ACE FREHLEY: SPACEMAN

(eONE MUSIC/ENTERTAINMENT ONE; 2018)

Even though Ace Frehley wasn’t my favorite member of Kiss, I was certainly appreciative of his guitar pyrotechnics (figuratively, if not literally) and, once I heard his first lead vocal on the LOVE GUN track “Shock Me,” his stock shot up dramatically in my estimation; the band now had three very distinct voices (Ace’s other-worldly, Marvin the Martian on helium atonal delivery alongside Gene Simmons’ deep-throated growl and Peter Criss’ gravelly purr) to offset Paul Stanley’s rock star style and front-man proclivities. Frehley’s ups and downs (and ins and outs) with Kiss and his battles with more than a couple of personal demons have been well documented; I won’t waste your time rehashing Ace’s checkered past… I’m just glad to have new music from the man.

ACE FREHLEY (uncredited photo)

SPACEMAN kicks off with the anthemic grind of “Without You I’m Nothing,” a track – surprisingly – co-written by former bandmate Gene Simmons, who also adds some chunky bass to the proceedings. Ace’s vocals, which have taken on a certain world-weary quality, are in top form and a slow-build solo is a much-needed cherry on top; not that the song is bad, it just never seems to catch fire, much less spark, aside from that solo. “Rockin’ With the Boys” is a hook-laden rocker that, oddly, hearkens back to “Beth” with its “No need to worry/I’ll be home soon/’Cause I’m rockin’ with the boys” chorus. The song is quite easily one of the best things Ace has recorded as a solo artist. Proving himself to be “King of the Power Chord Riffing World,” the hooks just keep coming with “Your Wish Is My Command,” Ace continues to turn up the cool factor with each successive tune. Even though Alex Salzman is onboard as bassist, the cut is another Simmons co-write, featuring just about everything that we’ve ever loved about Kiss. “Bronx Boy” has a little harder edge than the previous tracks, but then, the New York borough that spawned Frehley and Kiss tends to be a little harder edged than a good chunk of the United States. Another anthem, “Pursuit of Rock and Roll,” closes the first half of the album, as Ace name-checks some of the biggest names in the history of good ol’ Rock ‘n’ Roll, while visiting upon many of the cliches that the music is founded upon: Power chords, riffs you could caulk your house with, wicked solo after wicked solo, gang vocals and, I’m pretty sure that there’s a chunk of apple pie in there somewhere. Oh, and Anton Fig. Ace’s long time friend (Fig played drums on Frehley’s first solo record way back when) is in there, too. While Scot Coogan and Matt Starr are fine time-keepers, they aren’t always willing to show any flashes of aggressive playing, tending to keep things simple which allows the guy who’s name is on the album cover to show off his prodigious guitar chops; Anton has played with Ace long enough to feel comfortable playing with a more aggressive style.

ACE FREHLEY (photo credit: JAYME THORNTON)

Even though it’s a cover (originally recorded by Billy Satellite, later a hit for Eddie Money), “I Wanna Go Back” fits in well with what could be described as a “developing pattern,” with its lyrics-as-catharsis recalling both the happier times and a life sometimes ill-spent. The song, short on lyrical content (though it does get the point across nicely), is a mid-tempo rock ballad that fades just as Frehley takes flight on another guitar solo. Picking up the mantle envisioned with the album’s title, Ace is off to the final frontier with “Mission To Mars.” It’s another song that somehow feels unfinished; again, the tune’s not bad, just… incomplete. Another fine solo saves the number from mediocrity. “Off My Back,” likewise suffers from an early fade. The number itself feels more fully formed than the previous two cuts, with an aggressively biting vocal and another finest-kind solo. The album’s final track, “Quantum Flux,” is an instrumental track with ebbs and flows that has me thinking that I sure wouldn’t mind hearing an entire record of instrumentals from Mister Frehley; hey, don’t laugh… it has been done before. With a really cool acoustic riff playing underneath, Space Ace delivers some of his tastiest runs on this piece. Even though there are other stellar moments on SPACEMAN, it seems that Frehley saved the best for last. I will admit that many of the problems I mentioned above are merely minor annoyances; something a bit more troubling is the mix on the vinyl version of the record (the version I used for this review). The music seems compressed and muddy, which could have clouded my perception of the players’ (particularly drummers Starr and Coogan) performances. With vinyl making a strong comeback, it’s a shame that many of the mixing techniques that were perfected in the ‘70s and ‘80s are now, seemingly, forgotten. Still, while this album probably won’t get as many plays as DESTROYER or HOTTER THAN HELL, it won’t necessarily be collecting dust on my shelf, either.


BE BOP DELUXE: POSTCARDS FROM THE FUTURE… INTRODUCING BE BOP DELUXE

(EMI RECORDS/CAPITOL RECORDS; 2004) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS

So, it’s somewhere around the middle part of 1977 and I’m in the “I’ll buy virtually anything that ain’t disco or Country and Western music” mode that typified my life for several regrettable years (with wisdom and age, I’ve repented/recovered from that dark period, except for the disco… that’ll always suck!). While deciding on which 8 to 10 albums to buy on this particular day, I came across a two record set (one full-length album, one 12″ EP) with a striking black and white cover – a still from the classic silent German flick, METROPOLIS. The price was right, so I was soon the proud owner of LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE by something called Be Bop Deluxe. I’d seen a couple of studio albums by the group, of course, but I just could not get behind that name (or the inexplicably hideous cover art or… perhaps it was a deep-seeded fear of Jazz music, another of my quirky phobias of that bygone era)! But, great googley-moogley, chil’uns! When I dropped the needle on side one, track one (“Life In the Air Age”), my brain nearly exploded! This was great stuff… incredible stuff. “Adventures In a Yorkshire Landscape.” “Fair Exchange.” “Piece of Mine.” “Maid In Heaven.” These were absolutely magnificent slabs of sonic beauty, propelled by the lush, orchestral guitar style of Bill Nelson, the mad genius behind the quartet’s sound.

It was a VERY long time before I came into contact with another Be Bop Deluxe record (though I did purchase a couple of great imports by the then-solo Bill Nelson) – in fact, the band only managed one more album, DRASTIC PLASTIC, before packing it in. Now, a band of which Nelson says, “I don’t think about Be Bop Deluxe as often as fans of the band might presume,” is given its due with this 18-track “Best of… ” package alongside re-issues of the original five studio albums and LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE (all with bonus tracks, naturally). Does it sound dated? Not as much as you’d think! In fact, I could think of a few current artists who would be regarded as the next big thing if they had recorded this stuff in the past couple of years.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1974 (Nicholas Chatterton-Dew, Ian Parkin, Bill Nelson, Robert Bryan) (photo credit: MICK ROCK)

This 18 track collection starts with the title song of the very first Be Bop Deluxe album. “Axe Victim” is rather a lost gem, full of the lyrical wryness and imagery that became a main-stay of not only this band, but of all of Bill Nelson’s subsequent projects (solo or with the group Red Noise). Of course, the benchmarks of Be Bop Deluxe were always Nelson’s guitar work and the solid interplay between the four men (on AXE VICTIM, Nelson was joined by guitarist/organist Ian Parkin, drummer Nicholas Chatterton-Dew, and bassist/vocalist Robert Bryan). The second track, also from that debut, “Adventures In a Yorkshire Landscape,” is fueled by Nelson’s ingenious arrangement (and a smoking guitar solo). The tune would later be retooled for the second version of the band, turning it into an almost orchestral live masterpiece.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1975 (Simon Fox, Bill Nelson, Charlie Tumahia) (uncredited photo)

The band’s second album, 1975’s FUTURAMA, introduces drummer Simon Andrew David Fox and bassist Charlie Tumahai, with Nelson exerting his dominance on all fronts: all lead vocals, guitars, and keyboards are performed by him; all songwriting and arrangements are by him. FUTURAMA is the most well-represented release on POSTCARDS… , with four tracks (“Stage Whispers,” “Sister Seagull,” “Jean Cocteau,” and the wickedly cool “Maid In Heaven”). The wisdom of adding Tumahai and Fox is evident from the first notes of the charging train wreck that is “Stage Whispers.” The funky calypso break merely adds to the insanity, and – if I haven’t mentioned it yet, Bill Nelson can play that guitar thing! “Maid In Heaven” follows. Like “Adventures In a Yorkshire Landscape” and the song that follows, “Sister Seagull,” this tune became a live staple, taking on a new feel with the addition of Simon “Andy” Clark on keys. Speaking of “Sister Seagull,” again the guitars and the arrangement sets Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe apart from most acts of that time (or, for that matter, most acts that have followed in the 30 years since its release). The final track from FUTURAMA is a jazzy homage to “Jean Cocteau.” The song is a major departure for the group, but the trio show that they are more than capable of pulling off such a change of pace.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1976 (Charlie Tumahia, Andrew Clark, Bill Nelson, Simon Fox) (photo credit: JOHN THORNTON)

