Orianthi

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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GALLERY: Alice Cooper vs. the Decepticons


In Getting More Tale #347.5: Days of Christmas Past, you may recall our good buddy Aaron sent me another Mystery Aaron Mail (M.A.M.) parcel.  It finally arrived, several days behind schedule, but safe and sound which is the main thing.  With Aaron’s encouraging “Give’r!” I tore into the packaging, to discover the treasure seen below.

Raise the Dead – Live From Wacken is Alice Cooper’s latest offering, one I had been excited to get!  One thing you have to credit Alice Cooper with is changing up his setlist tour after tour.  No two tours offer the same highlights, hits and surprises.  At a glance, I can see this 2 CD/1 Blu-ray set contains the following interesting choices:  “House of Fire” from  1989’s Trash, “Caffeine” from the recent Welcome 2 My Nightmare, the favourite “Department of Youth” from the original 1975 Nightmare, and oldies-but-goodies “Killer”, “Dwight Fry” and “Go To Hell”.  This is rounded out by numerous covers, perhaps from Alice’s soon-to-be-unleashed covers album?  “Break On Through” outta be good.

Finally this is Alice’s last release with Orianthi on guitar, who has since split to play with Richie Sambora.  I’m glad she has been captured live in concert in hi-def on Blu-ray.  Thank you, Aaron, for this gift!  The 2 CD format means that I can listen to it in the car, and the Blu-ray gives me Orianthi in 1080i hi-def, according to the specs!  There’s also a 20 minute interview and 5.1 surround mix.  Gonna be a rockin’ Christmas if this is any indication!

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This last set of pictures is a Christmas gift to myself, from myself!  I ordered this guy back on November 11, and he only just arrived today.  His name is Ratbat, and he is the Decepticon fuel auditor.  In the Marvel comics series, Ratbat emerged as a bureaucrat on Cybertron who eventually came to Earth and took leadership of the Decepticons,  a title he held for 11 issues of the series.  For this reason, and for the reason that he transforms into a cassette, he is always high on my collecting priority list.  I have a Masterpiece edition Soundwave figure, and I had five of his cassettes.  All but Ratbat.  Ratbat was only available with a special black Masterpiece Soundwave figure called Soundblaster.  Although I would love to, I can’t afford to buy the same toy over again in a different colour just to get Ratbat.  So I figured I’d never get one.

My buddy Jason then suggested I check out some the sellers on eBay, selling KO (knock-off) Ratbat figures.  Knock-off figures are exactly what the sound like.  Somebody copied the mold and made their own figures.  Some are shit quality.  Some are much better.  Ratbat is one of the figures.  There are two flaws in the paint of the cassette, but I’ve bought official Hasbro and Takara items new out of the package with similar flaws, so I can’t that’s particularly troublesome.  There was also a teeny tiny extra bit of plastic in the jetpack assembly that I had to lightly shave down in order to transform nice and straight.  Again, this can happen with a KO toy, but it can also happen with official Hasbro toys too.  Ratbat (KO) came with no box, but did come with a microcassette case, and only cost me $20 plus shipping from China.  MP13B Masterpiece Soundblaster, the official Takara release including Ratbat, is “on sale” right now at Big Bad Toy Store for $129.99, plus shipping.  I think I made a good choice.  Here’s Ratbat with Soundwave and all his cassette buddies!

REVIEW: Orianthi – Believe (II)

I’d like to give a shout-out to Tommy Morais, who requested this review!  Check out his Amazon Reviews, he is one of their top rated reviewers!

I first became aware of Oriantha when Alice Cooper hired her as his new lead guitarist, replacing Damon Johnson.  Doing my research, I saw that she had even worked with Steve Vai and Michael Jackson!  This meant, the lady could play!

Because I don’t do things small, I decided to pick up the Japanese import of Believe (II) to check out her skills.  The Japanese import contains 3 bonus tracks:  two versions of a Cream cover, “Sunshine of Your Love”, and a useless remix of “According To You”.

ORIANTHI – Believe (II) Japanese import with bonus tracks (2009)

I’m not really into this kind of pop rock anymore, but Orianthi does fill this more aggressive pop rock void that Avril used to occupy.  Believe (II) reminds me of that one sincerely good Avil album, the second one, in that it’s undoubtedly rock yet melodic and well recorded, not overproduced.

What separates this girl from the rest of them is that her chops on the guitar are absolutely stunning.  Each song has a solo spot, well composed, and expertly executed.  This girl is a shredder who happens to play commercial pop rock.  Well, OK.  I can dig it.

The best tracks to me seem to the be chosen singles:  “According to You”, “Shut Up and Kiss Me”, and the instrumental “Highly Strung”, featuring Oriantha trading licks with Vai.  There’s also a decent version of “Missing You” by John Waite, which, I guess, I like better than the original, since I really don’t like John Waite.

The songs are written by the usual suspects, song doctors new and old including Desmond Child.  There are a couple tracks though that are not messed with by song doctors, and I hope that Orianthi is moving more in that direction in the future.

Orianthi has a good but not an especially different sounding voice from all the other girls rocking it out there these days.  Her range is good, she has power, just not a particularly unique sound or style.  I also can’t help but think she’s trying to sing “American”.

I think it’s a good enough album for this stage in her career, and I think she is going to grow by leaps and bounds, touring the world with Alice Cooper.  But before Orianthi makes another solo album, I hope she has the opportunity to record with Cooper.

