Chuck Garric

#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: Dio – Magica (deluxe edition)

DIO – Magica (originally 2000, 2013 Niji deluxe edition)

Although Ronnie James Dio was a very vivid songwriter, he only made one true concept album.  Magica was intended as a trilogy, but only the first part was completed before Dio’s death in 2010.  Magica was released in 2000 as a story of aliens, heroes, villains and magic.  Dio’s new band consisted of returning champions Craig Goldy (from the Dream Evil album) on guitar, drummer Simon Wright (Lock Up the Wolves), and original bassist Jimmy Bain.  The album, co-written by Dio and Goldy, was considered a triumph in its time.  It is a strong return to old-style quality metal after 1996’s questionable Angry Machines CD.  This deluxe edition collects the album and all related tracks together in one place.

Without getting into too much story detail, “Discovery” introduces aliens that serve as a framing story.  Alien explorers have found the ancient planet of Blessing, but are confused by the written records they find.  “Flesh can NOT be mutated into stone, and re-morphed back to the body once again.  Continue the investigation with special attention given to one word:  MAGICA.”

“Lord of the Last Days” is a dramatic and metallic start.  Dio’s slow grooves bring the melody and power of the riff to the fore.  “I love the night, so many shadows,” he sings as the villain character Shadowcast.  A segue brings us to the single “Fever Dreams”, a song so good that it was performed live in 2001 by Deep Purple with Ronnie as guest.  Goldy’s choppy riff is the stuff of metal dreams.  Fans who thought Dio strayed too far from the old school before were very pleased.

The music speeds up and becomes more menacing on “Turn to Stone”.   Evil has made its move!   “Turn to Stone” is classic Dio music, very much in line with Dream Evil (1987).  Goldy turns in some killer solo work here, before we move on to the robotic “Feed My Head”.   The album loses momentum on the long “Eriel”, and the truth is that the story gets too hard to follow without reading along with the liner notes.

Some smoking soloing introduces “Challis”, a memorable rocker that brings the album back on track.  The songs work best when backed by good old riffs.  “Challis” is quintessential hard rock Dio, but Dio also has a tender side.  The album’s ballad “As Long as it’s Not About Love” is long but exemplary.  Then it’s a celtic sounding jig on “Losing My Insanity”, before it transforms into something heavier and almost Sabbathy.

The deluxe edition of Magica contains the original Japanese bonus track, an instrumental called “Annica”.  This is on CD 2, but for the most authentic listening experience, you should move it back to where it belongs, on the first disc between “Losing My Insanity” and “Otherworld”.  This guitar piece really shows off Craig Goldy’s style and tone. Then “Otherworld” is the climax of the story, good triumphing over evil, and a nice dramatically heavy track.

The alien framing story returns with a reprise of “Lord of the Last Days”, indicating that the tale is not over.  Far from it.

The final track on the original album has been moved to CD 2: Dio reading “The Magica Story”, also included inside as text.  This is 18 minutes of some of the dullest narration you’ve ever heard.  Finishing it once is a challenge, listening to it regularly as a part of the album is madness.  Instead, skip to “Electra”, the only song they finished for Magica 2 (or 3).  “Electra” was the last single that Dio released in his lifetime, as part of a box set called Tournado.  It sounds like a part of Magica, perhaps indicating the next album would have been darker.  It’s sad but gratifying to know that the last song Dio put out was a good one.*

Five rare live tracks round out the set, all songs from Magica never released on anything else.  Live, the band featured Alice Cooper bassist Chuck Garric in Jimmy Bain’s place.  “Fever Dreams” is particularly good, a little bit faster than the original.  “As Long as it’s Not About Love” has more passion in the live setting.  Most fans have not had the chance to hear live versions of the Magica songs before this package came out.

When Magica was originally released, I was lucky enough to get the Japanese version right away.  I was hoping for something more like old Dio, and less like Angry Machines.  Judging from my time in the Record Store, I think many Dio fans lost interest in the band after Angry Machines.  One of my old customers, Glen, was turned around by Magica.  I recommended it to him, and he loved it.  Now, I’m recommending it to you.

4.25/5 stars

 

* Former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich recently stated that he is in possession of a complete demo with vocals of another Magica 2 song.  He has offered it to Wendy Dio to release.

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken (2 CD/1 Blu-ray)

NEW-ish RELEASE

Epic review time.