By the time of the band’s third record, SUNBURST FINISH, Clark was well ensconced on keyboards. His impact is immediately felt on another live staple (and quite possibly the one song that you may have heard on the radio at some point), “Fair Exchange.” The interplay between guitarist and keyboardist on this track is a good example of the direction that the band was headed. Plus, it’s just a darn good song! “Ships In the Night” builds on the slightly Caribbean feel that was first explored during the break in “Stage Whispers.” The keyboards are, by turns, grandiose and whimsical… not an easy feat in the same song! “Blazing Apostles” re-introduces us to Bill Nelson, guitar hero. During the four-and-a-half minutes of the song, Nelson goes from metal crunch to jazzy runs to strident funk to fleet-fingered progressive solos.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1976 (Andrew Clark, Bill Nelson, Charlie Tumahia, Simon Fox) (publicity photo)

The group’s second release of 1976 (and fourth, over-all), MODERN MUSIC, finds the revitalized quartet performing as a more cohesive unit, though it is still quite obvious that Nelson is pulling all of the strings. “Kiss of Light” could have (should have) been a big hit back then; it would probably be a big hit if it were to be released today, with its rather staccato vocal delivery, especially on the chorus. The title track is as laid-back as Be Bop Deluxe ever got, with a lilting, slightly bluesy sound. “Twilight Capers” continues the orchestral approach that was adopted on the previous record, with guitars and keyboards ebbing and swelling throughout, leading to a short Jazz-inflected guitar solo at the outro. This is the band and the musical vision that Nelson took on the road, with the tour that eventually produced the amazing LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1975 (Charlie Tumahia, Bill Nelson, Simon Fox) (uncredited photo)

And this is where the continuity of this release comes into question: The single tune from the live album, “Life In the Air Age,” the title track, if you will, does not follow “Twilight Capers.” Three songs from the group’s final release, DRASTIC PLASTIC, is wedged between the MODERN MUSIC and LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE tracks. The tunes – “Electrical Language,” “Possession,” and “Islands of the Dead” – are fine songs, but it is very obvious that Nelson was tiring of Be Bop Deluxe and guitar-driven rock music. “Electrical Language” is powered more by the vocal performances than by guitar (or keyboards), while “Islands of the Dead” is a rather thoughtful, mostly acoustic piece. “Possession,” of the three, is the closest to what fans had come to expect from Be Bop Deluxe’s grand wizard of the nicely turned phrase (of both word and fretboard).

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1975 (Simon Fox, Charlie Tumahia, Bill Nelson, Andrew Clark) (photo ourtesy: GAB ARCHIVES/REDFERNS)

“Life In the Air Age,” a track from SUNBURST FINISH, bears witness to just how great this group was as a live unit. The song itself is a progressive pop masterpiece and the band certainly prove their mettle in bringing it to life on stage. As good as they were in the studio, the fact that they were able to improve on those studio versions is a testament to the combined talents of the four musicians, and the arranging acumen of Bill Nelson, in particular. The final two tracks of the package brings it full circle (another continuity issue), with both the A and B sides of the first Be Bop Deluxe single, the independently produced and released “Teenage Archangel” and an early version of “Jets At Dawn,” a tune re-recorded for AXE VICTIM. The A side is, actually, a fairly standard sounding teenage-angst pop song. The B side, however, clocks in at nearly seven minutes and features some of the most exquisite guitar on this package. I just wish that the single tracks would have been sequenced as the lead tracks on this package, even though they were tack-on, bonus cuts for this version of POSTCARDS FROM THE FUTURE. Ah, well… you can’t have everything, but you can have a fairly comprehensive Be Bop Deluxe primer to hold you over until the proposed box set that Bill Nelson is reportedly working on.

BE BOP DELUXE (Bill Nelson, on stage November 1976) (uncredited photo)

UPDATE: Bill Nelson’s eight-disc box set, THE PRACTICE OF EVERY DAY LIFE: CELEBRATING 40 YEARS OF RECORDINGS was finally released in 2011, featuring 34 choice cuts from the Be Bop Deluxe era. Aside form various compilations and reissues, Nelson continues to set a furious pace, releasing no less than four albums of new music this year alone. The last,DYNAMOS AND TREMOLOS is half synth-pop, half guitar rock, all instrumental.


CLUTCH/SEVENDUST/TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN

(18 October, 2018; POP’S NIGHTCLUB, Sauget IL)

Needless to say, as soon as I heard that they were coming back to Pop’s, I was pumped to have the chance to see Sevendust again! Then, I found out that Clutch was going to headline. What!?! Clutch AND Sevendust on the same night? Hell, yes! I was definitely gonna be in that pit!

TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN (Tyler Bryant) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Opening the show was Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown from Nashville, Tennessee. Since their start in 2009, Bryant and the band have released several singles and EPs, including 2015’s THE WAYSIDE, as well as their first full length album, WILD CHILDREN, in 2013, and the recently released self-titled follow-up. Onstage, they definitely perform very well, feeding off the energy of the crowd; their influences, likewise, play a vital part in the Shakedown’s sound: Kinda like a mix of Blues riffs combined with a good, solid rock base that I strongly believe places them in a musical genre all their own! Their unique blend of musical styles and strong onstage presence has led to the band touring with and opening for such acts as Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, AC/DC, BB King and Jeff Beck and has garnered them an opening slot on several dates of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ NOT IN THIS LIFETIME tour, which wraps up on December 8 in Honolulu. If you do get the chance to see them live, you definitely shouldn’t miss it!

SEVENDUST (Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

The second act of the night, much anticipated by myself and all of their fans, was Sevendust from Atlanta. The band is a personal favorite and much of the crowd was cheering for them to come onstage. The group formed in 1994 and are currently promoting their 12th album, ALL I SEE IS WAR, which was released in May. They still deliver that unique Nu-Metal sound as only they can and always have from the first time I saw them live, promoting their very first album. The tradition continues with the latest release, highlighted by the hardcore vocals of Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose’s blistering drum fills, and insane guitar riffs from Clint Lowery and John Connolly. The sound, the intensity and the level of professionalism definitely leaves you wanting more! The vibe you get seeing them perform live is just surreal! After a rocky start and multiple name changes, Sevendust has seen much success, with three consecutive RIAA gold certified albums, a Grammy nomination and millions of albums sold world-wide. Their fan base is huge and fiercely loyal. If you get the chance to attend one of their shows, you will soon see the love and respect people have for Sevendust, with the members of the band giving it all right back to their audience like I have never seen with any other live act! Much respect to the members of Sevendust for keeping excellent rock alive!

CLUTCH (Neil Fallon) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Closing out the night was Clutch, touring in support of their just-released album, BOOK OF BAD DECISIONS. Since forming in 1991, Clutch have released 12 studio albums, as well as several rarities and live albums. As always, these guys have never failed to deliver a superb show. Even with a set weighted primarily with songs from the new record (11 of the 15 found on …BAD DECISIONS), the energy you feel by the second song is just unreal because the vocalist, Neil Fallon, is so pumped up, so quick to belt out that new material, interact with fans and dip into a back catalog filled with fan favorites. Fallon’s infectious energy keeps both old school Clutch fans and newer fans of the latest releases rocking hard. With 27 years on the front-lines of the metal scene, Clutch easily achieves their goal of rocking the venue down to the foundation!


STONE TEMPLE PILOTS: STONE TEMPLE PILOTS

(PLAY PEN MUSIC/RHINO RECORDS/WARNER MUSIC GROUP; 2018)

After a brief dalliance with the late Chester Bennington, Stone Temple Pilots (drummer Eric Kretz and the brothers DeLeo, guitarist Dean and bassist Robert) are back with a new record and a new singer (Jeff Gutt) in tow. Unlike the recent stale, rather listless return of the Layne Staley-less Alice In Chains, this band had me intrigued the very first time I heard the advance single, “Meadow,” on the radio; this is not an “all new, all different” STP, this is an extension of those early albums that thrilled us throughout the ‘90s. With the ghosts of both Scott Weiland and Bennington floating in and through this music, we are pummeled by the realization of just how great this band are. Gutt – lyrically and sonically – is on virtually equal footing with Weiland (even if he does kinda remind me of Layne physically).

