Cindy Wiechmann

#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 – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

KITCHENER.

scan_20161215HELIX – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004 Dirty Dog)

This album was a long time coming. The last “true” Helix studio album (eg: not live, greatest hits or previously unreleased songs) was the excellent It’s A Business Doing Pleasure, twelve years previous to this one. A lot happened in those twelve years, including member changes, management and record company splits, and even a Brian Vollmer solo album (When Pigs Fly). That Helix came out with an album this good with no warning was a pleasant surprise.

Almost every song here is quality stuff, with only the instrumental opener “Space Junk” and the jokey closer “Sunny Summer Daze” not fitting in with the serious rocking going on here. A couple of these recordings had previously appeared on Vollmer’s solo CD (with Brian Doerner on drums), but this sounds more like a proper Helix album. The title track features a killer chorus (reminded me of “Rock You” a bit) with those recognizable Helix backing vocals. It’s also the most “party” of all the new songs, some of them being a little darker.  Glen “Archie” Gamble (drums) utilizes some interesting cymbal work, a little different from what you usually hear on a Helix record.  His playing gives this version of Helix a different rhythm.

“Six Feet Underground” has some nice acoustic work, and is extremely catchy. “Panic” has some irresistible vocals. “It’s Hard To Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Filled With Rain” might have an overly long title, but the song is amazing, as heard live in concert.  A wicked harmonica solo fills the spot with a guitar solo might normally fit.  “The Ballad Of Sam & Mary” is a jokey lyric as Helix have done before, but with some serious kick behind it. (Listen for a cameo by Brian’s wife Lynda Vollmer.)  It’s only when you get to the closer with its Hawiian guitar that you feel like the album just hit a speedbump. The final track’s saving grace is a guest appearance by former member “Doctor” Doerner on guitar.

This album represented a muscular return for Helix, one that kicked off a stream of new Helix records.  The band seemed revitalized even as lineups changed, as they continued to follow through with more quality rock and roll.  Rockin’ in My Outer Space is a pleasure for fans because it’s different. This is not party music. There are audible dark clouds and angry riffs.  The changes in heavy metal over the previous decade are obvious here.  The guitars are chunkier and dirtier, and no song has a party-hardy chorus like the days of old, though the title track comes close.  Helix are known for a certain brand of rock, and it’s nice when they choose to stretch out.

Fear not Helix fans. Brian Vollmer and his gang of little-known but excellent players did not disappoint when they finally decided to release a new album under the Helix Band banner. Aside from the first and last tracks, this is one you’ll be playing all the way through.

And heck, you get used to the the first and last tracks after a while.

4/5 stars

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Bonus:  In 2005, Helix returned to Sweden to play Sweden Rock.  iTunes have one song from their set available for download: “Rock You”  This track features the short-lived but very cool six-piece lineup of Brian Vollmer, Archie Gamble, Jeff Fountain (bass), Jim Lawson (guitar), Rainer Wiechmann (guitar and producer) and Cindy Wiechmann (vocals and other instruments). This is the version of Helix that supported this album, and fortunately it was captured live. Check it out for an idea of what this great lineup sounded like live.

BOOK REVIEW: Brian Vollmer – Gimme An R! (2005)

BRIAN VOLLMER – Gimme An R!
The story of Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of Helix
(2005)

Forget all those books by the mega stars like Slash and Sammy Hagar that have come out in recent years. Those books have one thing in common — they were written (or co-written, anyway) by guys who are rock superstars! Megastars! It’s hard for me as a reader to relate to a guy who hasn’t had to hold down a job in 30 years. Not that there’s anything wrong with stardom, it’s just an observation.  I can’t relate to the human beings.   Not so with this book!

Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of the hardest working band in Canada (that would be Helix), comes across as a pretty regular guy.  (I’ve met him a number of times, and he’s about as regular as anybody you’d know.)  Yes, he’s traveled the world in a rock band and played for thousands of people, but at the end of the day the book is something I can still relate to. Through crappy jobs in crappy convenience stores, crappy apartments, getting mugged, it doesn’t seem like a rock star’s life.  There are parallels in the story similar to other bands such as Anvil (another hard-working Canadian band). While Vollmer always manages to scrape by and continue to Rock Us, nothing comes easy.  Incredibly through it all Brian Vollmer never really stopped being an artist.  He seemed to always keep music, and Helix in his life even after dozens of lineup changes and band members.  (Approximately 35 people have been in Helix since 1974.  The newest member is Cambridge’s Chris Julke, replacing John Claus.)

