Brent “Ned” Niemi

#707: Alice Cooper…Live!

GETTING MORE TALE #707: Alice Cooper…Live!

I’ve seen Alice Cooper twice.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write a review either time.  I certainly should have.  Both shows were special and perhaps unique in unexpected ways.  I have a couple stories to tell you.

The first time I witnessed the Alice Cooper show was on his Rock N’ Roll Carnival tour (no opening act), August 28 1998.  We were lucky enough to get the lineup with Reb Beach (Winger) and Eric Singer (Kiss), who had recently rejoined the band.  It was the now legendary Lulu’s Roadhouse featuring the world’s longest bar.  Thanks to the internet, we know the entire setlist.

  • Hello Hooray
  • Sideshow
  • Billion Dollar Babies
  • No More Mr. Nice Guy
  • Public Animal #9
  • Be My Lover
  • Lost in America
  • I’m Eighteen
  • From the Inside
  • Only Women Bleed
  • Steven
  • Halo of Flies
  • Nothing’s Free
  • Cleansed by Fire
  • Poison
  • Cold Ethyl
  • Unfinished Sweet
  • School’s Out

Encore:

  • Jailhouse Rock
  • Under My Wheels

I went with Lyne (one of our store managers) and her husband. A little while later Lyne was bullied right out of the organisation and went to work for HMV instead.  (I used to call her “Lynie Lynie Boing Boing” for some reason.)  We had an amazing time and I remember being impressed that Alice was still playing material from 1994’s The Last Temptation.  “Sideshow”, “Nothing’s Free” and “Cleansed By Fire” were unexpected treats.  It was also a pleasure to hear so many Nightmare-era songs.

At the end, as per usual, Alice introduced his band, and then himself.  He tore open the front of his jacket to reveal a T-shirt that said “Alice Spice”.  Yes, 1998 was the time of Girl Power and Spice Girls were the biggest thing in the world.  It got the required laughs.

One weird memory stands out.  A few tables ahead of us was a girl who was missing an arm below the elbow.  But that didn’t stop her from getting into the show, air guitar and all.  The missing arm was her strumming arm and she was just pumping it and going for it.  It was an unusual thing to see but she had a great time and that’s all that matters.  An unforgettable night.

The thing about the late 90s period of Alice Cooper:  It was a remarkably unproductive time as far as new material.  From 1994’s The Last Temptation to 1999’s A Fistful of Alice (a live album), there was nothing new.  In 2000, Alice cranked the machine again for a rapid-fire series of new albums starting with Brutal Planet.  The live setlist had changed dramatically too.  When I saw Cooper in 2006 with my new girlfriend (now known as Mrs. LeBrain), we got a very different show.

My mom had early access to tickets at the Center in the Square and surprised us with second row seats. On May 9, Alice rolled into town with his new band and new show. On drums once more: Eric Singer of Kiss. Opening act: Helix! Another favourite of mine in a hometown setting! Alice’s latest album was the excellent Dirty Diamonds and we got to hear the title track plus “Woman of Mass Distraction”.  In addition Alice rolled out a few forgotten oldies like “You Drive Me Nervous”, and “Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills” which was dedicated to Paris Hilton.

  • Department of Youth
  • No More Mr. Nice Guy
  • Dirty Diamonds
  • Billion Dollar Babies
  • Be My Lover
  • Lost in America
  • I Never Cry
  • Woman of Mass Distraction
  • I’m Eighteen
  • You Drive Me Nervous
  • Is It My Body
  • Go to Hell
  • Black Widow Jam
  • Feed My Frankenstein
  • Welcome to My Nightmare

Medley:

  • The Awakening
  • Steven
  • Only Women Bleed (with Steven reprise)
  • Ballad of Dwight Fry
  • Killer
  • I Love the Dead
  • School’s Out

Encore:

  • Poison
  • Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills
  • Under My Wheels

There’s no record of Helix’s setlist, but they were able to play a number of songs including a brand new one: “Get Up“.  I was sad to see that a few people in the front row didn’t bother coming early enough to see Helix, but that made it easier for Brian Vollmer to see me in the second.  I pumped my first and sang along to every song — including the new one, once I got the hang of the chorus.  Vollmer obviously noticed the one guy singing every song, and came down to shake my hand.  Vollmer is one of the most fan-friendly artists in rock, bar none.   This was only the first of several times he’d shake my hand.

