Ace Frehley/PlayStation Theater/September 23, 2016
Paul “Ace” Frehley was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and as a youth was a member of the Ducky Boys street gang. Born to a musical family, Frehley started playing guitar at age 13 when he received an electric guitar as a Christmas present. Frehley played in bands and held a string of short-term jobs—mail carrier, furniture deliverer, messenger, and liquor store delivery boy. In 1972, he auditioned for Wicked Lester members Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss, and was recruited. By 1973, Wicked Lester became Kiss. Meanwhile, Frehley worked as a part-time cab driver until Kiss generated a following a year later. After years of superstardom as Kiss’ “Space Ace,” Frehley left the band in 1982 for a solo career, and then rejoined Kiss from 1996 to 2002. His seventh and most recent solo album, Origins, Vol. 1, was released on April 15, 2016.
Ace Frehley and his band (guitarist Richie Scarlet, bassist Chris Wyse and drummer Scot Coogan) launched the Origins Vol. 1 tour at the PlayStation Theater. The band came on stage to a prerecorded “Fractured Mirror,” an instrumental track from Frehley’s 1978 debut album. The musicians then tore into “Rip It Out,” also from Frehley’s first solo album. Before long Frehley was singing “Parasite” and “Love Gun,” two songs he wrote for Kiss. Frehley performed 11 cover songs at the PlayStation Theater tonight, but few were from his most recent covers album. He gave the fans what they wanted to hear; eight of the 17 songs in his set were Kiss covers. To his credit, Frehley did not duplicate these songs as they were originally recorded; tonight’s performance was much less tidy, and included expanded guitar work from Frehley and Scarlet. Interestingly, although Frehley was the attraction, he was self-confident enough to allow Scarlet to be the flamboyant one onstage. In the end, the content of the concert featured a healthy dose of Kiss songs, but was not intended to approximate a Kiss show by any stretch. This concert was simply Frehley demonstrating what makes him Ace.
Bill Popp & The Tapes/Tompkins Square Park/September 24, 2016
Singer/songwriter Bill Popp was an adolescent in Queens, New York, when he first heard the Beatles, and the music inspired him to become a musician. Throughout the late 1970s, Popp worked days as a plumber for the municipal government and played nights in new wave bands like The Popsicles. He eventually returned to his first love, British Invasion pop, with Bill Popp & The Tapes in 1981. Although personnel changed in the early years, the band has performed live for 35 years. The band’s most recent recording is a two-song CD called Popp’s Last Flush, released on October 1, 2015, a humorous reflection on his retirement from his plumbing job.
At Tompkins Square Park, a plastic bucket placed in front of the band read “for the love of music.” Bill Popp & The Tapes played without a stage powered by a do-it-yourself sound system. Parents with children, adults with dogs, and people on bicycles stopped for a few songs, captivated by Popp’s beautiful original songs and covers of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and Robert Palmer’s “Bad Case of Lovin’ You.” Popp zipped over the keys of his electric piano with speed and dexterity while he sang feel-good songs. His passion was indeed for the love of music, and this love permeated his performance and enchanted the passersby, who frequently dropped dollars into the bucket.
Metallica/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/September 27, 2016
In 1981, Danish-born drummer Lars Ulrich was living in Los Angeles, California, when he placed an ad in a local newspaper seeking musicians to form a heavy metal band. Vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield responded and the duo formed Metallica five months later. When the band began playing live a year later, Metallica’s fast tempos and aggressive musicianship sparked a new genre, thrash metal. The band toned down its music in the mid-1980s and gained a more mainstream metal audience. Since then, Metallica has sold over 110 million records worldwide. After an eight-year stall, Metallica’s 10th studio album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, will be released on November 18, 2016. The band’s present lineup comprises founding members Hetfield and Ulrich, longtime lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo.
Shortly after headlining the Global Citizens concert in Central Park on Sunday, Metallica announced it was playing a concert for fan club members at the 1500-capacity Webster Hall two days later, with proceeds going to a local food bank distributer. Metallica walked on stage with no introduction, prerecorded music or other fanfare. Instead of storming into music, the musicians looked into the audience and seemingly reveled in the adulation. After a few casual words, the band launched into the riffs of Budgie’s 1973 proto-thrasher “Breadfan.” The majority of the 15-song set drew from the band’s first five albums, but also included the live debut of “Moth into Flame” and “Hardwired” from the forthcoming album. Metallica was in fine form, with Hetfield’s gritty vocals, Hammett’s stirring guitar leads and a crushing rhythm section erupting into thrilling thrash metal paradise. Confidently, the musicians engaged in a little theatricality, with Hetfield, Trujillo and Kirk Hammett closing ranks occasionally and Ulrich standing outside of his drum kit to end songs on the cymbals. The musicians also spoke to the audience frequently and casually between songs, keeping the evening personal and intimate. They even hinted at a stadium concert in New Jersey in 2017. From “Orion” to “One” to “Master of Puppets” to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to “Enter Sandman” and the final encore of “Seek and Destroy,” there was no better metal concert to attend than Metallica at Webster Hall.
Janelle Monae/Rumsey Playfield/September 29, 2016
Janelle Monáe Robinson, known professionally as Janelle Monáe, was born in Kansas City, Kansas, where she spent her early years. She moved to New York City to study drama, then relocated in 2001 to Atlanta, Georgia. In 2003, she began developing a science fiction musical concept in which her alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, an android in the year 2719, is a fugitive after breaking the law in her home town of Metropolis by falling in love with a human named Anthony Greendown and becoming a messianic figure to the android community of Metropolis. Monáe’s most recent album, 2013’s The Electric Lady, continued the utopian cyborg saga.
Monáe returned to New York City at a time when the New York Film Festival was premiering her film debut in Moonlight. Headlining the final concert of the annual SummerStage series, Monáe lit up Central Park with her brand of funk, soul, pop and showmanship. Monáe was delivered by hand truck to center stage, where she initially remained motionless in her schoolgirl uniform and bizarre science fiction-inspired sunglasses. As “Givin’ Em What They Love” grooved behind her, Monáe became a simmering fireball of activity. By the first chorus, she established her soaring vocal range. Her vocals were highlighted by many searing guitar leads and crashing drums rocking out the songs. In addition to her originals, Monáe covered James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good),” the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and a super rocking version of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Since the passing of Prince, there may not be anyone electrifying urban sounds like Janelle Monae.