strutter rocked hard. And the encore, a triple-shot of KISS classics, including Cold Gin, the first song Frehley wrote for the band, left the crowd satisfied.

Frehley ran through songs from his solo work and Frehley’s Comet. The epic Rock Soldiers stood tall.

And so did Frehley.

His playing his sharp. No doubt years of sobriety are treating him well. His confidence is evident, and his new material stands up well with the songs that keep people turning out to see the 63-year-old, who entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year along with the other original members of KISS. During the induction ceremony, Frehley drew the loudest cheers from the audience. His popularity has rarely waned whether he’s playing in KISS or not.

No doubt, Frehley has another tour or two left in him. Chances are his rock soldiers will demand it.

The kings of pumpkin beer

What makes a great pumpkin beer?

Like anything subjective, it depends on personal taste.

For me, a great pumpkin beer packs a strong pumpkin flavor, a nice blend of spices (not too heavy on the cinnamon) and it smells like pumpkin. It can be a dessert beer, or one that can be downed in multiples.

The past two months, I tried every pumpkin beer I could find. (Check out these links to see the entire search: Part I: https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/search-for-the-perfect-pumpkin-beer/ .. Part II: https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/search-for-the-perfect-pumpkin-beer-part-2/ … Part III: https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/search-for-the-perfect-pumpkin-beer-part-iii/).

There were some bad ones. (https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/steer-clear-of-these-five-pumpkin-beers/).

There were average ones.

And, finally, some were outstanding.

Without any further delay, here are my top five pumpkin beers.

5. The Great Pumpkin, Elysian Brewing Company

This beer lives up to it;s name. Well done, Elysian. Well done.

This beer lives up to it;s name. Well done, Elysian. Well done.

The aroma wafts of pumpkin pie fresh from the oven. It’s on the sweet side, so keep that in mind, but the pumpkin seeds, nutmeg and other ingredients make a wonderful blend.

4. Pumpkinhead, Shipyard Brewing Company

My original favorite pumpkin beer.

My original favorite pumpkin beer.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Pumpkinhead. The smell and taste are intense. It’s no longer my favorite, but every taste reminds me of what attracted my taste buds to pumpkin beer nearly a decade ago.

3. Smashed Pumpkin, Shipyard Brewing Company

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is one of the best presents I've ever received.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is one of the best presents I’ve ever received.

Shipyard outdid Pumpkinhead with this pumpkin pie in a bottle. The smell … it kept taking me back to a crowded pumpkin patch brimming with pumpkins. Not overdone. Balanced. Delicious.

2. Pumking, Southern Tier

Pumking is aptly named.

Pumking is aptly named.

Clear yet creamy, Pumking is brimming with flavor. It’s got a kick, a little sweet, a little spicy. A whole lotta awesome.

1. Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, Elysian Brewing Company

Elysian Night Owl's flavor will have you howling, not hooting.

Elysian Night Owl’s flavor will have you howling, not hooting.

Loaded with pumpkin flavor. Loaded with space. Tart. Hoppy. Oh hell, I’ll shut up. Go enjoy this king of pumpkin ales.

Best of the rest

Pumpkinfest, Terrapin Beer Company; Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Weyerbacher; Block House Brewing Pumpkin Ale, Pittsburgh Brewing Company; Jack-O Shandy, Traveler.

Steer clear of these five pumpkin beers

Hipster? Hardly.

Beer snob? Not exactly.

Beer critic? Prefer leaving that to the pseudo intellectuals who feel better about themselves by using fancy adjectives to describe beer. Those people should switch to wine. That’s where they’ll find others to indulge the need to flex an extensive alcohol vocabulary.

Guess what I’m getting at is it doesn’t take cuffed skinny jeans, a PhD in barley and hops or expert taste buds to enjoy pumpkin beer.

This beer lover has enjoyed a pumpkin ale for some time, but became overwhelmed in recent years when fall beers were released and a rapidly increasing number of pumpkin selections hit distributors, taverns and six-pack shacks.

This search, which began in earnest in early September, held a simple objective – to find the best pumpkin beers available. No Google searches needed. No beer web sites researched. Basically, if a pumpkin beer was available at a bar or a six-pack shack, it was purchased. Suggestions were taken from friends and family, and one cousin went as far as sending a six pack of her two favorites my way. Photos were taken of each entrant and a brief description was provided of all 28 beers sampled.