From humble beginnings in Listowel Ontario to playing in Sweden, England and Trinidad, Vollmer’s tome has plenty of rock and roll stories. As one of the first Canadian bands to release independent albums in the 1970’s, he was a bit of a pioneer. Gimme An R! is loaded with rock star encounters one after the other, from Eddie Van Halen (on stage!) to Gene Simmons.  Vollmer remains himself through it all, even after Helix signed their big deal with Capitol and released “Rock You”.  The tragic death of primary co-writer Paul Hackman nearly derailed the band.  Even after the departures of longtime partners Brent Doerner, Fritz Hinz, and finally Daryl Gray, Brian kept going.  He kept the Helix name alive, finding success on the internet which was a brand new way for him to make contact, and sell albums directly to his fans.  Then, a little TV show called Trailer Park Boys helped expose Helix to a new audience.


Included between the covers are dozens of black and white photos of the band over the years.  From small-town Ontario to meeting superstars like Richard Pryor and Robin Williams, it’s a pretty cool collection of snaps. Unfortunately while reading I found myself distracted by spelling errors — “Atlantis Morissette” for example.  I would like to see a second printing that corrects these mistakes.  (A new chapter on the last decade would be cool too Brian!)

Vollmer’s prose is not frilly or poetic, but it’s conversational and descriptive.  There’s no ghost writer, so the pictures that Brian paints of all those seedy bars in the dead of winter come straight from his memory to the page.  He’s a great storyteller.  The bottom line is that the story of Helix keeps you hooked.  I’ve had friends come over and pick up the book, and they just get entranced. It’s a really different side of the rock and roll tales.  It shows what old fashioned determination and hard work can accomplish.

I have to knock off half a star for the spelling errors. It’s just one of those pet peeves — nothing personal, Brian!  I do highly recommend it Gimme An R! to rock fans world wide who’d like a different, more humble angle on the whole rock star thing.

4.5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Helix – 30th Anniversary Concert (2004)

HELIX FRONT

HELIX – 30th Anniversary Concert (2004 EMI)

Helix will be turning 40 in 2014!  When I talked to Brian Vollmer back in September, he wasn’t interested in taking a look back this time.  Helix did glance back for their 30th in 2004, and this DVD was one of several celebratory releases.

The Helix DVD, the 30th Anniversary Concert, is one of the best rock videos I’ve seen. This band has so much history, and most of it was onstage that night, July 17 2004.

Vollmer decided to celebrate the 30th in style. Traveling to nearby Brantford and taking over the beautiful Sanderson Centre, Helix unveiled a setlist that honored their entire history, and guested nearly every band member from 1974 to 1990!

There were a few conspicuous by their absence, such as longtime bassist Daryl Gray, and a few that we knew couldn’t turn up (the then-missing Mike Uzelac, the late Paul Hackman). However, Brian Vollmer (only remaining original Helix member) proceeded to reunite members of the original 1974 Helix, which had never even been recorded before! From there we go to the lineup responsible for the first two albums (sans Hackman and Uzelac, replaced here by current Helix alum Rainer Weickmann and 1976 bassist Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg, wearing trademark tux). Brian Doerner is introduced as Canada’s greatest drummer, and while Neil Peart and Gary McCracken might disagree, he’s definitely up there. His brother Brent literally steals the show. Singing such lost classics as “Billy Oxygen” and “Crazy Women”, Brent still has that rock star quality. His guitar playing was stellar that night.

Other members from back in the day turned up: Leo Niebudek on drums, and then, finally…Greg “Fritz” Hinz, all the way from sunny Florida, behind the skins to celebrate Helix’ late 80’s heyday.

Not to be overshadowed, the 2004 Helix lineup returned to the stage for some more hits. “Archie” Gamble is a fantastic drummer, it should be noted, spinning his sticks while creatively keeping the time. The addition of a female vocalist, Cindy Weichmann, allowed the band to perform 1976’s “You’re A Woman Now” for the first time ever with a female vocal, just as it was on the album.

The nucleus of this DVD are the six tunes from the 70’s that rarely, if ever, get played today. As great as the hit 80’s material was, the 70’s stuff is what makes this DVD different from any other Helix product you can buy.

There are generous bonus features: interviews with Brian and his ever-supportive wife Lynda, candid scenes of rehearsals and Brian trying to get this monster concert together. There are interviews with fans who traveled all the way across the country to see this one show. Best of all are the clips of the old band members, now short-haired, meeting up again for the first time in years. “I’m Brian Drummer and I play Doerner,” says the drummer as he arrives. As Brian stands next to his twin brother Brent, Fritz says, “I never could tell you two apart”. It’s like watching someone’s family reunion video.