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS (Robert DeLeo, Dean DeLeo, Jeff Gutt,Eric Kretz) (photo credit: MICHELLE SHIERS)

Middle of Nowhere” is as straight forward a rock ‘n’ roll tune, with a ballsy Led Zeppelin riff and a snotty sorta solo, as anything from the band’s original run with Weiland. The music does sound a little compressed to me, but that could just be Dean’s guitar being tuned a little bit toward the lower side of things… a sound that is not entirely unappealing to these ears. We are definitely starting things off on the right foot here. On “Guilty,” Jeff displays a certain violent swagger, much like the dangerous edge that defined many of Weiland’s lyrics: “You’re gonna pay the price/You’re gonna pay tonight.” Robert’s bass is quite prominent in the mix, highlighting just how good he is… something that I somehow missed on those classic records. The compressed sound continues, an artifact I’ve learned is unique to the vinyl version of the album; again, it sounds pretty good to me, a little more bassy, which I like. I must admit, though, it is a bit nettling to think that this may not have been the sound the group was aiming for but, you know… VINYL! The first single, “Meadow,” is steeped in the classic STP sound and could very easily be mistaken for an early outtake or a B-side from PURPLE or TINY MUSIC… SONGS FROM THE VATICAN GIFT SHOP. A staccato guitar and pumping bass are indicative of that signature sound, as well as some multi-layered vocals from Gutt. “Just a Little Lie” burns low, a near-stately pace that finds the band hitting on all cylinders. More of Jeff’s brilliantly oblique and illusory lyrics lend the tune a rather melancholy feel even as he invites the listener to sample this new Stone Temple Pilots: “Step inside the maiden ride/It helps if you don’t breathe/Patronize and criticize/And welcome to the scene.” Dean DeLeo offers a trippily laid-back solo that perfectly fits the mood of the number. A short, potent stab of near-perfection, “Six Eight,” plays out as a weighty piece of psychedelic Blues of Zepplinesque girth and Hendrixian breadth. The lyrics, again, are at once fraught with a multi-leveled complexity yet given over to the simplicity of a well-turned phrase… and here I thought it was only Rock ‘n’ Roll! “Thought She’d Be Mine” is a magnificent ballad as only STP can deliver. There’s a certain power-by-subtraction approach to Eric’s drum work, as he concentrates his efforts on the vibes, underscoring the chiming quality of the guitars. Though he’s more than proven himself through the first five tracks, this is the best indication so far as to the superb lyrical and vocal abilities of the new guy.

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS (Jeff Gutt, Robert DeLeo, Dean DeLeo, Eric Kretz) (photo credit: MICHELLE SHIERS)

Side two (or, for those of you who don’t speak “record,” the second half) kicks off with “Roll Me Under.” The song kinda makes me think, “What CORE woulda sounded like if it had been recorded by some strange mash-up of Pink Floyd and Guns ‘n’ Roses.” As far as that statement goes, Gutt’s lyrics may answer the assertion best: “Do with me what you will.” “Never Enough” is a strolling piece of mid-’60s British Invasion Mod, with a nod to Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton-era Humble Pie and Robert’s bass part has a definite Entwistle quality to it… I can almost see the Ox’s nimble, fleet-fingered hands working this one out. The melody line on “The Art of Letting Go” reminds me – believe it or not – of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Melissa.” Obviously, with that comparison, the tune is another solid ballad. The kinda open-ended lyrics could be about a lost love or the band’s two previous singers; it works nicely either way. And, of course, after the Allmans where can you go but to the Beatles? There is just something about the vocal melody line of “Finest Hour” that keeps screaming “McCartneyism!” to me. The song features the usual solid work from the musicians, especially Dean’s guitar and Kretz’s drums. “Good Shoes” is STP playing Rockabilly filtered through a rough punk groove. While maintaining the Rockabilly feel, Dean also supplies the record’s most stinging, snotty guitar along with a very Rock God solo. “Reds and Blues” is the type of song that Alice In Chains should have gone with for their return. As is, it makes a great album closer for STONE TEMPLE PILOTS and bodes well for the future of this group. While the four members of STP embrace their history and the memories of Scott Weiland and Chester Bennington here, they are also forging a path forward that should excite their fans, both old and new.


TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA

(9 May, 2018; Peabody Opera House, Saint Louis, MO)

From the Nazz through his various solo outings, masterful production work and, particularly the ten albums released under the Utopia banner, I have been a fan of Todd Rundgren for a very long time. Sure, my previous experience with the live Rundgren had left a bitter taste in my mouth, but… this was Utopia! I knew that I must see the reunited progressive pop quartet that was responsible for the final eight Utopia albums, including ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA and OOPS! WRONG PLANET; Todd would be reuniting with Kasim Sulton, John “Willie” Wilcox and the keyboardist from the initial Todd Rundgren’s Utopia records, Ralph Schuckett, supplanting Roger Powell, who had to step away from playing in 2009 because of his health. When Ralph was forced to recuse himself due to health concerns of his own, Rundgren’s son suggested they check out a guy named Gil Assayas, who stepped into the very large shoes left by Schucket and Powell. Though Sulton and Todd had continued working together since the band’s unofficial dissolution, Utopia had not played together on North American soil for over three decades. Let’s just say that I was more than mildly stoked when I received confirmation that I would be granted access to this show. Before delving into specifics, might I also say that I was not disappointed!

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The guys very wisely split the show into two very different sets: The first half featured the longer, more progressively-attuned material (primarily from the first offering, TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA and the concept album, RA) with a couple of covers tossed in for good measure; the second half of the show concentrated more on the skewed pop asthetics of later records like UTOPIA and SWING TO THE RIGHT. The stage configuration for the first set featured Rundgren center-stage (was there any doubt about that?), Kasim holding down stage right with Wilcox on a riser behind him and Assayas on a riser stage left… a very prog rock look, fitting perfectly with the music. And, what music! Opening the evening’s festivities was a medley of classic Utopia tunes – “Utopia,” “The Ikon” and “Another Life” – which Todd affectionately dubbed “the Storm” after the tempest had subsided. “As you may have surmised, there’s a thing going around and I got it!,” the Runt declared before, apparently, hocking up a lung and ripping into a killer version of the Move’s “Do Ya.” The sound was virtually immaculate other than the occasional over-modulation of Todd’s mic. “Freedom Fighters,” one of my favorite tunes from my favorite Utopia album, is up next and Gil Assayas’ keyboards are on-point with that record’s version.

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Todd Rundgren) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Kasim Sulton) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The high notes were not coming off too well, as Todd’s affliction seemed to get the better of him on “The Wheel.” Later in the tune, Rundgren’s solo falsetto voice sounded stronger, if a bit strained. A very nice version. Kasim Sulton took the lead on “Back On the Street.” The number has a thumping groove and Todd looked absolutely hyped to be working in a true band environment again. Leonard Bernstein’s kitschy-cool Broadway show tune, “Something’s Coming,” from WEST SIDE STORY, comes off sounding very much like a kitschy-cool Broadway show tune, a great detour from the progressive pop that is this bands bread and butter. Kasim was back on lead vocals for “Monument,” a rather lightweight attempt at a hit single from Utopia’s last official studio release, 1985’s POV. The song’s break, however, does feature a really nice solo from Rundgren and a cool short blast from Assayas. A very cool visual backdrop adds to the atmosphere and the power of Willie Wilcox and Assayas’ introduction for “Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise.” Sulton and Rundgren join in before a fist-pumping take of “Communion With the Sun,” highlighting the strength of an often-overlooked classic of the progressive era, RA. The coupling was absolutely great, with some nice vocal harmonies and all four players hitting on all cylinders. “Last of the New Wave Riders,” one of the stellar tracks from the group’s 1980 record, ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA, brought the first half of the show to a rousing conclusion. As the curtain closed, Todd tells the crowd, “We’ll see you in twenty.”

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Todd Rundgren, Willie Wilcox) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Willie Wilcox) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As the curtain opened for the second set to a recorded intro to “Road To Utopia,” a more traditional stage set-up was revealed, with Willie’s drums now sitting center-stage back, with Gil’s keyboard rig in basically the same spot it occupied before the break; both musicians were now situated on a level with Todd and Kasim, the previous set’s risers having been removed. A quick look at the time as the quartet took the stage again – playing a spirited version of one of my favorite numbers from Utopia’s “pop period” – indicated that they were gone for nearly forty minutes. The additional rest seemed to work wonders for Rundgren’s voice, so I cannot be upset over a break that was nearly twice as long as promised. This second set proved to be punchier than the first, with shorter, more melodic songs emphasizing a true band dynamic. The point is driven home by Kasim Sulton’s lead vocals on the next two tunes, POV’s “Play This Game” and the jazz-tinged “Swing To the Right.” “Trapped” featured a patented Rundgren guitar freakout and, though Todd continued to take a few vocal turns (mostly choruses and harmony parts), it seemed at this point that Kasim was doing most of the leads after the group’s return to the stage. I thought that it may have been Rundgren’s illness forcing a readjustment of the set list but, after checking set-lists from previous nights, it would appear that Sulton’s songs were bunched together like this since the beginning of the tour. “Set Me Free” gave way to a very nice version of “Love In Action,” with Todd once again taking the lead vocal. “Hammer In My Heart” seemed to indicate that the Wizard was saving his voice for the “radio/MTV hits.” Though obviously ailing, Rundgren continued to push through with some quite animated and very spirited guitar histrionics.

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Kasim Sulton, Todd Rundgren) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Gil Assayas) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Willie Wilcox got his “Ringo moment,” as he took the lead on “Princess of the Universe,” a very Nazz-like pop thing from 1982’s UTOPIA before Sulton again sings lead on “I Will Wait” from OBLIVION. A Philadelphian at heart, Todd always pushed a bit of the Philly Soul sound into his music. “Rock Love” was his “James Brown moment,” setting aside his guitar, exhorting the crowd and his bandmates like a Baptist preacher on a Sunday morning, to ever greater heights of ecstasy. Kasim, on guitar, played a nifty solo. With Sulton back on bass, Rundgren delivered a powerful, if strained (and guitar-less) “Love Is the Answer” as, finally, the audience rose to its feet for a sing-along, clap-along ending. With the Runt looking a little the worse for wear, he nonetheless strapped on the guitar for the final number of the show proper, “One World.” After a short break, the band returned for one final song, a cover of sorts – an emotional, Gospel-tinged “Just One Victory” from Todd’s 1973 solo release, A WIZARD, A TRUE STAR. The evening was everything I could have hoped for (well, I wouldn’t have minded if they did “Itch In My Brain” but, that’s a minor infraction) and, I gotta say, that even though he wasn’t feeling too well, Mister Rundgren looked pretty good for a guy that’s (mumble-mumble) years old.