For a quick recap, check them out here:

Part I: https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/search-for-the-perfect-pumpkin-beer/

Part II: https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/search-for-the-perfect-pumpkin-beer-part-2/

Part III: https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/search-for-the-perfect-pumpkin-beer-part-iii/

Unfortunately, such a search is not without its bumps. In other words, to find the good, you have to taste the bad.

And there are some bad pumpkin beers out there, including the following five – in no particular order –  that ranked the worst during this search. (Blogger’s note: O’Fallon’s ranks as my least favorite pumpkin beer. Bought a case about 5 years ago. What a waste of money.)

It's Saranac. What else can you say?

It’s Saranac. What else can you say?

Saranac Pumpkin Ale, Matt Brewing Company

Watery, bland and lacking aroma. Saranac usually delivers an adequate brew. They missed one this one.

Bleccchhhhh!

Bleccchhhhh!

The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Flying Dog

Never had a good beer from this brewery. This gives O’Fallon’s a run for its money.

This beer had all the makings of a good one, but the taste was off. Maybe Nakama had a bad keg.

This beer had all the makings of a good one, but the taste was off. Maybe Nakama had a bad keg.

Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Fat Head’s 

Word is this beer is probably with the masses. Pop country is popular with the masses, too. That is one of the only things worse than this beer.

This beer was a bummer.

This beer was a bummer.

Pumpkin Ale, Wild Boar

There’s a new definition of bland in the dictionary – this beer.

Never tried a gluten free beer until sampling this. I prefer my gluten.

Never tried a gluten free beer until sampling this. I prefer my gluten.

Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale 

No beer in this search tasted worse on first drink. It got better, but not enough.

Terrapin Flyer soars into Pittsburgh

Terrapin Flyer opened a brief tour Tuesday in Pittsburgh at Rex Theater.

Terrapin Flyer opened a brief tour Tuesday in Pittsburgh at Rex Theater.

Need a quick way to lose three to five pounds? Get your dance on with Terrapin Flyer.

Terrapin Flyer hails itself as “Chicago’s premier Grateful Dead tribute band.” Given the outfit’s lineup, which includes Melvin Seals of the Jerry Garcia Band and Mark Karan of Ratdog, it’s safe to say Terrapin Flyer is a hot ticket outside the reaches of the Midwest.

Like Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Deadheads packed Rex Theater on the South Side for the start of a brief Terrapin Flyer tour, which runs through Monday, when the band plays Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom.

It marked Terrapin Flyer’s first Pittsburgh appearance, and it was a memorable one for fans and a pair of band members (bass player and founding member of Grinning Mob Bradley Rhea and vocalist Kara Cavanaugh) from Western Pennsylvania .

Terrapin Flyer lineup: Melvin Seals (Hammond B3 organ), Mark Karan (lead guitar, vocals), Doug Hagman (rhythm guitar, vocals), Bradley Rhea (bass, vocals), Jim Farmer (drums), Kara Cavanaugh (vocals). 

From left, Kara Cavanugh, Bradley Rhea and Doug Hagman doing work.

From left, Kara Cavanugh, Bradley Rhea and Doug Hagman doing work.

With the exception of a quick soundcheck, Terrapin Flyer did not rehearse before kicking off its fall tour. And Melvin Seals didn’t arrive until about 7:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before the scheduled start.

No rehearsal. No problem. Terrapin Flyer sounded tight through a sweaty, energetic first set, which quickly had the Pittsburgh crowd getting down. By the time the band kicked into “Mister Charlie,” there weren’t many sets of stationary feet. “China Cat Sunflower” paired with “I Know You Rider” hit the right spots, but the highlight of the opening set may have been the final song, “Deal.”

Pittsburgh setlist: (Set 1) The Harder They Come, Sugaree, Mister Charlie, They Love Each Other, Friend of the Devil, My Sisters and Brothers, Walking the Dog, Big River, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Deal; (Set 2) How Sweet It Is, Don’t Let Go, I Second That Emotion, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Catfish John, Highway 61 Revisited, Tangled Up in Blue, That’s What Love Will Make You Do.

The second set opened with the James Taylor classic, “How Sweet It Is” and Terrapin Flyer added depth and power to the song. “I Second That Emotion” was the highlight of a show, a perfect showcase for Doug Hagman’s vocals and Seals’ electric playing. Seals was explosive, and his play erupted during the Bob Dylan classic “Highway 61 Revisited.” If the Pittsburgh show is any indication, Seals is at the top of his game. There’s a lot of ways to define badass. For some, it might mean The Undertaker’s unbeaten streak at WrestleMania. For others, it could signify former Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd. To me, badass is Melvin Seals flailing away to the delight of the crowd and bandmates.

