Christmas came early for fans who live in a city that relishes its era and storied history of classic metal when the "Hair Metal Holiday" was unleashed Dec. 15 at The Rock Box. And it didn't disappoint.
The nine-band extravaganza headlined by Ace Frehley also featured Dokken, Enuff Z'Nuff, L.A. Guns and the Graham Bonnet Band along with a modern taste of local acts Eden Burning, Sidewinder, Jason Kane & The Jive, and Wall Of Soul (coverage here), all alternating between the Vibes Event Center stage and The Rock Box's secondary one.
The original KISS guitarist was poised to play the same exact set he performed in February 2016 at Fitzgerald's and this past January at Brewster Street in Corpus Christi. But five minutes before he took the stage, a new set scribbled out original opener "Parasite" in favor of "Rip it Out" from Frehley's 1978 KISS solo album and added Dynasty favorites "Hard Times" and The Rolling Stones' "2000 Man."
Frehley, as is his custom, deferred lead-vocal duties to bassist Chris Wyse on "Strange Ways," drummer Scot Coogan on first encore "Detroit Rock City" and to guitarist Richie "The Emperor of Rock N' Roll" Scarlet on the Frehley's Comet track "2 Young 2 Die," dedicated to the late KISS drummer Eric Carr.
Frehley has toured a bulk of this year with Enuff Z'Nuff, and Chip Z'Nuff told his audience that Frehley has been sober for a decade. It showed in several ways.
Frehley displayed his infectious sense of humor when he broke out a Christmas sweater, and he demonstrated his guitar is "still smokin' after all these years" on his trademark fiery rendition of "Shock Me." He complimented his former frontman and oft-nemesis Paul Stanley for writing "an excellent song" after his band did "Love Gun," which was also sung by Coogan.
Unlike his two other Texas gigs in which it was on the setlist but omitted, Frehley gave the audience what it wanted when he unveiled "Cold Gin" moments after declaring "It's getting late" at 1:37 a.m., then proceeded to encores "Detroit Rock City" and "Deuce."
Wyse, who fronts his own band Owl and spent time in The Cult -- both of which we discussed during a November 2014 interview (listen here) -- had a riveting bass solo. Scarlet was his usual bundle of energy and pick-tossing self to an audience that featured the first-time setup of a VIP seated section in front of the Vibes stage, with the majority of general-admission standing fans perched behind them, 15-20 feet away from their favorite rockers.
Dokken preceded Frehley, making its second visit to the Alamo City after a March show at the Tobin Center For the Performing Arts. This time, former Lizzy Borden and Vicious Rumors guitarist Ira Black filled in for Jon Levin. Drummer "Wild" Mick Brown held a beer aloft and thanked the crowd for coming out prior to the first note before they came out swinging with "Kiss of Death," a track celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Though Don Dokken wasn't as vocally improved as he was at the Tobin from sub-par recent visits, he was satisfactory on "The Hunter," "In My Dreams," "Breaking the Chains," "Alone Again" and the track that froze most of the audience -- "Maddest Hatter" from 1999's incredibly solid Erase the Slate. Don Dokken broke out a guitar on opening track "Paris is Burning" nine months earlier but omitted the 1982 tune entirely this time, along with 1985 hit "It's Not Love." But he didn't wholly forget the guitar, playing it on third track "Into the Fire."
Enuff Z'Nuff closed out The Rock Box stage with a 45-minute set that once again was dominated by the group's 1989 self-titled debut and 1991 follow-up Strength. Despite having 13 albums to his credit, original bassist and co-founder Chip Z'Nuff stuck to the more recognizable MTV hits such as opener "Baby Loves You," "Fly High Michelle" and closer "New Thing."
Z'Nuff, the only remaining original member after vocalist Donnie Vie chose to stop touring in 2013, also sang lead on "Heaven or Hell" and the set's only track not from the first two albums. That would be a cover of David Bowie's "The Jean Genie," which appeared on 2000's 10 album and was preceded by a humorous guitar solo by a hidden Z'Nuff and Tory Stoffregen (ATM footage here). Listen to Z'Nuff discuss his band's career with me in November 2016 here.
Arguably the most impressive band of the night was the group that saw its original singer and guitarist finally reunited in San Antonio. L.A. Guns was also the only one of the five national acts not to strictly live off its past, flying out of the gate with "The Devil Made Me Do It" from the Oct. 13 release of The Missing Peace. But of course, the classics weren't forgotten. Click the box below to watch "Sex Action."
Vocalist Phil Lewis and band founder and guitarist Tracii Guns shined with current members in guitarist Michael Grant, bassist Johnny Martin and drummer Shane Fitzgibbon, who was behind the kit when Guns opened for BulletBoys at The Korova as Gunzo during his previous visit.
The song of the night may have been "One More Reason," a somewhat surprising inclusion from the band's self-titled debut that will mark 30 years in 2018 given that it wasn't an MTV hit in the vein of "Electric Gypsy" or "The Ballad of Jayne." Guns broke out a bow solo prior to third track "Over the Edge," and Lewis was shaking and rolling all night, including when the band jammed on new track "Speed" (ATM Facebook Live footage here).
The Graham Bonnet Band, meanwhile, was also making its second visit of the year after headlining Cadillac Bar on Jan. 7. This time, Joey Tafolla of Jag Panzer is the lead guitarist joining forces with the renowned former vocalist of Rainbow, Alcatrazz, Impellitteri and one album with the Michael Schenker Group.
Donned in a long-sleeved white dress shirt, tie, and like most of his vocal peers, sunglasses inside the venue, Bonnet spanned his career in a 35-minute set on The Rock Box stage that began at 8:10 p.m. when he easily could've closed out either stage. Along with bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone, lively drummer Marc Banquechea and Alcatrazz keyboardist Jimmy Waldo, Bonnet broke out Rainbow's "All Night Long," Impellitteri's "Stand in Line" and Schenker's "Assault Attack." Watch ATM footage of new track "Into the Night" here.
Bonnet, who spoke with me in October 2016 (listen here), will return March 31 as one of the vocalists taking part in the Michael Schenker Fest at the Vibes Event Center (tickets here), along with Robin McAuley, Doogie White and Gary Barden. Check out the ATM Facebook page for FB Live video of finale "Lost in Hollywood."
Although the Vibes Event Center stage was only a little more than half filled even when Frehley was the lone artist remaining, those on hand had witnessed a gathering the rest of the country didn't. Even though the "hair" portion of the "Hair Metal Holiday" is no longer what it once was, the music is all that has ever mattered. And that part is very much alive and well.