If you are a Helix fan, you have no excuse for not owning this. If you are only a casual Helix fan and want to check out some of their best stuff, this is the DVD package to get. Not only do you get the hits, but you get the history, and that’s not something to be ignored for a band that turned 30.

5/5 stars

This stuff below taken from the Wikipedia page, but I don’t care; I wrote the Wikipedia page.

Chapters

All songs written by Brian Vollmer and Paul Hackman except where noted.

  1. The Band (includes the song “Ave Maria” performed by Brian Vollmer) (6:58)
  2. The Sanderson Theatre (5:54)
  3. The Concert: “Space Junk” (taped intro) (Rainer Wiechmann)/”Rockin’ In My Outer Space” (Bill Gadd, Rob Long, Tony Paleschi, Vollmer) (5:53)
  4. “Running Wild In The 21st Century” (3:53)
  5. “The Ballad of Sam and Mary” (Gadd, Long, Paleschi, Vollmer) (4:11)
  6. “It’s Hard to Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Full of Rain” (Gadd, Long, Paleschi, Vollmer) (3:35)
  7. The Original Helix: “Thinking It Over” (studio recording) (Del Shannon)/”Buff’s Bar Blues” (Alex Harvey) (9:59)
  8. The Early Years: “I Could Never Leave” (studio recording) (4:01)
  9. “Crazy Women” (Brent Doener) (3:41)
  10. “You’re A Woman Now” (Hackman) (6:59)
  11. “Billy Oxygen” (Doerner) (5:08)
  12. The Early 80’s: “Women, Whiskey & Sin” (studio recording) (Vollmer) (3:36)
  13. “It’s Too Late” (Doerner) (4:01)
  14. “Breaking Loose” (Vollmer, Doerner) (4:23)
  15. The Capitol Years: “Give It To You” (studio recording) (4:10)
  16. “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Joey Levine, Richard Rosenblatt) (3:24)
  17. “Heavy Metal Love” (3:45)
  18. “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” (Paul Naummann, Danny Taylor) (4:03)
  19. “Deep Cuts the Knife” (Hackman, Bob Halligan, Jr. (4:31)
  20. “Wild in the Streets” (Hackman, Ray Lyell) (4:30)
  21. “Dirty Dog” (Vollmer, Doerner) (3:40)
  22. “Rock You” (Halligan) (6:23)
  23. “The Kids are All Shakin'” (4:54)
  24. Aftermath (includes the song “Danny Boy” performed by Brian Vollmer) (3:15)

Bonus Features

  1. 8mm Memories (8:44)

Personnel

Helix

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Jim Lawson – guitar
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar
  • Cindy Wiechmann – acoustic guitar, vocals, keyboards
  • Jeff “Stan” Fountain – bass
  • Glen “Archie” Gamble – drums

Special guests: Everyone on “Rock You”

The Original Helix

Chapter 7, “Buff’s Bar Blues”

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Bruce Arnold – drums
  • Ron Watson – guitar
  • Don Simmons – keyboards
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass

The Early Years

Chapters 8-11

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals on all except “Crazy Women” and “Billy Oxygen”
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar, lead vocals on “Crazy Women” and “Billy Oxygen”
  • Brian Doerner – drums
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

Special guests: Cindy Wiechmann and Cheryl Lescom – backing vocals on “You’re a Woman Now”, Cole G. Benjamin – keyboards on “Billy Oxygen”

The Early 80’s

Chapters 12-14

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Leo Niebudek – drums
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass (standing in for Mike Uzelac)
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

The Capitol Years

Chapters 15-22

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz – drums
  • Jeff “Stan” Fountain – bass (standing in for Mike Uzelac and Daryl Gray)
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

Special guest: Ray Lyell – vocals on “Wild in the Streets”

Studio songs

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals on all studio songs
  • Paul Hackman – guitar on all studio songs
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doener – guitar on all studio songs
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass on “Thinking It Over” and “I Could Never Leave”
  • Brian Doerner – drums on “Thinking It Over” and “I Could Never Leave”
  • Mike Uzelac – bass on “Women, Whiskey & Sin”
  • Leo Niebudek – drums on “Women, Whiskey & Sin”
  • Daryl Gray – bass on “Give It To You”
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz – drums on “Give It To You”