(Back) Brent “Ned” Niemi, Alice Cooper, Brian Vollmer, Rainer Wiechmann
(Front) Jim Lawson, Jeff “Stan” Fountain, Cindy Wiechmann – May 9 2006

From Planet Helix

 

As good as Helix were that night, nobody puts on a show like Alice Cooper.  Kitchener was no exception.  Mrs. LeBrain found herself swooning over guitarist Damon Johnson.  (I thought bassist Chuck Garric would be more her style, based on a previous Tommy Lee crush.)  Guitarist Eric Dover and the aforementioned Eric Singer rounded out the band, with Alice’s daughter Calico playing numerous roles as stage dancer!  (“Put some clothes on!” said her dad after introducing her.)

I remember two things about the show very clearly.  At one point, right in the middle of a song, a woman walked up to the front of the stage and held up a CD for Alice to sign.  I didn’t get it…you expect him to sign your CD while he’s performing?  While he’s in character as Alice Cooper?  Who did she think she was?

Alice ignored her until he was obviously fed up.  Swinging his cane in the air, he smashed the CD out of her hands.  The sour looking woman returned to her seat dejected.  You don’t interrupt Alice when he’s doing his show.  “What a self-centered idiot,” was all I could think.

Alice’s action with the autograph seeker was made all the more noteworthy later in the show.  Contrasting his attitude towards the previous woman, Alice paid special attention to a young girl in the front row.  Wearing proper ear protection, the young girl was with her dad, possibly seeing her first ever rock concert.  Recognising this, Alice personally handed her some of the fake Alice money lying on stage after “Billion Dollar Babies”, and some of the plastic pearls from “Dirty Diamonds”.  The little girl was the only person in the audience who got special attention from the performer.  Cooper, the consummate showman, plays for everyone not just the front row.  That girl will never forget Alice Cooper as long as she lives, and he made sure of it.  I couldn’t help but think Alice was also making a statement.  “Treat my show with respect and this kind of stuff happens.  Don’t interrupt me mid-song for an autograph.”

Whether I’m right or not, that’s one outsider’s impression of the events of the night.

Whatever I happen to think, there would be no argument that Alice Cooper puts on some of the best concerts in rock, and you should try to see him.  Make it a bucket list goal.  The lineups change, and the setlists evolve.  You’ll always get “School’s Out” but chances are you will also hear a smattering of special classics that don’t get rolled out very often.

Go see Cooper and come back with your own stories to tell.

 

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REVIEW: Helix – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007)

HELIX – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007

When Helix seemingly dropped off the map in the mid 90’s, I didn’t think they’d ever really come back with more studio albums. Yet they did thanks to the power of the internet. The Power Of Rock And Roll is a return to roots of sorts, after the alternative stylings of 2004’s Rockin’ in My Outer Space. This is a throwback to the basic guitars/bass/drums/shredding vocals of the Helix of yore!  “It’s a party that’s better than a beer, it’s a party in your ear!”  That’s their modus operandi on “Fill Your Head With Rock”, a song they wrote for the Sweden Rock festival.  They named it after the Kim Mitchell song of the same title, also recorded for Sweden Rock.

The Power Of Rock And Roll is essentially a reissue of the earlier seven song EP, Get Up! with five additional tracks added. If you already have Get Up! (which is now out of print), you still need The Power Of Rock And Roll because those five new songs are just awesome. Wait until you hear the power of “Nickels And Dimes”, an awesome track with a great chorus.  “Eat My Dust” might be the fastest song Helix has ever done.  “The Past Is Back (To Kick Your Ass)” is truly a statement of purpose. And kick your ass, this album will!

Personal favourite:  “Get Up!”  Can’t get enough of that chorus!  “We don’t need a reason to party, so get up get up!”  The first time I heard “Get Up!” was when Helix opened for Alice Cooper in Kitchener in early 2006.  It was a brand new song, but instantly memorable.  Brian Vollmer noticed I was in the second row singing along to the chorus.  He came down and slapped my hand!

