Vinnie Vincent, Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick Played Live Together
At the end of the reclusive Vincent's first large-scale public performance in decades, which took place at the Creatures Fest in Nashville, the trio jammed together on the '70s Kiss classics "Deuce" and "Cold Gin."
Despite having to overcome technical difficulties with a backing drum track that was used in place of a live musician, the Kiss alumni delivered a crowd-pleasing show, as a security team paced the floor in an attempt to prevent anyone from filming the historic event.
The night's biggest takeaway? As an electric guitarist, Vincent still has it. And as one of rock’s great enigmas, Vincent also still has it.
His 45-minute-ish set certainly had quizzical aspects, starting with the timing. Even though he was billed as the headliner at Creatures Fest on Saturday, with ’80s faves Vixen and Pretty Boy Floyd listed as support acts, Vincent wanted to play first, and also apparently wanted to start before the crowd could even get in. With the ballroom doors still closed and long lines of fans lineup up outside, Vincent began unleashing hellhound note flurries on his guitar. His signature flair was unmistakable, even behind closed doors.
When the doors finally opened fans rushed in - not to some playlist on the P.A., as per usual at rock shows, but to the sight of Vincent onstage, in his full “Ankh Warrior” Kiss stage makeup, shredding away on a pink Flying V guitar, while standing atop a reproduction of the tank-turret drum riser from Kiss’ 1983 tour.
It was an unforgettable start to the show, especially considering that more than a few of the attendees were openly wondering if the cancellation-prone Vincent would really show up.
But show up he did, with fretboard skills that seemingly haven’t faded much since Lick It Up, the only Kiss album on which he appears an official member of the group's lineup. (He was also among the clandestine ringers who contributed guitar and songwriting to Creatures of the Night, the 1982 Kiss album that features Frehley on the cover despite the fact that he doesn't perform on any of the songs.)
Vincent’s tendency towards maximalism remains intact too. The Creatures Fest set began with him playing 15-minutes or so of unaccompanied shred-style guitar, reminiscent of his extended Lick it Up tour solo features, which were a frequent point of contention between himself and Kiss frontman Paul Stanley.
Although there were a few recognizable snatches, including bits of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” most of Vincent’s 15-minute opening piece appeared to be stream-of-consciousness shred. During that segment, any time Vincent’s playing paused for a few seconds – which didn’t happen often – the audience cheered for more. Finally out of notes after a quarter of an hour, he held his pink Flying V up in a victorious pose.
Bassist/singer Shane Smith from the Kiss tribute band You Wanted the Best then joined Vincent. In a surprising move there was a drum track and no drummer onstage when the two launched into “I Love It Loud.” Although the gang vocals were also delivered via tape, the lead vocals sounded live and Smith, who performs as Gene Simmons in You Wanted the Best, did his job well.
Still, it wasn't until Vincent peeled off a few tasty bends, whammy-bar wiggles and zigzag runs during the solo section that the electricity returned to the room. Vincent concluded the song with blues-metal licks, engaging in some call and response with the crowd, who happily woo-hoo-ed back.
Next, Kulick walked onstage to big cheers, brandishing a white Gibson SG guitar and wearing a headband decorated with the Ankh-symbol in a clear and classy tribute to Vincent. When he and Vincent launched into the Creatures of the Night gem “War Machine,” the riffage was like razor-wire. For the solo, Kulick contributed a hot wah-wah break. The highlight, and easily the most collaborative moment of the night, was a coda that featured Kulick and Vincent playing harmony guitar figures together.
All this time, behind the stage you could see Frehley in the shadows, looking fit and as effortlessly cool as always in a leopard-print jacket, jeans and aviators. The crowd, many of which were wearing t-shirts or tattoos with Frehley’s Spaceman makeup design, went nuts when he strode onstage.
With a honey-burst Les Paul around his neck, Frehley started playing the “Cold Gin” riff. But then everything went silent, as the technical problems started. In his trademark New York drawl, Frehley quipped, “What happened to the drum track?” Everyone in the ballroom laughed, including Vincent. Next, Frehley started playing “Deuce.” Again, failure to launch. Again, laughs and chatter. Again, Frehley being Frehley: “I can play anything. I just need a drummer.”
Finally, “Deuce” got off the ground, albeit a little wobbly. About midway through the first verse the music straightened out. Smith and Frehley exchanged lead vocals on the verses and Frehley played tangy solos. After “Deuce” reached its destination, Frehley said on the mic, “Thanks, Vinnie!" then walked over and got a fist-bump from his successor, who leaned down from atop the tank stage prop.
For the 900 or so hardcore Kiss fans at this sold-out hotel ballroom show, it was a dream come true. It also offered a fascinating perspective on the lineage of one of rock’s most influential guitar bands. Frehley’s bluesy, staggering/swaggering licks were the X-factor in the original lineup’s 70s classic-rock. Vincent’s neon-blur retrofitted Kiss for the more-everything ’80s. And Kulick, arguably the best and most complete guitarist of the three, balances a tasteful hybrid of ’70s roots and ’80s chops.
Next, they relaunched “Cold Gin,” with Kulick busting loose on the solos. After “Cold Gin” was over, Frehley clapped and said, “Bruce Kulick, lead guitar!” With Frehley onstage a grinning Vincent seemed happy to lay back a bit. During “Cold Gin” he served as a silent cheerleader, pointing back and forth between his fellow Kiss expatriates as Frehley and Kulick exchanged riffs.
In 2022, a smiling Vincent is a welcome sight, and the black-tee-clad throng smiled right back at him. A first-year event, Creatures Fest got off to a hot start Friday night with Frehley and original Kiss drummer Peter Criss reuniting onstage to perform “Hard Luck Woman” and “Strange Ways” as part of Frehley’s headlining set. Other Creatures Fest performers included Enuff Z’ Nuff, former Motely Crue frontman John Corabi and Quiet Riot.
After “Cold Gin” culminated, Smith gave Frehley, Kulick and Vincent one last shout out. The crowd bathed Vincent in a round of “Vinnie! Vinnie! Vinnie!” cheers. With the help of the Creatures Fest staff, Vincent descended the tank turret. He walked to the edge of the stage, shook hands with many of the fans in the front room and shared one more smile. And then after seemingly proving his doubters wrong, Vinnie Vincent was gone again.