ABJECTION RITUAL: SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH

(MALIGNANT RECORDS; 2018)

I am the type of person that likes to thoroughly research any artist that I write about, mentioning each band member and any guest musician’s contribution to the particular recording up for review. Finding ANY information about Abjection Ritual is like collecting hen’s teeth. However, after much scouring of various online data bases, I was able to identify the man behind the sounds. Now, after some soul-searching, I have decided that if this gentleman has gone to such extremes to keep his identity a mystery, I won’t blow it for him here. Suffice to say, the man is genuinely disturbed… the kind of disturbed that all true geniuses seem to share. These are the men and women who create the most adventurous and thought-provoking music, movies, literature, art… each a statement on the world, its populace or, indeed, the inner machinations of the creator of said piece. So… with that out of the way, let’s take a look at SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH, the fourth overall release from Abjection Ritual and second for Malignant Records.

ABJECTION RITUAL (publicity photo)

Previous Abjection Ritual releases have tended toward a kind of synthesized industrial metal. SOUL OF RUIN… sees the now-duo moving in a more organic direction, introducing guitar, bass and a live drummer into the mix of industrial ambience and heavy electronics. “Lamentations” is the shortest piece on the album, a droning dirge of an introduction with haunting female… uh… well, “Lamentations” leads right into “Body of Filth.” Tribal drums, eardrum-piercing feedback and an assortment of other evil sounding instrumentation replaces the hypnotic droning of the intro. Screamed male vocals are introduced before the whole thing devolves into a hive of noise, buzzing toward an unresolved terminus. “Blood Mother” is a sinister, Dio-era Sabbath wall of doom and gloom highlighted by ridiculously heavy riffs and ponderous drums. The middle section – a stinging, horror movie soundtrack – features a female voice (Rennie Resmini) and odd sci-fi sound effects before returning to the ominous bass grind of the track’s central theme. Hoarse, sore-throat inducing vocals plead and exhort, delivering what I must assume is the desired queasy effect. Author Christopher Ropes delivers a spoken word intro to “Deathbed Conversion.” The best analogy I can come up with regarding this one is that it sounds like the gates of Hell opening, inviting in the soul of a dying man. The lyrics are virtually vomited out, either Satan or the tortured soul seeking redemption (or condemnation). I’m not too sure about the conversion, but if the next song, “Ruin,” is any indication, things did not go well. The tone is oddly brighter, with a synthesized orchestra (or, is that a chorus?) seemingly offering light to the aura, if not the soul, of the entire record. Even so, the track features some crushingly heavy guitar and two guttural voices manage to give the tune and even more chaotic sound than the first half of the record. A lone voice, almost plaintive, dominates the second half grind.

“Carnassial Passage” is a kind of throbbing fever dream that somehow brings to mind the classic Alice Cooper tune, “Unfinished Sweet.” That may have more to do with the song title and the creepy drills that keep intruding into the mix. I feel fairly certain that this one would probably give even the Cooper boys nightmares. And that, friends, is a high compliment to the damaged minds behind the tune. The album ends with the nine-minute-plus magnum opus, “Old Sins.” It’s a slow descent into madness with heavily fuzzed-out guitar and bass with screamed vocals before the painful squall of a guitar’s feedback jolts you awake like electroshock therapy gone horribly wrong. Oddly effective and provocative, the minimalist drums make the cut intensely claustrophobic, forcing the listener into an unwelcome introspective haze. And we’re just a little more than halfway in; a more traditional approach is introduced at about 5:15 in, with a somewhat standard chord progression from the bass and Fripp-like sonic sweeps of guitar. Seemingly just out of listening range is what sounds like a psychotherapy session taking place. Taken by itself, “Old Sins” is a most effective and utterly disturbing piece of music; taken as a solitary piece of a larger construct, it seems to be the final abandonment of all hope, the dissolution of the final thread of sanity. The emotional turmoil that the song elicits, the journey we are forced to embark upon is exactly the desired effect that Abjection Ritual was aiming for. All good music, literature, art has the ability to lead its audience down a path that will generate a certain visceral reaction from said audience; SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH as a whole and, particularly, “Old Sins” by itself does exactly that. I was mentally drained from the experience and, just maybe, a different person for having had that experience. That is the kind of art that one rarely experiences nowadays.


JOE DENINZON AND STRATOSPHEERIUS: GUILTY OF INNOCENCE

(MELODIC REVOLUTION RECORDS; 2017)

The music of Stratospheerius is a frenzied, brilliant amalgam of the Blues, Progressive Rock, Funk, improvisational Jazz, Classical and orchestral music, along with just about any other genre or sub-genre you can come up with. I’m not sure, but… there may also be a bit of the kitchen sink in there somewhere. Led by virtuoso violinist Joe Deninzon, a man sometimes referred to as “the Jimi Hendrix of the electric violin,” the quartet comes closest in spirit – if not in actual sonic delivery – to the early music (through, say, 1976’s ZOOT ALLURES) of Frank Zappa and his various groups. The resultant sound is a chaotic rush of genuine (and genius) eclecticism. There is certainly more than a little of something for everyone on the band’s fifth release, GUILTY OF INNOCENCE.

JOE DENINZON AND STRATOSPHEERIUS (Aurelien Budynek, Joe Deninzon, Lucianna Padmore, Jamie Bishop) (uncredited photo)

The record kicks off with “Behind the Curtain.” With lyrics like “Welcome to the circus/It’s your biggest nightmare/Wear the scarlet letter/Scrutinized forever” and “Put your mask on/And tuck your shirt in/Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” the song acts as a sort of catch-all warning against the behind-the-scenes machinations that fuel the music industry or intolerance or political correctness or… You get the point. With a heavy, pound-yer-face-in riff-a-rama approach, bassist Jamie Bishop and drummer Lucianna Padmore lay down an exceptionally tight groove allowing Deninzon and guitarist Aurelien Budynek to go crazy with wicked dueling solos. As an opening salvo or as a stand alone piece of music, this one is a near-perfect shot across the bow of accepted norms. “Take Your Medicine” is a nasty little piece of work about “glass houses” and “casting the first stone.” It’s a bass heavy blast of funkiness with Joe’s violin filling in nicely for a full horn section. Guitar, violin and vocals add a rather hard rock urgency to the proceedings, with another dose of wild soloing, a feature that lends a certain Zappa-esque quality to this record. According to Mister Deninzon, the title track (“Guilty of Innocence,” for those with a short memory span) was “inspired by my 2012 stint in jury duty and deals with crime and punishment. I was presiding on a rape trial and the guy who I thought was guilty got off practically scot-free.” Padmore and Bishop lay down a modest Ska-influenced groove, while spastic violin leads and muscular metal riffs drive the tune. The violins and bass take on an almost operatic quality during the break and, just because I enjoy mentioning musical touch-points to give the reader a better idea of what to expect, the song’s chorus has a very Who-like feel, melodically speaking. Piling on to that musical heritage, let me say that if you’re a fan of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones or the previously mentioned Frank Zappa, you’re gonna love this one. “Face” is a sombre little ditty, sort of a slow burn piece with scathing lyrics about people (lovers, partners, friends, perfect strangers) who are more than willing to openly attack you just for the pure enjoyment: “These scars ain’t healing/It’s too late to make amends/I dodge the bullet/Your tongue flies across the room/Build up the callous/’Til I grow numb to the doom and gloom.” A very Hendrix-ian solo by Deninzon adds a certain psychedelic (or maybe it’s “psychotic”) mania to the number. The introduction to the frantic retelling of the Muse hit “Hysteria” features glass-shattering soprano Melanie Mitrano before a warbling high-register vocal from Joe takes over; the latter fits the surrounding chaos of the tune perfectly. There’s a certain “Flight of the Bumble Bee” quality to the always on-point violin work, highlighted by a massive solo, all backed impeccably by the metal leanings of Stratospheerius.