Guitars are by session musician Steve Georgakopoulos who used to play Ace Frehley in the London tribute band Alive. As such, you may notice some very Ace-like bends and licks. Steve co-wrote every song on this album with Vollmer and Gord Prior (ex-Blu Bones). The only thing that I disliked about this album is that then-current members of the live Helix band doesn’t play on it. Rick VanDyk (ex-legendary Kitchener band Zero Option), Jim Lawson, Brent “Ned” Niemi, and Paul Fonseca did not appear, although they’d play everything live. In their stead are the aforementioned Steve Georgakopoulos on guitar, ex-Sven Gali drummer Rob MacEachern, and ex-Helix bassist Jeff “Stan” Fountain. I guess this is fine — these guys have a longstanding relationship with Helix. MacEachern even later joined the band in 2009. They’re all studio pros, and the album does not suffer for it. It’s just a personal taste thing. I prefer the members of the band to play on the albums. I’m traditional that way.

There’s a bonus track, a remake of the hit “Heavy Metal Love” which is almost as great as the original. Casual listeners might not even notice the difference. This was done to coincide with the use of the song in the first Trailer Park Boys movie.

If you’ve ever been a Helix fan, you will be delighted and pleasantly surprised by The Power Of Rock And Roll. Every single song kicks, no ballads. It is pure, raw, well recorded, well played, and Vollmer signs his ass off.

4.5/5 stars

Notice the Japanese symbol for “power” on the back?

REVIEW: Helix – Vagabond Bones (2009)

STRAT

Welcome back to Canadian Rawk Week!

Scan_20160210HELIX – Vagabond Bones (2009 Universal)

2009 was an exciting time to be a Helix fan.  15-odd years of rotating lineups kept the band alive and in the clubs, but it was hard to grow attached to any band members when they only stayed for a couple years and were off elsewhere.  Helix main man Brian Vollmer had always maintained strong ties with former members, and guys like Brent Doerner often showed up on albums, or in the audience at local Helix shows.  It was still a surprise when Doerner, drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and bassist Daryl Gray all returned to the Helix lineup.  This completed the classic 80’s version of the band, or at least the surviving members thereof.  Paul Hackman was killed in 1993 in a tragic auto accident.  Replacing him in the lineup was Kaleb “Duckman” Duck, who had previously worked with Brent.

Vollmer was working on a new album (originally called It’s Rock Science, NOT Rocket Science!), writing with his partners Sean Kelly and Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness).   The final product entitled Vagabond Bones has a variety of different players on it.  Former Helix members Brent “Ned” Niemi and Rob MacEachern play drums, and guitar maestro Kelly (also briefly a Helix member) contributed to guitar and bass.  Also on the CD is Steve Georgakopoulos who played on a few past Helix albums.  You’d think it would be a case of “too many cooks” in the kitchen.  That’s not the case; Vollmer and Co. brewed a potent mixture of songs, with all the attitude and quality that you have come to expect from this band.

Immediately you’re hit over the head by the slick production work by Vollmer, Kelly and Aaron Murray. “The Animal Inside (Won’t Be Denied)” has the stamps of both Helix and Sean Kelly all over it, from the absurdly catchy chorus to the shredding solos. Vollmer sings powerfully, but his voice has so much depth character from years of training and road work.  Very few singers from the 70’s still sound the same, but Brian Vollmer is damn close!  “Go Hard or Go Home” has another powerful chorus, plus great catchy riff, and fun lyrics.  “Go hard, or go home, take your little whiny candy ass and go.”  Considering all that Helix has been through, Vollmer surely knows only the strong survive.  “No short cuts, no sweet deals,” he sings and he knows it!  The title track “Vagabond Bones” makes it three great songs in a row. It’s an instantly likeable good time hard rock boogie.

Helix really developed a knack for melody as they grew. One of the most pop moments is “Monday Morning Meltdown”, a song that Brian compared to Cheap Trick in terms of style.  You can hear it in the choruses, but it’s just a great pop rock song with another great Sean Kelly riff holding down the fort.  Very different for Helix, and very good.

