I have been a KISS fan all of my life. To the shock and dismay of my parents, this lasted throughout my formative years. And today, if my wife allowed, I would have KISS posters decorating the walls of our home office. I grew up, but did not grow out of my love for the band. “I WANTED THE BEST AND I GOT THE BEST: KISS!” According to music critics, KISS did not fit the definition of “the best”, but for fans of rock-n-roll that wanted their music to be rocking, loud, and a spectacle, they were “The Best”! When you put Ace Frehley (The Spaceman), Peter Criss (The Catman), Paul Stanley (The Starchild), and Gene Simmons (The Demon) on stage and they plugged in, you knew you were in for one hell of a rock-n-roll show!
I did not find this out, however, until I was an adult. My parents did not allow me to go to a KISS concert as a lad. Unfortunately, by the time I could pay for my own ticket, Ace and Peter had left the group and, to add insult to injury, they ditched the make-up. No Spaceman or Catman, no make-up, and therefore no point in seeing the band live. I indulged my KISS music needs with vinyl and CDs. The years passed by and when 1996 rolled around, they mounted a reunion tour with all four original members and full make-up. The Alive Worldwide Tour is the one and only KISS concert I attended and it was amazing and one of the best rock shows I’ve experienced to this day. To finally see them in full make-up was a dream come true. They played all the songs I longed to hear: Cold Gin, Shock Me, New York Groove, Beth, Detroit Rock City, Love Gun, Dr. Love, Rock and Roll All Night, Shout It Out Loud, Strutter, and God of Thunder. To top that, I got an Ace guitar solo and a Peter drum solo. I had finally witnessed the circus, saw Ace and Peter, bought a shirt, and went home with ringing ears. Finally!
Growing up, I belonged to the KISS Army Fan Club and posters of the band and my two favorite members, Spaceman Ace Frehley and Catman Peter Criss, adorned the walls of my bedroom. Both defined the strength behind the KISS appeal. As lead guitar, Ace fit the bill to a tee with his unique playing style and signature riffs! Ace is unique. When they started, no one looked like Ace and no one was doing what he was doing on stage. As he played, smoke would waft from his Les Paul and sparks would fly, all while wearing platform boots! His unorthodox style of playing, his work ethic, his ear for killer guitar solos that can be hummed like a melody, and the Spaceman persona are what make him a legendary guitar player. He did more than rock me… he shocked me!
So, why am I revisiting the KISS days of my past? An Ace Frehley encounter in Tokyo, Japan recently rocked my world!
My wife and I currently live in Misawa on the Pacific coast of northern Japan in the Aomori Prefecture. Misawa is very remote and rural. While browsing Ace’s website, I discovered that he was playing several shows in Japan in September of this year. I mentioned to my wife that he would be in Tokyo and she said, “You should go see Ace Frehley in Tokyo.” My reply was that Tokyo is a long way from Misawa, the train ticket would be expensive, the ticket to the show would be expensive, and that I was not sure I could even find the venue due to the language barrier. She just looked at me and said, “So you, a life long KISS and Ace fan are going to let that stop you? You’re going to Tokyo September 5th to see Ace as an early birthday present. And I’m getting you the VIP Experience!” It took me two trains to get to Tokyo, one subway to get to my hotel, another subway to get to Tokyo Midtown where the venue, Billboard Live Tokyo, was located, one subway back to my hotel, one night in a hotel in Tokyo, a subway back to Tokyo Station, and two trains to get back to Misawa. But it was worth it!
When I arrived in Tokyo, I checked into my hotel and had a late lunch. I deciphered the subway system and reached Tokyo Midtown and Billboard Live Tokyo for the show with plenty of time to spare. Ace’s Tokyo shows were scheduled for September 3rd, 4th, and 5th with two shows each night. September 5th was the only date scheduled for a VIP experience and it was scheduled between the two shows that night. I had a ticket for the late show, which meant I would meet Ace before his last show in Tokyo. Rock me and shock me!