For Believe (II): 3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)

Alright folks, dig in, I plan to get as detailed as possible as to the different bonus tracks and versions.  Enjoy.

I make a point of trying to collect all the different bonus tracks for an album, if I really like it.  For this review, we’ll be taking a look at the contents of the Classic Rock Fan Pack edition, the Canadian retail version, the Best Buy version, the iTunes version, and the vinyl.

 

ALICE COOPER – Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)

At long last, we have Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Yes, it really does harken back to the Alice Cooper sound of old. Yes, you can definitely tell when members of the original band are involved. Yes, these songs are very diverse.

In fact Alice’s sounds from many eras are revisited: disco Alice, rocker Alice, campy showtunes Alice, a slight nod and a wink to the stone ages and some Zappa-like inspiration. There’s even surf-rock in “Ghouls Gone Wild”, and elsewhere, a Kip Winger cameo. Unfortunately there also a bit of a modern touch: an unfortunate cameo by the talentless Kesha.

Regardless, Alice and Ezrin (let’s give credit where credit is due, Ezrin is the George Martin of this album) have created here a modern masterpiece, a great record to cap Alice’s modern career with one more undenialble winner. Welcome 2 My Nightmare contains a few musical interludes and clues from the first Nightmare, particurly “Steven”, but it’s mostly it’s own beast. It is surprisingly listener-friendly, very melodic and 70’s sounding with plenty of instrumentation and production value.

The prime influence here seems to be sounds of the past, and that’s fine with me. Alice knows what he’s doing and sneers his way through these snappy numbers. Everything builds and changes and builds again, each song is constructed masterfully. Alice and Ezrin have a clear plot in mind. Don’t forget these are the guys who did “Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets” back in 1972.

My favourite tune: The Tom Waits-ish “The Last Man on Earth”, a 1930’s sounding showtune-esque classic, along the lines of Alice’s previous song “Crazy Little Child” from Muscle of Love.

Second favourite: “The Underture”, which reprises the greatest musical anthems from both Nightmare albums in one grandios outro.

One really important thing I want to mention: This is the most fun Alice Cooper has been in while. Welcome 2 has humour and the musical chops to make the album a fun listen from start to back. Whether you like albums such as Brutal Planet or Along Came A Spider is not really the issue.  They’re just not albums to make you chuckle along while you snap your fingers. Welcome 2 My Nightmare, like the original Nightmare from 1975, is a lot more fun.

And now, for the collectors, a word about bonus tracks and the versions you’ll find them on.  Clickity-click for bigger pictures.

   

On the LP you will find the exclusive bonus track called “Flatline”.  I will say though, this Cooper platter really is one to own on vinyl. The sounds are rich and deep. The packaging is gorgeous, gatefold sleeve and nice big booket and all.

“Flatline” is a little staggering, though. Alice did not write it and does not perform on it.  It should best be considered a Bob Ezrin construction.  It consists of the sound of a hospital heart monitor beeping and flatlining for 3 minutes and 30 seconds, with electronic sounds and music in the background. Yet if you are into the concept of concept albums, this song might be a must-own.  It seems to conclusively answer the disposition of the album’s main character. His fate, left somewhat ambiguous in the final vocal song, “I Gotta Get Out Of Here”, is sealed.

(Oh!  And I love that titles such as “I Gotta Get Out Of Here” refer back to earlier Alice nightmare-esque characters such as Dwight Fry.)

The Canadian standard retail edition is full of excellent bonus tracks.  You get three live tunes, all recently performed:  “Poison”, “The Black Widow”, and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” are from the Download Festival.

“Under The Bed”, is also on the Canadian edition, and it is a studio original.  It is an excellent song that would have fit seamlessly right near the start of the story, lyrically and musically. Great song. Don’t know why it’s not in the main body of the album.

While collecting online, I found tracklistings that seemed to indicate that the US Best Buy edition had different bonus tracks.  It does not.  I mistakenly purchased it myself.  The only difference between it and the Canadian edition is a Best Buy sticker on the wrapper, advertizing the bonus tracks.  Therefore US readers, you can get these valuable extra songs at Best Buy.

iTunes, of course, has its own bonus tracks, forcing me to buy the album again.  One is the video for “I’ll Bite Your Face Off”, a good performance-style video.  Its only flaw is that it was filmed before the lovely Orianthi joined the band.

iTunes also has two exclusive studio songs.  “A Bad Situation” sees Alice singing in an exagerrated Elvis Presley type-voice, but the song is a pretty straightforward rock track.  According to Alice, a bad situation would be the nightmare of working 9-5 every day in the same day job.  That’s how this song would have fit into the concept of Nightmare.

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” is a cover of The Animals classic, recorded specifically to be a bonus tracks, also on the iTunes version.

ITunes has a 25 minute audio dialogue with Alice Cooper as a final bonus track.  This worthwhile listen has Alice discussing all the songs, their makings, and meanings.  Very cool bonus feature.

Lastly, we have the Classic Rock Fan Pack.  Click to embiggen.

             

The Fan Pack was a pain in the ass to buy and I do not at all recommend the experience to anyone.  It was something like a month late and they were impossible to communicate with.

But you get one of those cool 132 page full colour magazines, including interviews with everybody from Ezrin to Kip Winger to Kane Roberts.  You get posters.  You get a cutout Alice Cooper mask (yippee?).  You get a little metal School’s Out badge.  (No idea why not a Nightmare badge but oh well.)  And lastly, Alice Cooper face paint, that will no doubt be cracked and dried when you open it.

For the album:

5/5 stars