Affluenza” is another funky number with “ripped from the headlines” lyrics about people who believe themselves superior to “the little people” and, therefore, above the law because of that superior wealth and high standards of living. The song has a kind of Living Colour rock vibe happening, with lyrical barbs aplenty over sharp jabs of guitar and violin. Guest performer Rave Tesar adds an oddly appealing set of synthesizer “bloops,” giving the whole thing a cool late ‘70s funk sound. A hard(ish) rocking, progressive sort of pop-metal thing with Queen-like aspirations, “Parallel Reality” is choke full of breathy vocals, an absolutely killer rhythm (and a melody line to match) and, of course, the usual high-minded violin/guitar interplay that makes this band and this album essential listening. “Game of Chicken” starts out sounding like it coulda been an OVER-NITE SENSATION outtake, but then turns into sort of a Kansas prog-pop kinda thing. The playing and soloing remain top-notch and raise the piece out of what could have been a severe abyss of doldrums. The wholly (holy?) improvisational “Dream Diary Cadenza” is a muscular, solo violin freakout rife with flashes of Hendrixisms, Van Halenisms, Beckisms, Zappaisms and any other guitar genius ism that you could ever bring to mind. A brilliant workout from a master technician of his chosen craft. “Soul Food” is a nearly thirteen minute extravaganza with a veritable orchestra of guest artists: Melanie Mitrano, Rave Tesar, guitarists Alex Skolnick (!) and Randy McStine, violinist Eddie Venegas, violist (?) Earl Maneein and cellists Patrice Jackson and Leo Grinhaus. The piece is epic in every musical sense of the word and is, truly, a fitting end to a superb album. You owe it to yourself to obtain GUILTY OF INNOCENCE; you can do so by visiting CD Baby, Amazon or any of the other “usual places” and, naturally, at the group’s Bandcamp page.


DOING MY BEST TO BE BRUCE: THE BRUCE KULICK INTERVIEW

BRUCE KULICK (publicity photo)

Bruce Kulick plays guitar. He has played with everyone from Michael Bolton to Billy Squier to Meat Loaf and, of course, a couple of little bands called Kiss and Grand Funk Railroad, Bruce has shared the stage with some of the best known artists in the world and jammed with some fairly unique bands… just because he likes to challenge himself. He spent twelve years touring and recording as a member of Kiss and just completed seventeen years as a member of Grand Funk Railroad, alongside original members bassist Mel Schacher and drummer Don Brewer and two other “new guys,” singer Max Carl and keyboard player Tim Cashion. Most recently, he has recorded two singles with his wife, Lisa (the original “If I Could Show You” and the classic holiday song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), and is looking forward to further exploring that creative avenue in the still-new year.

In an interview recorded on January 10, in anticipation of an upcoming Grand Funk show in – virtually my own backyard – Effingham, Illinois (at the beautiful Effingham Performance Center), Bruce discussed playing with Kiss members Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Eric Singer over the previous weekend, at the launch party for THE GENE SIMMONS VAULT EXPERIENCE; a few memorable road experiences with his brother, Bob, and Meat Loaf; the music industry and taxes; and, of course, that l’il old American Band, Grand Funk Railroad. We had penciled in a 15 to 20 minute time slot for this talk; after a few generalities about logistics and such, I realized we had been going at it for 45 minutes. Thanks for the time, Bruce.

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD (Mel Schacher, Bruce Kulick, Max Carl, Don Brewer, Tim Cashion) (publicity photo)

THE MULE: So, obviously, you’ve been a member of Grand Funk for eighteen, nineteen years…

BRUCE: Technically, we just finished seventeen and we’re starting our eighteenth year.

THE MULE: Okay. How did you get the gig?

BRUCE: Well, I was contacted by Don Brewer back in ‘99. It was the middle of the year, I believe. He reached out to me via e-mail and at first I thought it was maybe somebody pranking me, even though I had met him in the past, but I didn’t know him well. He reached out and… I was in New York, actually, helping my parents move to California, but said I’d get in touch next week when I came back. Then, we finally… I thought it would be best to have an actual phone conversation and we chatted about what was actually happening, which was the fact that Mel and Don were going to move forward and they already had a terrific singer, Max Carl, and they were looking for a guitar player and would I be willing to come up to Michigan to do some rehearsal to see what it all kinda felt like, if it would work.

So, I did and, it went rather well. I was pretty nervous because it’s another iconic band that suddenly need a guitarist. But, I really did like Mel and Don and I thought Max was a terrific singer. And, then, from that point, the next time I got together, they had the keyboard player who we’ve had, as well. for all these years, Tim Cashion. And that was Grand Funk Railroad. By the end of ‘99, after us getting together, to rehearse enough, we started to perform. I think we only did one gig in ‘99. Technically, 2000 was our first real year of playing. It’s amazing, it’s been seventeen years, now going into the eighteenth and the same guys. We’re really all getting along very well and we love playing this music. There are some new songs, but generally it’s a lot of the hits from Grand Funk.

THE MULE: I was gonna ask if you’d known Don and Mel before, but you kinda answered in that, so…

BRUCE: Well, I would want to qualify it just by saying that, Mel I never met before meeting him in Michigan. But, Don Brewer… we had a very interesting kind of crossing paths by… I was working with Michael Bolton and we did a tour that opened up for Bob Seger. For many, many tours, Don Brewer’s been the drummer for Bob Seger and, this was 1983. Don had a big beard, I remember. I remembered meeting him and we were on tour, I think, almost three weeks with the guys, so we all got to k now each other a little bit and hang out. And, actually from that tour, Don Brewer wound up meeting his… the woman that he’s married to, because she was actually someone that we were friends with, Michael Bolton and I.

It was really interesting that… There’s even a little modern connection to that, in the fact that, this past year, we opened, one of the few dates that Seger did before he had that injury, you know, with his back, which he, I believe, is having surgery for and he’ll be back out on the road. But, Grand Funk opened for Bob Seger in Indianapolis. It was very exciting because I know some of the people in that band, as well, for years and, of course, Don’s wife, Sunny came and knows those guys from all the tours. (Laughs) I remember saying to Sunny backstage, in front of Don, “This is really weird!,” because here we are, on Bob Seger’s stage. and this is how we all kinda met each other, in a sense, and here we are all together so many years later and there’s 24,000 people out there. And, of course, the gig was huge success for us and that’s all great. So, that’s one of the wonderful things in the music industry, is that, kinda how you meet someone way in the past and you don’t realize how that… You know, if I met Don in ‘83, it wasn’t ‘til ‘99 that I had the opportunity to actually play a guitar with him. That’s a long time and, then here we are, it’s 2018 and I’m still playing guitar with the guy. It’s really kinda cool, you know? And, in a sense, it’s similar to me jamming with Ace and Gene over the weekend. Which was very surreal, too. But, I love that about the music industry. That’s why it’s always great to keep your connections. You never know.

THE MULE: I remember reading that Grand Funk was kind of an influence when you were just getting into the business. So, what is the favorite part about being in this band?

BRUCE: Well, I always saw Grand Funk, when I was young, as kind of like the American version of the British rock trio, like a Cream but, they were just a little more… hence, the “Funk” word. They were a little more funky. It wasn’t as… They definitely weren’t trying to emulate anything British, they were more R and B, in a way. Hence, hits like “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Locomotion” and stuff like that. But, I did love the rhythm section. Don and Mel… Oh, my God! I mean, Mel was like… he had the original name “God of Thunder,” which was kinda ironic, of course, from my Kiss years with that song. And, Don being just a powerhouse on the drums. The well respected drummer who had the flamboyant drum solo back in the ‘70s.

So, for me, they were really unique because they were American and they weren’t trying to copy anything British but, there they were with all that energy. I think that’s how they were able to sell out Shea Stadium, you know, when they did that gig and broke records at certain times of their big years. So, I was pretty… I remember my first call after Don and I had the chat was to speak to the manager that Kiss was using for some of the years I was in the band, Larry Mazer. I said, “Grand Funk, Don Brewer just called me about being in the band. What do you think?” “Oh, that’s awesome. You gotta do it. That’s great.” I mean, I already knew it was great but, I did want to bounce it off of a business guy. I was always, you know, aware of the band, a fan of the band and quite flattered to asked to be… to have the opportunity to be in the band. It was really quite flattering for me.

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD (Mal Schacher, Max Carl, Don Brewer, Bruce Kulick, Tim Cashion) (publicity phot)

THE MULE: Next year… ‘69. The band’s gonna celebrate fifty years. Are there any plans afoot for a major tour?

BRUCE: That’s a good question. It’s kinda funny that I hadn’t thought of that yet. Obviously, Don and Mel being the original guys and everything, I’m sure they’re very aware of that but, whether or not they have something planned or are trying to coordinate something with the record company or agent, I’m not sure. But, it could make for an interesting story or a great marketing… that’s for sure.

THE MULE: You played with a lot of… I’m gonna call ‘em “over-the-top” personalities throughout your career.

BRUCE: (Laughs) Okay. The music industry lends itself to that.

THE MULE: Are there any that stick out in your mind as, “I can’t believe this.” or, you know, maybe crazy tour stories or anything that you’d care to share?