Billboard Live Tokyo is located in Tokyo Midtown on the fourth floor near Galleria. Ace was on stage rocking the first show when I checked in and replaced my ticket for a laminated VIP pass. I had some time to kill, so I walked around and bought a cold drink from a vending machine. It was a humid night in Tokyo and the cold drink went down smooth. I sat down, listened, and enjoyed the cool liquid. But not for long, I was so excited. I walked around with Ace’s music in my ears taking in all the amazing, bustling sights the Roppongi District had to offer.
I finally made my way back to the venue and prepared to meet Ace between shows. The handlers lined several of us up and I was third in line. They led us backstage to a little room off the kitchen of Billboard Live Tokyo. There was a purple curtain between VIP area and where we were standing in the kitchen hallway. A few people would come and go and when they did, I could see Ace and his band having some food and talking about the first show. That was awesome!
One of the handlers came over to the line and took the first person in to meet Ace and then came right back out and grabbed the second person. I was next! I waited about five minutes and then a handler came out and told me to follow him through the curtain. Another waiting room and here the band was seated around the table eating and drinking beer and sake. No Ace. Then I noticed another doorway and could hear a lot of commotion. The handler came up to me and asked me if I had anything I wanted Ace to sign. I gave him two KISS CDs (Alive and Love Gun). As part of the VIP experience, Ace would also be signing a poster, a picture, and Origins Vol. 1 CD for me. Another five minutes or so slowly chimed by. Next person came out and it was my turn! The handler came up to me and said, “This way my friend!” After a few steps, I was face to face with Ace himself! My pulse was racing! The exchange went something like this:
Ace (to one of the women sitting across the room with an iPad): Well, if that’s what Gene and Paul want.
Handler: Ace, this is Greg.
Ace: Hey Greg! Have a seat.
(I sit down on a sofa next to Ace as we shake hands)
Me: Hello Ace. It is a real pleasure to meet you. I have been a fan all of my life! I even belonged to the KISS Army when I was young.
Ace: Cool. You were in the KISS Army. You are a long time fan!
Me: I love your new music too. Bronx Boy and Rockin’ With the Boys are killer tunes!
Ace: Thanks for that. So tell me Greg, do you live in Japan or just on vacation?
Me: I currently live in Misawa, Japan, which is located on the northern tip of Honshu.
Ace: How long did it take you to travel down here to Tokyo?
Me: It only took a few hours on the Bullet Train and then a couple of subway rides.
Ace: I love the Bullet Train! Do you like living here? Do you work here?
Me: I love Japan. The people are nice and everyday is an adventure. I do work here. I’m a teacher.
Ace: That’s great! I love Japan too! Well, Greg, let me sign a few things for you.
Me: That would be great Ace! (Next few minutes Ace chats and signs various items)
Ace: Thanks for being here Greg and I hope you enjoy the show! Travel safe and keep rocking!
Me: Thank you Ace! Sayonara!
Ace: (Laughs that signature Ace laugh) Sayonara!
Handler: Right this way Greg. Enjoy the show!
My encounter with Ace was better than I had imagined. He was very friendly and did not mind taking a few minutes to actually have a conversation. As I spoke with Ace face-to-face, I kept thinking to myself, “This is Ace Frehley! The Spaceman! In Person!” I was on cloud nine!
I kept my VIP lanyard around my neck as I made my way into Billboard Live Tokyo for the show. I had a great seat, but I wish I had been on the floor standing in front of Ace. I ordered a beer and settled in for the show.
The show was stellar! The moment Ace and the band hit the stage, the crowd went wild yet maintained control and followed the rules. For example, it was announced that photos and videos were prohibited and not one person, that I could tell, broke that rule! I kept waiting for the crowd to throw the rule aside and start getting their phones out to take pictures and video like they always do in the States…they never did! I snuck a quick photo and then ordered another beer!
Ace did not disappoint. The joint was jumping to Detroit Rock City, Cold Gin, Shock Me, Love Gun, New York Groove, Parasite, Emerald, and Deuce. He rocked the house with his own solo material and sprinkled in a few KISS songs. After the show, I walked out into the rainy Tokyo night to catch the subway with Back in the New York Groove still wafting in my ears. I was back in my childhood bedroom with my Ace poster beaming down at me. I was a kid again and my love for Ace, and even Kiss, was rekindled.
© 2018 Gregory Vessar