But for all the chops this band possesses, and those chops are extraordinary, the four-part harmonies may be more impressive. For confirmation, check out the recording at archive.org/details/TerrapinFlyer2014-10-21.

Go ahead, listen and dance. Drop a few pounds.

Ace Frehley: No Regrets

Awk!

Ace Frehley has maintained his sobriety for years. I read parts of his books while drinking sangria.

Ace Frehley has maintained his sobriety for years. I read parts of his books while drinking sangria.

Ace Frehley used that expression frequently in interviews during the heyday of KISS, which occurred in the mid to late 1970s. Awk was part crutch, as Frehley struggled in social settings for years. It was also part asshole, the creation of someone often obliterated on alcohol and cocaine. Frehley said, “Awk,” so often, it was originally the only speaking line given to him for “KISS Meets Phantom of the Park” – a movie so awful even Gene Simmons might deny being involved. Frehley wasn’t pleased, and his dialogue was eventually reworked, even as the original lead guitarist of the recent inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame used filming as an excuse to snort coke and be merry around Los Angeles.

This much, and many other intimacies of Frehley’s life in and beyond KISS were revealed in No Regrets, which was released in 2011. Frehley was sober for nearly five years at the time of releasing the book, which he received help from Joe Layden and John Ostrosky.

Frehley admits his memory isn’t sharp. “Let’s face it – my memory isn’t what it used to be. Speaking with old friends and coworkers jarred my memory, allowing me to recapture the true flavor of some of the stories within these pages.” 

But Frehley remembers enough, and, after reading, it’s amazing the man is still alive let alone touring. (Full disclosure: I’ll be hitting Ace’s Nov. 15 show at the Palace Theater in Greensburg and have traveled to other states to see the legend do his thing.)

Frehley takes us from his time in grade school to his work with bands pre-KISS. Frehley once drank too much at a Grateful Dead show, where he worked his way backstage and came within a few feet of legendary Jerry Garcia, whom Frehley described as “down to earth” despite being one of rock’s biggest stars at the time. He woke up at the venue to discover he was alone and locked inside.

Frehley’s true excess began in earnest once KISS became a money-making machine shortly after the release of Alive. Frehley drank. Frehley snorted. Frehley cavorted (though this book makes no mentions of his alleged bisexual escapades that Peter Criss addressed in his autobiography.) Frehley had multiple brushes with death, was pulled over driving drunk by police on several occasions and destroyed relationships along the way.

But as he was ruining his life, KISS kept them in theirs, mostly because Frehley was worshipped by fans. Frehley reveals that, contrary to what Simmons and Paul Stanley say as time passes, he voluntarily left KISS – not once, but twice. The latter came after a highly successful reunion spurred by KISS’ appearance on MTV’s Unplugged and was fueled when, according to Frehley, Simmons snubbed him by cutting scenes of his daughter from the movie Detroit Rock City.

Among other tidbits revealed by Frehley – he was close friends with John Belushi, he dislikes Tommy Thayer, delights that his KISS solo album was better than and outperformed his bandmates’ releases and is rightfully proud of his work with KISS with a few exceptions like Music From the Elder.

Frehley’s book doesn’t hit hard. He doesn’t come across as bitter or whiny, and it appears he really wants to make the reader realize he’s just a likeable, happy-go-lucky guy who wants you to like him like everyone else does..

Finally, toward the end of the book, Frehley does let it fly.

“Since 2001, every move KISS has made has been premeditated and part of a well-orchestrated plan. Nothing, including their attempts to minimize my contributions, has been left to chance.

So, you might wonder now, ‘How does Ace feel about Kiss today?’ (Notice he didn’t use all caps here.)

Fair enough. Here’s my response: 

At this point in my life, I just need to let things go. Holding on to resentments can really make you ill, so I’ll leave the dirty work to my attorneys. I can sum up the KISS situation in just five simple words: ‘What goes around, comes around. No matter what happens, I’ll be just fine.

That being said, in reality, I think they’re just a bunch of dirty rotten whores. Awk!”

While Frehley tries hard to comes across as likable, it’s not something he needs to sell. Just watch the band’s induction into the rock hall and listen to the crowd roar in approval when Tom Morello mentions his guitar hero, “Ace Frehley.” There’s something about Ace that makes people root for him, and that’s what makes you crack a smile when you’ve finished this book.