Onto a fast vintage Van Halen style shuffle, “When The Bitter’s Got The Better Of You” is the fifth straight up great song in a row.  It too is very different for Helix.  It continues a theme of “down on your luck” songs, but always with a message to keep on givin’ ‘er.  That holds true on “Hung Over But Still Hanging In”, a sleeze rock duet with Russ Dwarf of Killer Dwarfs.  If you need a hard rocking party song, then this is what you want. It has the groove, the fun, and the lyrics so just hoist them wobbly-pops and rock on!

My personal favourite song has always been “Best Mistake I Never Made”. It has a classic 70’s rock aura, an acoustic guitar, and if I had to compare it to something else it would be Helix’s excellent 1992 single “That Day Is Gonna Come”.  That’s a trip down memory lane that I don’t mind taking.  “Make ‘Em Dance” is a fast stomper with a beat that strikes me as almost Disco.  It just rages though, I wouldn’t try dancing to it until you want to break your neck!

Ending the album on a funky rock vibe is “Jack it Up”. This is a really interesting song, because I used to hate it. You may have to let it grow on you because, like much of this album, it’s forging new territory for Helix. It’s still great party rock, but just a little laid back.

With sharp production, Vagabond Bones was certainly the best sounding Helix album, and the best overall in many a year. And that’s saying something, because 2007’s The Power Of Rock And Roll was very, very strong.  Hearing this album for the first time, I just smiled.  I had to.  Helix were back and pretty much better than ever.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – A Heavy Mental Christmas (2008)

HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS_0001HELIX – A Heavy Mental Christmas (2008 GBS)

Ahh, Christmas albums by rock bands! To me, the current wave all started with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. However, it is undeniable that Twisted Sister’s version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” also changed the playing field, giving them their biggest hit in decades.  It meant that any metal band could record Christmas songs now.

So Helix’ Brian Vollmer, no stranger to Christmas music (check out his Raising The Roof on Mary Immaculate disc) decided to record some Helix versions in that hot summer of August 2008. Yes, Christmas music is often recorded in summertime — that’s how they get it on the shelves for December. The effect this has on the music is worth questioning. It must be hard getting inspired to go caroling when it’s beach weather.

A Heavy Mental Christmas is not a bad Christmas album if you’re a metal fan. I wouldn’t nessesarily play this for grandma, but for people who already enjoy metal versions of Christmas songs, it’s a good listen. It’s not really my thing, personally. I loathe Christmas music in general (too many years working retail) and metal versions are not something I really get into. Having said that, with Vollmer’s excellent delivery here, these songs do shine. They are enjoyable, the band is in top shape, and all the songs are classics or traditionals except one original, “Christmas Time Is Here Again” by Brian’s friend and collaborator Steve Georgakopoulos. (Obviously, this isn’t the Beatles song “Christmas Time Is Here Again”.) Like some other Helix albums, this one clocks in at under 30 minutes, so be aware.  Only one song clocks in over 3 minutes.

HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS_0003

The Helix band pictured on the sleeve is not entirely the band playing on the CD. Drummer Brent “Ned” Neimi, bassist Paul Fonseca, and guitarist Rick VanDyk (ex-Zero Option) are present, but long-timer guitarist Jim Lawson is not. (He lived in Sudbury, far from the London recording studio where this was made.) Instead you will find the wonderful guitar stylings of the aforementioned Steve Georgakopoulos (say that five times really fast), who played Ace Frehley in the London-based KISS tribute band Alive. Steve also played guitar on the previous Helix album, the excellent Power Of Rock And Roll, although he has never been an official member of the band. Either way, he’s a great writer and player, and he does have a Frehley-like vibe to his shredding.

Highlights:  The slick metal blues of “A Wonderful Christmas Time”.  The Lennon classic “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” which to me is kind of sacred territory.  It’s hard to sing a song that John Lennon made famous, but Vollmer does so successfully.  And then there’s the original tune, “Christmas Time Is Here Again” which is really just a vintage Helix rocker with Christmas lyrics.  Musically it could have been on Long Way to Heaven, but there’s no mistaking the lyrics.  “Santa’s coming to the show!” announces Brian.