BRUCE AND BOB KULICK (publicity photo)

BRUCE: Well, I mean, one of the first… I would have to say the first REALLY major artist that I toured with, even though I had some touring experience with some people that had some hits prior to the band I’m going to mention – or the name of the artist I’m going to mention – was Meat Loaf. And, Bob and I, my brother and I played guitar for Meat Loaf. That was for the original BAT OUT OF HELL tour. So, the album was already done. Todd Rundgren and those two guys did the record, Jim Steinman’s songs brilliantly put together with Todd Rundgren. I mean, this thing was quite an ambitious record. It was unique. It wasn’t a real band, it was Meat Loaf and Steinman writing the songs and, yet, you have nine people on stage. Okay. With Meat Loaf, you know, he had to have been over three-hundred pounds and he’s in a tuxedo. You get the picture. And you’re performing on stage with a full rock band of eight other people behind you… two keyboard players, two guitarists, background singers, drums, bass and, you know, it was kind of like a crazy rock opera gone mad and he was very physical. But, I have to say, there were many moments with the Meat Loaf tour where his actions, which were over-the-top theatrical musical art, in a sense, were pretty… In some ways, they certainly were disturbing and in other ways, I realized they’re brilliant. You know what I mean? So, I gotta say Meat Loaf really has always stood out as being someone that was quite… quite special as a performer. I mean, when I joined Kiss it was like “How do I keep up with Gene and Paul onstage?” These guys are incredible showmen on stage. Then I realized I can’t play and even try to move like these guys. I can’t do both and I think the important thing was to play the guitar. But, they were quite outrageous and it was quite exciting, of course, to have these two iconic players be some of the best showmen in rock. So, yeah, I’ve gotta admit, I’ve been blessed with some interesting gigs.

And, even on a band that wasn’t that famous, the Good Rats. Some people know of them, but not everybody. You got the lead singer, Peppi Marcello, he’s performing in shorts and basically looking like someone that would hang out at the ballpark and, you know, he’s holding a baseball bat. He’s running around the stage with that, singing very well songs that he mostly wrote all himself. So, I’ve always kind of… I would say performed with some flamboyant, in very unique ways, each of those artists having their own style of that.

THE MULE: Yeah. Uh… you did mention that you played with Gene and Ace and, Eric was a part of that, as well. Gene once told me that, once a member of the Kiss family, always a member of the Kiss family. That was kind of borne out in you and Eric playing with those two. If Paul and Gene were to make that call, would Bruce answer?

THE GENE SIMMONS VAULT EXPERIENCE LAUNCH PARTY, 2018 (Gene Simmons, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, Ace Frehley) (photo credit: ALEX KLUFT/ULTIMATE CLASSIC ROCK)

BRUCE: Well, obviously, what happened over the weekend when Gene presented his VAULT, it was the first of many of his opportunities in the fans’ hands that paid for it. That was really organic, how all that happened because, it was very well received, obviously. I know my social media is blowing up from me posting stuff about it. I know that fans love that kind of stuff, so now, it kinda poses that question. In the future, you know… ‘cause everyone’s always wondering when there’ll be the final big hurrah, of which I have no idea of when and if that’s going to happen. But, if it does, I finally… Things feel much more aware that they’re aware that the fans love it! Okay? I was aware that Ace was going to be there that day. I found out earlier in the day, actually. Eric actually told me and I already had a plan with Gene to show up later in the afternoon but, you know, not to be a part of anything other than to say “Hi,” you know. My wife’s never been to Capitol Records, which I’ve only been probably once or maybe twice and that’s such an iconic studio in LA. So, you know, support Gene, show up, say “Hi,” meet the fans. I knew it wasn’t going to be 1,000 people, it was only gonna be a hundred people but, knowing Ace went, I went, “oh, that’s kind of cool. I wonder what’s going on.” I remember texting my friend who bought the VAULT, who got there free, “What’s going on there?” He goes, “Ace and Gene are jamming and telling stories for the past 45 minutes,” or something. I was like, “Wow! That’s unbelievable!”

Then, of course, by the time I got there around six and took some photos with Gene and we talked about the VAULT and all and I said “Hi” to Ace, which was great he was still hanging around. Then Gene asked… Then Eric showed up, because he was rehearsing with Paul, I believe, that day, for this Japan tour. Then, the next thing I know, Gene goes, “Stick around. If you’d like to, you’re here, you should come on up.” (Laughs) It was like that. I was like, “Come up and do WHAT?” You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know if there was more than one guitar in the building, okay? So, when I use the word “ORGANIC,” I mean it… with all capitals. Because I did not go there expecting to ever hold a guitar, did not go there expecting to be on a stage, of course, to sit up on stage to discuss the album and to greet the fans and talk about why he put it out and stuff like that. So, at that portion of the day, which happened later in the day… I believe Gene’s afternoon was supposed to be all meet and greet with people that bought it. But, with Ace showing up, it became… they took an hour break and wound up on stage chatting with each other and playing. In fact, I was just this morning, watching one of the things that I missed because I came later. But, that whole element of us all coming together was just really organic but, what I love about it the most, even though I… it, of course, it was a big thrill for me, was that I’m very aware that… Gene even got ahold of me the next morning, thanked me for coming down and everything. What my brother and I did on the cruise, everybody loved. I think it’s really evident to the Kiss guys that what you started with, “Once a member of the Kiss family, always a member of the family,” especially if you’re available and functioning in a healthy attitude. Obviously, anger, animosity and lawsuits means you don’t get invited to a party, right? That’s not the way the world works.

So, look, what will happen, I have no idea but, I do know that what happened on Saturday night was something that was very clearly in the right direction of showing the fans that in this case, certainly, that Gene gets along with Ace better than anyone may have thought for feared that he didn’t because there’s been times when they all say things about each other and I’ve always been on great terms with Gene but, I haven’t had many opportunities to be on stage with him. So, Eric and I have done things ourselves but, not with an Ace Frehley, except for UNPLUGGED and that’s why my reaction onstage was pretty funny. I said, “Wow, this is like UNPLUGGED, except 2018.” Of course, we were missing Paul but, still, just the elements of Eric, myself and Ace and Gene was just… I realized that it was like… completely not prepared, not planned, nothing. Maybe that made it more charming, made it more unique. I’m certain, though, it presents a new sense within Gene and Ace that fans want to see this. So, I can only hope that it could happen in the future.

THE MULE: Yeah. That would be awesome, actually, to see you take one more bow with ‘em.

BRUCE: Exactly.

THE MULE: Speaking of which, I just gotta say… no questions or anything but, REVENGE has gotta be my all time favorite Kiss album.

KISS, circa 1992 (Eric Singer, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Bruce Kulick) (REVENGE publicity photo)

BRUCE: Well, thanks. I know, I get asked that question sometimes, “What’s your favorite one?” and, believe me, there’s many I love, all the ones that I was involved with, there’s huge highlights on each album but, I usually just gravitate to REVENGE and, a lot of time when I’m doing my meet and greets, I’m meeting fans, I may sign more ASYLUM or more CRAZY NIGHTS than REVENGE but, either way, I’m very proud of that album, for sure.

THE MULE: Speaking of which, I did meet you quite a while back. You were playing with Union and you signed a Blackjack album for me.

BRUCE: There ya go. I mentioned Michael Bolton before.

THE MULE: Yeah, yeah. It’s all cyclical, I guess. I wanna get into a couple more Grand Funk things but, I also gotta know, what other projects are you working currently on, like on your time off from Grand Funk between tours?

BRUCE: That’s a great question. I generally keep myself busy with whatever seems to come up, so, I know I was really very, very pleased that I was able to actually do a few sessions in December. You know, people reach out to me and say “Could we hire you to play guitar on my project?” Or my song. Or my band. Everything’s a little unique and I never say yes or get any further until I listen to see if they have some talent, what they’re about and what they’re hoping for me to play on. So, those things come out – and they came up often enough in 2017 – that I enjoy. I especially like it when there’s a real challenge to some of the stuff, not exactly what you’d think…

There’s one particularly interesting artist from Sweden who’s part of a band and they do theaters and sell out all the time in that part of the world. But, they’re doing “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” as a four man group and, one of the main singers, Robert Haglund, does his own smooth lounge rock, classic rock kind of thing and I just did a song for him. He actually covered a Peter Criss solo album track. I played guitars on it. But, he did it very unique. I loved… I like the Peter song. I wasn’t really familiar with it ‘til he shared it with me but, then, once I heard how he did it and made it his own, I was like, “This rocks!” You know, because it’s a good blend of Smooth Jazz and a rock song. You know what I’m sayin’?

THE MULE: Yeah, yeah. Kinda like, I guess, that character that Bill Murray played… the lounge lizard kinda guy that Bill Murray played on SNL.

BRUCE AND LISA LANE KULICK (uncredited photo)

BRUCE: Yeah. This is interesting, this guy. But, while things come up like that all the time, I still want to explore more things with my wife, Lisa. We put out a song last April. We actually have footage, a duet video and the two of us… I’ve had, I mean, I’m already looking at taxes for 2017. It’s the time of the year when it’s not too crazy and I get a chance to put things together and I realized that I had a really incredibly busy 2017. I’m very proud of it. And, I know that’s part of the reason I didn’t get to everything I wanted to but, we were able to put out a single and, of course, over the Christmas holiday because we kind of promised each other. We were actually hoping to put out a Christmas EP. Last year, the beginning of the year, we talked about it but, I was too busy with traveling and things like the cruise, the Kiss Kruise, and stuff like that prevented it. Grand Funk had more dates than the usual year, which was very exciting for us. So, I want to explore some more stuff with my wife, Lisa, on a few levels, musically and everything. The Christmas song we did got a great reaction on Facebook, of course.

