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REVIEW: Smoke on the Water – A Tribute – Various Artists (1994 cassette)

SMOKE ON THE WATER – A Tribute (1994 Shrapnel cassette – tribute to Deep Purple)

This baby can be expensive to acquire on CD, so let’s give ye olde cassette tape a spin.  It’s not been played in over 20 years.  This review is with fresh ears.

The backing band on this tribute to Deep Purple consists of:  Deen Castronovo (Hardline/Journey – drums), Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen – keys), Todd Jenson (Hardline/David Lee Roth – bass) and Russ Parish (Fight/Steel Panther – rhythm guitar).  Each track has a featured singer and lead soloist.  Let’s dig in.

First up:  “Speed King” by Yngwie J. Malmsteen with Kelly Keeling on vocals.  Keeling is on the sandpapery side of Joe Lynn Turner here, while Yngwie gets to jizz fanboy style all over the fretboard.  The star might actually be Jens Johansson’s keyboards but this is an unfortunately very cheesy version of “Speed King”.  Woah, Keeling just nailed an Ian Gillan scream!  Nice.

Kip Winger and Tony MacAlpine team up for “Space Truckin'”.  Tony goes his own way with the solos, innovating as he goes.  This is…pleasant?  There’s some kind of spark that’s missing, and when you’re playing “Space Truckin'” you need to put accelerant in the tank or you’ll fall flat.  Studio sterility has replaced spontaneity.

You gotta hope Glenn Hughes and John Norum can shock some life into “Stormbringer”.  They can!  Of the guitarists so far, John Norum (Europe) is the one who has the right feel for Deep Purple.  Glenn’s great, but doesn’t get to play bass, and here’s part of the problem.  You can hear that the backing band recorded the songs and then the featured players recorded their parts over them.  In a perfect world you’d have Glenn plotting the way on bass too, gelling with the backing band in a united groove.  That can’t happen when you record this way.

One guy who manages to inject his song with personality is Richie Kotzen.  He’s got the funky “Rat Bat Blue” and is granted both the lead vocals and guitars.  Yngwie returns on “Lazy” and he’s teamed with former Deep Purple singer and his own former bandmate, Joe Lynn Turner!  Yngwie plays appropriately on this strong but fairly bland track.  And that’s the cue to flip the tape over.

Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) gets the vocal and guitar honours on “Maybe I’m a Leo”, which frankly is too slow and lacks groove.  Paul’s vocals, however, absolutely nail Gillan’s on the original.  Things turn stale quickly when it’s time for “Smoke on the Water”.  Russ Parish takes the guitar slot while Robert Mason (Lynch Mob/Warrant) sings.  Far more interesting is “Fireball” with Don Dokken and his future Dokken bandmate Reb Beach.  Don sounds a bit overwhelmed by the demanding song, but hits all the requisite notes.  The brilliant Jeff Scott Soto takes the driver’s seat on Mk I’s “Hush”.  This veteran vocalist (Yngwie/Journey/man more) makes mincemeat of your ears, absolutely killing it.  Soto is absolutely the vocal star on this album (one that includes Glenn Hughes)!  The final song goes to Tony Harnell (TNT) and Vinnie Moore (UFO).  They busy-up “Woman From Tokyo” a bit too much with unnecessary fills, but Moore does some really cool picking during the quiet section.

Though interesting, Smoke on the Water is far from an essential addition to your Purple collection.  There are already so many tributes out there.  The most interesting was T.M. Stevens’ Black Night which re-interpreted Deep Purple according to his New York sensibilities.  He had Joe Lynn Turner, Vinnie Moore and Richie Kotzen on his album too!  Then there is the more recent Re-Machined, featuring Iron Maiden, Metallica, and more Glenn Hughes.  Considering the CD prices these days, place Smoke on the Water fairly low on your priority lists.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 Japanese import)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Cynjas Japanese import CD)

So you got the new Whitesnake.  Think you got all the songs just because you got the deluxe version on CD or iTunes?  Naw!  Think again!  Once again, it’s Japan with the hardest to find bonus tracks.