So, to sum up:

  1. I loathe Christmas music,
  2. but I love Helix,
  3. and this is still a pretty good album.

I think rock fans out there will like it a lot. The running time doesn’t bother me personally, as the album does not overstay its welcome and I have paid more money for less music before. If you’re a Helix fan, this album is a must to have.  It’s just fun, and it has balls. It was somewhat of a landmark for them, while it is only their 11th studio album, it was their 20th official release overall, and certainly that is worth celebrating.

3/5 stars, maybe 4/5 if you’ve already gotten into the egg nog!

If you want more Helix Christmas tunes, check out their 7″ single for “All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup”.

HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS_0002

CONCERT REVIEW: Helix – The Power of Rock and Roll CD release party 2007/08/19

I found this concert review on a hard drive and realized I had never posted it to mikeladano.com.  OVERSIGHT!

This was a special experience.  Read on.

video by John Hockley

HELIX POWER_0004HELIX – The Power Of Rock And Roll – CD Release Party Report  – East Side Bar &  Grill, London Ontario, 2007/08/19

Today Jen & I headed down to London to check out Helix playing, and to celebrate the release of their new CD, The Power of Rock and Roll, on EMI. We threw on some Helix for the drive down, and met John Hockley (Helix MySpace guru) and his family at noon. John has quite an impressive autograph collection, as anyone who’s got him added on Facebook can attest to.

Stocking up on coffee and Timbits, John and I trekked over to Brian and Linda Vollmer’s house to drop off some salad for their after-show BBQ and to say hello. It was my first time at their place and I was blown away by Brian’s cool collection of rock and roll stuff! My favourite thing of his was his prop from the fourth season of Trailer Park Boys, “Ricky’s Dope Map”. Very cool to see it up close and personal.

VOLLMERBrian was gracious enough to take a photo with me, and Linda told me how everyone loved my [now deleted] YouTube video “Why I Prefer Helix To Rush”. That was very cool; I told her that if I had known that anyone would actually watch it that I would have worked harder on it! Maybe next time….

From there, we headed over to the venue to see Helix play. Milled around the crowd, ran into Brent Doerner and said hello.

John introduced me to Randy, the merchandise guy, who had also seen my YouTube video. He sold me some rare Helix stuff, including the CD Never Trust Anyone Over 30 which I thought I would never be able to find! Then I got it signed by Rainer Wiechmann who played guitar and engineered a lot of the later Helix stuff on it. Rainer was cool, and thank you John for introducing me.

fritzWe found a table, and sat with a very nice couple, Diane and Mark from Kitchener. Wouldn’t you know it…Diane used to be Greg “Fritz” Hinz bookeeper, and asked him to come over and sign my CD for me! I told Fritz that my very first concert was Helix at the Center In The Square in 1987. […where he mooned the crowd.]

Then the band hit the stage. This was our second time seeing the current live lineup of Helix. [Brian Vollmer – lead vocals, Rik VanDyk – guitars, Jim Lawson – guitars, Paul Fonseca – bass, and Brent “Ned” Niemi – drums.]  Nine months after seeing this version play for the first time, I think they were even tighter, and definitely heavier. I have never seen Helix play so fast and heavy before. Blew me away. Still played a couple of slower tunes as well, but even they had more energy.

The full and complete set list:

1. No Rest For The Wicked / Band intro and solos

2. Boomerang Lover

3. Get Up!

4. Wild In The Streets

5. Dirty Dog

6. Eat My Dust

7. Running Wild In The 21st Century

8. The Kids Are All Shakin’

9. Heavy Metal Love

10. Rick Van Dyk guitar solo / segue into Metallica’s Creeping Death riff

11. When The Hammer Falls

12. Deep Cuts The Knife

13. Good To The Last Drop

14. Baby Likes To Ride

15. Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’

16. The Power Of Rock And Roll

17. Animal House

18. Rock You

 

ENCORES

19. (Make Me Do) Anything You Want

20. Fill Your Head With Rock

Packed house, great show, the band played & sang great. Thanks Helix for an amazing afternoon!