What else? You know, I put out an interesting product this past 2017, where I did a mini-guitar of one of the guitars that were known from my Kiss years and then actually ordered a very small number of faux guitar from the guitar company and sold them myself. They sold out really quickly and I want to do more things like that in the future, all on a very limited basis. I’m not trying to become a mass-merchandise man, okay? Because I’d like to manage it… I’ve had a few people in the industry tell me, “I guess when you say limited, it really is limited.” I know a certain artist that I collect and I go, “Oh, it says limited. How many that I really make that was limited?” It’ll start out at 500, then it turns into fifteen hundred and you get number fourteen hundred. What happened here? Anyway, there’s a lot of that I wanna look at. But, there’s always stuff going on.

The band that I hired at my wedding, which is another band that’s very, very like Rat Pack but, they do… They’re called Nutty and they do also, like, Jazz versions of classic rock songs by mashing up things. Early last year, late ‘16, we put out… They did “Detroit Rock City” and I sat in with them at a local supper club place here in California and that thing just blew up on the internet. It was great. In fact, I’m going to go see them play tomorrow night and I know I wanna get together with them and try to do a little more experiments, jam with them a few more times over the course of 2018, in some clever way. I haven’t figured them out yet. I probably want to really have a good discussion with them. I really love, you know, just doing other things.

I’m sometimes too busy to do ROCK AND ROLL FANTASY CAMP, which I’ve been a counselor for… God, I’ve been working with David Fishof, who is the promoter of that, and I’ve been doing that since 2005 or ‘06 so, it’s been a long time. Sometimes, since I can’t always do the camps, I’ll wind up… But, I’ll get called up to do one the corporate gigs that David did before. The whole thing, which ALWAYS goes really well. What a thrill! One was this huge accounting company, who obviously have a very successful team that they’re willing to do a big convention and then have us entertain them one day and be a part of their team-building. I got jam with Nancy Wilson from Heart and I was the guitarist. We did “Barracuda” and “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man” and, man, what a thrill that was, along with some other very talented people that you would know their names, like Ian Paice and Tony Franklin, Teddy Andreadis.

So, you know what I mean. It just seems like I go from a Grand Funk gig to, I could jump into a session that week or that month. I’m off to do a corporate gig when I can and, then I’m thinking of merchandise to market that I feel the fans would really love, because if I was a fan of me, I’d love it. (Laughs) You know,,, I always put myself in that position, “What would I think if I was into me.” Because, I’ll always try to get, with anything with my name attached to it, I want really, really high quality stuff. I look forward to 2018 being really exciting and branching out and continuing with this kind of success that the last year proved to me. Very excited about it.

THE MULE: You know, the weird thing, I guess, about… thinking about this current incarnation of Grand Funk, it has been together longer than the original band and that’s including the time with Craig.

BRUCE: Right. That is pretty interesting, for sure. And, you know, it’s kinda like one of those statistics like where Eric Singer has been, of course, the drummer longer than Peter Criss ever was, i you accumulate all of the years. And, he’s probably the third in line with Gene and Paul. Fun facts.

THE MULE: Yeah, that is just wild.

BRUCE KULICK (photo credit: NANCY DAGATA)

BRUCE: The one point I want to make about Grand Funk. The one thing I always regretted is that they actually did kind of stop at times. You know what I mean? They weren’t always moving forward in one form or another, there were periods where they just completely stopped. Which makes our seventeen year milestone, I guess, pretty easy. You know what I mean?

THE MULE: Yeah. Yeah, kinda but, it’s still something to celebrate and look back on. What got me… Grand Funk, loved them since the beginning and, SURVIVAL may be my all-time favorite Grand Funk album but, after BORN TO DIE, they split. They were having arguments and everything during that album and Frank Zappa, of all people, called them up and said, “Hey, would you get back together and make an album with me?” So, that kinda says something about the power of that band.

BRUCE: I know. Look, I’ll run into some of the guys from Van Halen… I remember running into Michael Anthony and Eddie’s brother, Alex, at the Admiral’s Club in Dallas, for American Airlines. You know, I’ve met them through the years, mostly from my Kiss years. “Hey, what are ya doin’?” and I’d see they were on tour and, “Oh, I’m just coming back from a Grand Funk gig,” and, “Oh, my God! Grand Funk! My favorite band! Oh, my God!” I mean, it’s stuff like that that blows my mind, of course. And, look, I’m one of the very fortunate musicians to be able to say that if I meet a stranger and they didn’t recognize me or know anything and say, “Oh, you play guitar?” and, if that came up, “Well, who’ve you played with?” And, I can say, “Grand Funk and I used to play with Kiss. You know, I always get a huge reaction from one of those bands. It’s funny that the Grand Funk one… I actually can say that it’s almost 50/50. Obviously, more people know Kiss but, if they know of those bands and they know music, it’s real interesting how many people react to Grand Funk but won’t react to Kiss or know… Of course, if they used to be a Kiss fan, they probably don’t have to ask me who I’ve played with if they’re a Kiss fan.

THE MULE: With this long history with Grand Funk, I know that Don and Mel are both incredibly creative people and so are you and the other guys in the band, Tim and Max. Will there ever be an album of new material with this current line-up?

BRUCE: You know, it’s interesting. Obviously, kind of longer ago, closer to when we were first getting together, we did put some new things in the set that we still do, because Max is a great songwriter and, of course, Don can write, all of us can write but, we also know that the gigs that we do, it’s… The majority of the reason why we’re booked is the name and the hits that the band had. What was kind of funny was, probably fifteen years ago, even a few years into me playing with them, the record industry was still in flux but, there was still a very healthy record business and, of course, fast forward to now and how everything’s going to streaming and people… Many, many iconic bands don’t bother putting out new records, you know, and that’s why that equation keeps getting challenged as to, even if Don and Mel had the desire to, would they feel, in a business sense, that it was something viable, that they want to do. I mean, I can speak for myself, not them but, my last record was put out in 2010 and I’ve been really hesitant about moving forward with a brand new record, with new material. It’s easy… I can put out a single with my wife. Can I put out a single for myself? That would be a lot easier than a full record.

So, your question is even bigger than just “Can Grand Funk do a new record and put it out?,” it’s just what’s going on in the music industry. I think it’s where Don and Mel before might have been, “Well, we do a few new things in the set and we just wanna be this touring band” and, it’s not about trying to put out a new product or whatever their kind of desires are about where they see the Grand Funk brand going. But, it’s kinda funny, at the time, in the years when it was probably a lot easier, they really didn’t choose that route and, now, I think it’s even more, kinda like, most people do the PledgeMusic to sell their music, if they have the desire to do that. I don’t know. I gotta read this article I saw. Something about “Music Industry Is In Trouble” by Paul McCartney. I wanna read what that’s about because it;s gonna be really interesting. Beause I think Paul McCartney has put out some really good full records in the past fifteen years and I doubt if any of them are gold and… Could you have a more famous person? I doubt if Ringo sells very, very, very well. I mean, he’s the most iconic drummer in the music business and a Beatle.

But, I don’t know what to tell you when it comes to, “Will you put something out?” I get posed the same question about me, too. It’s always really, kind of a frustrating thing to an artist to kind of wrap their heads around it. Wow… we’ll see what happens. Touring, thank God, is healthy because people like to see live music and, when I’m onstage, I am thrilled to be performing. The travel part, I don’t love. You know, I love to go to different places and meet the people. But, it’s always, “Thank God people still have the desire to see live music!” Of course, with their cell phone in their hand (Laughs), recording every moment of it!

THE MULE: So, what can… the people and their cell phones expect in Effingham on the 27th? What kind of show are you going to give ‘em?

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD (Bruce Kulick, Mel Schacher, Don Brewer, Max Carl, Tim Cashion) (publicity photo)

BRUCE: Well, it’s going to be interesting, because actually, in 2017, we started to tinker around with the set and bring out a couple of things we hadn’t played in a while. We did a New Year’s date, which went very well, in Minneapolis at a casino up there but, it’s kind of exciting now that I never know… Are we including the new ones, are we only doing one, do we do both? We only did one at that show but, I don’t know. And, maybe Don has some ideas about some others, too, that we might be looking at. I think, in that way, I’m giving you kind of a little… What I’m saying is that Grand Funk always puts on a very entertaining show with many hits that everybody knows. It’s really interesting how we’ve created some sets and, even though we adjust the set from time to time, that there’s not really a… It really builds excitement throughout the evening and, no matter what condition people are from the first song, we know they;re going crazy by the encore and, generally, more likely going crazy much, much sooner, like in the middle of the show. It’s gonna be a lot of really, in a way I can call it good time rock ‘n’ roll.