To be fair, it’s a give and take.  While Japan often gets their own exclusive songs, they also miss out on others.  In North America, we got a deluxe edition with “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong”, “If I Can’t Have You”, and three remixes of album tracks.  The Japanese CD has none of those, but instead has its own exclusive remix.

The ballad “After All” is surely one of the highlights on Flesh & Blood.  As a simple, fairly unadorned acoustic love song, it’s right in the wheelhouse of more recent “unzipped” ‘Snake.  Well, the Japanese bonus remix is even more stripped down.  The “Unzipped” mix is the same recording, just with less stuff in the mix — no electric guitars, no keyboards.  An insignificant difference?  Absolutely.  But with an acoustic song this fucking good, you may enjoy the purity of the unembellished version.  Up to you really, but if you’re the kind of collector that needs “all the tracks”, then you do need this, don’t you?

“I don’t care about bonus tracks,” you say.  “Just tell me if the album is any good!”

Check out our track by track review for full details, but in short:  fuck yes!

Flesh & Blood is being described by enthusiastic fans as “the best album since Slip of the Tongue.  They are probably correct in that declaration.  It’s stunningly good:  diverse, well written and well played.  It draws from a broader palette of sound than many of the past albums, and even dips back into the 1970s on “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong” (which isn’t on the Japanese CD).  There are no songs to skip through, and while not all are equally strong, none suck.  It has a high ratio of songs that could become future classics, like “Gonna Be Alright”, “Good To See You Again”, and “Sands of Time”.  So yes, to answer your questions, it’s a bloody good album no matter what version you can afford.

The domestic CD is the best buy for its songs-per-dollar value (18 tracks on the deluxe), over the Japanese (14 tracks).  Rating this purely as an album with its bonus track, it’s still a solid:

4.5/5 stars.  Could be the album of the year.

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 deluxe)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Frontiers CD/DVD deluxe edition)

What’s the year again?  You’ll want to check, because David Coverdale just released the best Whitesnake album since the 1980s.  Swollen with fresh song ideas, this ‘Snake has more bite.  Maybe it’s the unleashing of Reb Beach or the new contributions of Joel Hoekstra.  Whatever the cause, Flesh & Blood is sheer nirvana for fans of classic hard rock and technical guitar playing.  The album is evidence that this could be the best lineup David’s had since Steve Vai.  For guitar geeks, there are lead break credits for each song, a-la Judas Priest.

“Good to See You Again” is an ideal opener and you could hear it working that way live.  David then assures you it’s “Gonna Be Alright”, on a slick number with a darker vibe and major hooks — almost more 90s Queensryche than Whitesnake, but with a good time in mind.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the lead single, shows that David isn’t afraid to get sleazy even in his senior years.  It’s good time party rock, expertly delivered.  A clear choice for single.

Going heavy, “Hey You (You Make Me Rock)” grooves like the ‘Snake you remember.  The soloing here will make you wet your pants.  “But it’s not John Sykes!” scream the unbelievers.  Well, check out “Always & Forever” for a hint of that Thin Lizzy regality.  It’ll bring you back to the days of Jailbreak but with David instead of Phillip.  Then comes the first ballad: “When I Think of You (Color Me Blue)”  Reminiscent of “The Deeper the Love”?  There are many who love ballads — more power to ’em!  This is a good one.  Things get greasier on “Trouble is Your Middle Name”.  Pedal to the metal — not sure where David is getting the fuel from, but it’s potent.

Halfway through now, it’s the title track “Flesh & Blood” sounding a lot like Slip of the Tongue era ‘Snake.  Think something like “Slow Poke Music”.  It leads perfectly into “Well I Never”, soulful but dark and heavy.  Amazing stuff.  Another ballad, “Heart of Stone”, brings to mind the glory of Coverdale-Page.  This is heavy stuff for a ballad, loaded with integrity and delivered expertly by the master.  Then it’s the bluesy boogie of “Get Up”, a song clearly designed to get asses shaking, and air guitars a-picking.  One more ballad:  “After All” is pleasantly acoustic, and an
appropriate respite from electric shreddery.