ALICE COOPER – Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken (2CD/1 Blu-ray, 2014 UDR)

This beast of a set was a gift from the ever-faithful Aaron, and I do thank you so much for it.  Alice Cooper in 1080i hi-def, 5.1 surround sound.  The CD has more songs than the Blu-ray, so I’m going to review both simultaneously, but let you know when it’s a track that’s exclusive to CD.  Let’s give’r!

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“Hello Hooray”!  It’s still daylight in Wacken, when Alice proclaims to “let the show begin, I’ve been ready”.  Alice is resplendent in his sharp red and black stripped tux.  Australian beauty Orianthi has a drip of blood in the corner her mouth, and smears of it on her guitar and arms.  “Hello Hooray” leads directly into a modern version of 1989’s “House of Fire”.  With the three guitars live, it has a lot more bite to it, and neat six-string twists.  (“House of Fire” briefly segues into the riff from “With a Little Help From My Friends”.  Remember that.  That’s important.)  Not letting up for a second, it’s into “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and then immediately “Under My Wheels”!  There’s simply no let up as the crowd starts surfing.  Alice’s six piece band are visual and boast three lead soloists.

IMG_20150102_104812Newer song “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” is one of only two songs from Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  The cool thing is how easily Orianthi digs into the vintage guitar stylings of it.  She is an absolute natural.  Even though there are four other talented musicians on stage, she commands attention without even trying.  Alice chases her around the stage, as she casually throws down classic guitar licks.  He has changed into a black leather jacket.

“Billion Dollars Babies” takes the focus temporarily back to the oldies.  Alice wields a sword impaled with money, taunting the crowd.  The wheels temporarily come off with “Caffeine”.  I always welcome newer material, but I’d prefer just about any other song from Welcome 2.  Alice has traded the sword for a giant coffee mug that he holds dear like his “precious”.  Thankfully Orianthi lays down a blazing solo (actually two) , because otherwise I’d say this is my song on which to pee.  But, I wouldn’t want to miss the classic “Department of Youth” from the original Welcome to my Nightmare, one of my top 10 Alice tracks of all time.

I like a rock show with variety, so I’m glad Alice pulled “Hey Stoopid” out of his 1991 hat.  In the 5.1 mix, I don’t like the way some of the guitars just kind of drop out in the verses of this arrangement.  I’ll have to listen to that again.  It didn’t sound right.  Otherwise it’s great with plenty of shredding.  “Dirty Diamonds” was another surprise.  I saw Alice play that one here in Kitchener on the Dirty Diamonds tour.  That whole album is excellent, but the title track has a smoking riff.   Drummer Glen Sobol gets a moment in the spotlight, accompanied by bassist Chuck Garric.  A drum solo in the middle of an Alice Cooper show is not always a good thing, but this is actually a cool, worthwhile solo.  There’s some crazy hand-over-hand stuff, tricks with sticks, and interesting cymbal work.  Then it’s Orianthi’s turn.  She is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the best guitar players out there today.  Every note is worth something.  The whole band come together at the front line, and the crowd goes nuts!  Meanwhile….

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As good as the solos are, in the context of the Alice Cooper show, they were merely a distraction.  Where did Alice go?  The opening strains of “Welcome to My Nightmare” indicate Act II has begun.  He has emerged as the Showman.  Weilding a dagger in one hand, he leads the charge into 1976’s “Go to Hell”.  The two songs serve as a wicked intro to the theatrical part of the show.  Alice attacks lead soloist Ryan Roxie with a whip, but it doesn’t phase the guitarist who safely evades him.

IMG_20150102_120925Out of Alice’s trick bag comes “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” the legendary campy 80’s theme from Friday the 13th Part III.  Stripped of the keyboards and drum machines, it functions as a living, rocking entity.  The three guitars enable the band to fill the spaces previously played by synths in the studio.  Orianthi’s guitar solo just leaves my jaw on the floor.   Keeping with the monster theme is “Feed My Frankenstein” from Hey Stoopid and Wayne’s World.  Alice has changed into a blood smeared smock.  He is strapped to an evil looking device by “Igor” and electrocuted!  Then a monster-sized Franken-Alice appears to finish the song!  The real Alice returns in a straight jacket for the still haunting “Dwight Fry”.  This most intense Cooper classic is well served by three guitarists, loaning a “Freebird” epic quality to it live.  “I’ve gotta get out of here!” screams Alice with the agony he manages to muster for every performance.  Breaking free of his bonds, he attacks Nurse Sheryl, only be executed to the tune of the exit music from “Killer”.  It’s the guillotine again for Alice Cooper.  His head is hoisted into the air by a black-clad executioner to a chorus of “I Love the Dead” (Alice singing off-stage).  Act II is over.  Act III is beginning.