And, the vocals that these guys pull off are incredible. Max is the perfect lead singer and, then you’ve got Don and, Tim sings like a bird. So, the three of those guys, it’s incredible what the vocals are. I’m always so blessed to listen to that. Then, there I am playing with that rhythm section of Mel and Don, who are top-notch and admired by many of the musicians that cane after them. I’m doing my best to be Bruce, who wants to put a little bit of whatever the Grand Funk sound was attached to who I am, which is, I’m brought up on good ol’ classic rock guitar, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and all of that… and, Jimmy Page. I just rock out. I do rock a little harder, I would say, than what Mark Farner did but, always with a lot of respect for Mark’s riffs and how Mark helped craft those songs. It’s quite a show. I mean, people really, really, really enjoy it. I can’t believe how many of my Kiss fans that, high in mind, maybe knew the name but, they didn’t realize… “That’s a Grand Funk song? I didn’t know that!” I always get that reaction from the people that I know were at the show, they either write me or email me after the show or something.

So, the band’s terrific, something I’ve been very proud of all these years. So, if you’re anywhere near there and, I know that’s a good venue because I know a lot of bands, I’ve heard from the guys that have performed there. I’m really hoping for the people to get the opportunity to come see us because, it’s memorable.

THE MULE: It is a great room. Really, I mean… it’s awesome!

BRUCE: It’s a little far from everything (Laughs) but, we’ll make due.

THE MULE: The staff there, they are so accommodating. It’s just amazing. You’re gonna love it.

For more information about the Effingham show, check out the Grand Funk tour page and, for all things Bruce Kulick, go here or here.


42 DECIBEL: OVERLOADED

(STEAMHAMMER/SPV; 2017)

Discovering new music and artists that you truly enjoy listening to is one of the percs of this business. It makes you wanna hear more, delve into the back catalog; above all, you find yourself anticipating where the artist will take you with the NEXT release. However, in a world where many a band are increasingly more of the one-and-done variety, perhaps toiling away in virtual obscurity, playing random small clubs and house shows in their own backyards, it is becoming harder and harder for artists to deliver that next single, EP or album. 42 Decibels is one of those bands I came to late, picking up on their sophomore release, ROLLING IN TOWN a couple of years back. To say that I was heartened to discover record number three in my in-box would be a gross understatement. The question is, though, does it live up to my preordained hype? I say yes but, I’ll leave you to judge for yourself.

42 DECIBEL (Nicko Cambiasso, Billy Bob Riley, Junior Figueroa, Matt Fraga) (publicity photo)

Believe it or not, OVERLOADED does have an overarching theme, though not a particularly high-minded one. The title is derived from the band purposely pushing their equipment to its absolute limits, intentionally burying the VU meter in the red causing varying degrees of distortion. They get right to their task with “Whiskey Joint,” a Ramones/Misfits punky kinda vibe. With the ghost of Bon Scott howling over an infectious groove and Glen Buxton’s poltergeist offering up a “spirited” solo, it’s possible that these guys just might have a future in the rock ‘n’ roll game. “Dangerous Mess” is a swampy AC/DC sort of thing that helps add to the Bon Scott comparison. Just to make sure everyone is well aware of 42 Decibel’s influences are, there’s a sloppy Angus-like solo to liven up the final 45 seconds. On “Brawler,” the insistence of Nicko Cambiasso’s drums pounding out a rather primal beat, I am put in mind of a Gary Glitter tune; while it may not be as anthemic as a Glitter song, it is a lot of fun. “Roadkiller” is another on of those chuga-chuga AC/DC foot stomper with a monster riff. However, vocalist Junior Figueroa has traded in his good-time Bon Scott sound for the more menacing style of the incomparable Alex Harvey. The cut features yet another solidly rockin’ solo from redoubtable Billy Bob Riley. There’s a slightly heavier vibe (if that is even possible!) on “Hot Shot.” Think Steppenwolf or, maybe Deep Purple, but without the keyboards. Matt Fraga offers a massive, fuzz-infused bass sound that could very easily substitute for the heavy organ sound of either Jon Lord or Goldy McJohn, while Billy Bob’s lead work and slide solo are wicked cool.

The punk groove, seemingly left for dead after “Whiskey Joint,” is back on “Half Face Dead,” hanging out behind some seriously heavy riffage. I’m not exactly sure what “Half Face Dead” means, but it sounds kinda evil, in a villainous Harvey Dent kinda way. “Lost Case” has a brighter, springier (dare I say, “spritely?”) bounce with some more nice slide work and the return of Junior’s Harvey-esque (as in Alex, not Dent) growl. In a pared down version of THE THREE FACES OF EVE, Riley’s slide and rhythm guitars fight it out like a couple of drunk boxers for a really cool sounding “duet.” “Cause Damage” is a stompin’ Blues thing, a la Foghat’s take on Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” or, I guess, just about any early Foghat song. The dirty slide (man, I do love that slide guitar sound!) and pumping bass line propel the song along its slowly grinding path and helps make the track one of my favorite offerings from OVERLOADED. Another slow Blues, “Double Itch Blues,” reintroduces the AC/DC similarities – and comparisons – with loose guitar runs and Figueroa’s nearly unconscious delivery. A gutteral bass and some rather heavy-handed, if a bit lugubrious, drumming add to the slinky, slippery feel of the tune. With 42 Decibel, I’ve read comparisons elsewhere to Nazareth and, on “Cannon Fodder,” I finally hear it; the guitar work could actually be mistaken as a guest appearance by that legendary band’s highly under-rated Manny Charlton. The group picks up the tempo after a couple of slow Blues pieces, with things speeding up even more, leading to a beautifully messy terminus. I’ve gotta give a huge “Thank you” to the band’s record label (yes, those beasts do still exist), Steamhammer, for sticking with 42 Decibel throughout their – I guess you could call it their “gestation period.” So many artists find their creativity stifled by corporate heads demanding a string of hit singles right from the get-go but, Steamhammer (and their parent company, SPV) has allowed this group (and several others) to grow and evolve, much like the two bands that 42 Decibel are most often compared to. AC/DC and Nazareth – arguably – didn’t find their voices until their third albums (DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP and RAZAMANAZ, respectively); I think with OVERLOADED, 42 Decibel’s third record, they have, indeed, found their voice and their groove. I cannot wait to hear number four!


COLISEUM/DOOMRIDERS: NOT OF THIS WORLD

(MAGIC BULLET RECORDS/AUXILIARY RECORDS/LEVEL PLANE RECORDS; reissue 2016, original release 2005)

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Eleven years ago, Ryan Patterson of Louisville three-piece Coliseum released a split EP on his Auxiliary label, sharing the slab with a Boston band called Doomriders, one of Nate Newton’s many side projects when he isn’t playing bass for Converge. The intent of NOT OF THIS WORLD was to pay tribute to Glenn Danzig’s eponymous metal monster, Danzig. Each choosing one song from Danzig’s 1988 debut, the bands added some originals – very much in a similar vein to Danzig’s dark metal – to the mix (Coliseum, two tracks; Doomriders, one). Now, as part of their twentieth anniversary celebration, Magic Bullet Records has taken the two tribute tracks and stuck ‘em on a special 7” reissue. I wouldn’t have minded hearing the whole thing, but… I will definitely take what I can get.

Coliseum (Matt Jaha, Mike Pascal, Ryan Patterson, circa 2005) (uncredited photo)

Coliseum (Matt Jaha, Mike Pascal, Ryan Patterson, circa 2005) (uncredited photo)

Coliseum’s contribution, “Am I Demon,” comes across as standard-issue lo-fi heavy rock… you know, the good stuff. It’s kinda like Mountain and Blue Cheer tag-teaming with Lemmy, taking the low road while the ref’s not looking to retain their championship belts. Patterson offers suitably dark and gravelly vocals, as well as some brilliant guitar work; bassist Mike Pascal and bassist Matt Jaha lay down an underpinning that is so brutish, so heavy that you could caulk a window with it. If you like what you hear – and who wouldn’t? – check out the band’s latest release, 2015’s ANXIETY’S KISS, available here.

Doomriders (Chris Bevilacqua, Nate Newton, Jebb Riley, Chris Pupecki, circa 2008) (uncredited photo)

Doomriders (Chris Bevilacqua, Nate Newton, Jebb Riley, Chris Pupecki, circa 2008) (uncredited photo)

Possession” comes from Doomriders… DUH! The track starts with a wicked backward guitar that leads into a riff that reminds me of “Battle Axe” by Billion Dollar Babies, with sort of a minimalist (for a metal band, anyway) percussion thing from Chris Bevilacqua and Jebb Riley’s sonorous bass groove; the guitars, supplied by Newton and Chris Pupecki, are more akin to Tony Iommi’s dense slabs of tonality than anything else. Danzig’s punk pedigree is definitely on display on this one, particularly with the Misfits style gang vocals on the chorus. You gotta go back to 2013 to find new music from the quartet with the album GRAND BLOOD. You can find that and everything else Doomriders at this location.

NOT OF THIS WORLD original packaging.

NOT OF THIS WORLD original packaging.

So, short and sweet… just like this awesome blast from the past. Any fan of pure metal, hardcore or any type of aggressive music, really, will want this limited edition release in their collection; likewise, if you’re a fan of any of Glenn Danzig’s previous work, whether it be the Misfits, Samhain or Danzig, this record will fit in nicely with those, as well. It’s available on black, white or clear vinyl from Magic Bullet or any of the usual suspects.