Though uncredited, the opening music for “DaDa” (from 1983’s DaDa, a cool cameo) plays as Alice is surgically resurrected in the graveyard of the Hollywood Vampires. The Hollywood Vampires were the drinking club down at the Rainbow…the teachers and the students.  Lennon and Keith Moon passed down the ways of drinking to the likes of Vincent Furnier and Marc Bolan. A voice booms to Alice, “What are you going to do?  Raise the dead?”  So that’s what Alice does….

RAISE THE DEAD 2_0001First it’s Morrison.  The Doors’ “Break on Through” finally has balls to it!  I never liked the Doors.  I like Alice doing the Doors, so they can’t be all that bad.  What’s interesting is how Alice can morph his voice to suit these covers.  He uses a lower, howling early Alice voice to do the Doors.  For the next track, “Revolution” (exclusive to CD) he uses his nasal Cooper voice, to cop that Beatles feel.  He also does the opening McCartney scream…of course.  You have to have that.  The band hit the high backing notes perfectly too.  The classic riff to “Foxy Lady”(exclusive to CD) indicates that Jimi Hendrix is the next Hollywood Vampire to be honored.  Another cool connection is that both Alice and Jimi were important musical icons honored in the movie Wayne’s World.  And the song was “Foxy Lady”.  Next it’s Keith Moon and “My Generation”.  Chuck Garric gets a moment to shine on those glorious Entwistle bass licks.  It’s quite a bit more modern and slick than the Who’s, but the backing vocals are remarkably authentic.

Thematically “My Generation” connects to “I’m Eighteen”.  Ryan Roxie and Orianthi both play solos on “Eighteen”, and smoke each one.  Then, “Poison” is the final song of the set, a slick reminder that Alice Cooper survived the 1970’s only to become more popular than ever in the 80’s, 90’s and present.  “Poison” has stood the test of time.  It’s not a particularly simple song; just listen to those backing vocals.  They have to be right, they can’t be off.  Although I hadn’t really thought of “Poison” as a set closer, it does work in that slot and ends the show on a celebratory note.

RAISE THE DEAD 2_0003The encore of “School’s Out” is the real celebration of course; the stage ablaze with lights and Alice clad in gold.  It’s a mash-up with “Another Brick in the Wall”, proving again that mash-ups can sometimes produce fascinating results.   I love Alice’s stage introductions for the musicians.  “In a world where evil has a name, and that name is…Orianthi!  And playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight…me!”

But Nurse Sheryl returns to the stage one last time and stabs Alice!  I have a feeling our anti-hero will be back to terrorize us again on another tour….

There is only one Blu-ray bonus feature.  The pre-Wacken interview with Alice is cool because it’s completely uncut.  It’s only 20 minutes, but it’s insightful. Cooper is always a pleasure to listen to.  The concept behind Raise the Dead revolves around his old, long gone buddies from the Hollywood Vampire.  With this show, Cooper is paying tribute back to those guys, his idols and friends.  The show has some history to it, he says.  A little bit of a lesson.  But the kids already know the songs, says Alice.  The tunes like “Foxy Lady” and “Break on Through” are already familiar to them.  Every kid seems to own a classic rock T-shirt.

Cooper muses that his live show is probably as close to Broadway as many of his new young fans will ever see.  He reminds us that he has his own Broadway influences — “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” from West Side Story, for example.  His own solo band is so tight now that he doesn’t have to worry about the music part.  Alice can get on with the show and performance, because the music is in good hands.  He has particular praise for the stage presence and chops of Orianthi.  As for the show, It’s no longer about shock, says Alice.  You can’t shock the audience anymore.  Now, it’s about entertainment.  Give them something entertaining and of good value.

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The hidden theme in the show is that everything is connected.  The kids pick up on the connections behind the music.  “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall” are presented as a medley.  Who produced both songs? Whose kids are on both songs? Bob Ezrin.  Connections!

The Blu-ray also has a substantial booklet included, the kind of thing that people who buy physical product still care about.  I’d rather have this than a crappy photo slide show or text on a DVD.  My only quibble is that I was underwhelmed by the 5.1 mix.  I may have had my setting messed up, and I will have to try again.  It was “Hey Stoopid” where this was particularly unpleasant to me.  I’ll have to check that and try again.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the CDs, which sound friggin’ great.

4.5/5 stars

This product is…

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