The final song of the main 13 track songlist is an epic:  “Sands of Time”.  David explored Arabic sounds before on “Judgement Day”, and this is another foray into the exotic.  Something about those scales automatically make a song huge in scope.  “Sands of Time” is really impressive, and Reb & Joel compliment it with the perfect solos.

There are two bonus tracks on the deluxe CD.  The first is a callback to early Whitesnake.  “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong” sounds like the kind of blues David was playing in the 1970s.  It’s sheer delight hearing him revert to pure bluesy ‘Snake.  Lastly it’s “If I Can’t Have You”, a good if unremarkable song after all this epic madness.

Is that all?  Of course not; David Coverdale is known for giving value to the fans.  There’s a DVD with different mixes and videos too.  This disc sounds huge.  The bass — woah!  First:  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the video “classic Jag” version.  Because David is driving the Jaguar from “Here I Go Again”, obviously.  It’s Whitesnake on a small stage, in a club, up close and personal.  Unsurprisingly the “Club Mix” of the same is just the video without the Jag.

Three remixes are presented in hi-res.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me” is the “video mix”; nice to have a clean audio version of that.  To hear the differences will require further investigation (clapping at the end aside).  An impressive “X-tended mix” of “Gonna Be Alright” is pretty cool.  Last is a “radio mix” of “Sands of Time”, which is strangely longer than the album version.  Unusual for a radio mix.  All the remixes are slightly longer.

Japanese customers got one exclusive bonus track, an “Unzipped” mix of “After All”.  It doesn’t have any of the other bonuses.  That CD is in the mail and when it arrives we’ll review it too.

Finally, the DVD contains a 15 minute “behind the scenes” of the making of the album.  David reveals that The Purple Album was intended to be his last.  The passion returned and he followed it.  Sounds like beautiful women are still inspiring to him.  As far as the album goes, you’ll notice the background vocals are quite thick.  David says that all the Whitesnake members…all but Tommy Aldridge anyway…are capable lead vocalists in their own right.  All six band members get their chance to speak.

This is an album you’ll be enjoying all summer.  Dig it.

4.5/5 stars

VHS Archives #21: Winger on MuchWest (1990)

Kip Winger and Reb Beach were on MuchWest with Dixie Dregs fan Terry David Mulligan to talk about their second album In The Heart of the Young.  It’s kind of sad, really.  Kip says that Winger are pretty close to being a headlining band, not foreseeing the turning tide of the 1990s.

Check out this interview on location in lovely Vancouver.

REVIEW: Whitesnake – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition box set)

WHITESNAKE – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition Rhino box set)

Back when I reviewed the original “Deluxe” edition of Whitesnake’s 1987, I said, “Great album, but this reissue could have been so much better.”  And so here we are.

Let’s get right down to it.  You already know the story of Whitesnake 1987 or you wouldn’t be here.

The main feature is the 2017 remaster of 1987, which actually sounds pretty great.  In this day and age, if you’re seeking the warmth of a vintage vinyl experience, you can go and have that experience for far less money than this box set costs.  For a compact disc, this might be as good as we’ve gotten so far.  If you look at the Audacity waveforms below, you can see the 2017 remaster (top) has roughly the same levels as a previous one from Whitesnake Gold.

I’m still hanging on to my original UK version of 1987, but for compact disc, this is probably it.


David Coverdale wanted to adapt Whitesnake to the 1980s with this album, and this lineup with John Sykes, Neil Murray, and new drummer Aynsley Dunbar was certainly able to deliver.  The album was always loud, especially compared to their 70s output.  Sykes provided the squeals that the kids wanted.  David was back in top voice.  The album they delivered is legendary for how it changed Whitesnake’s fortunes.

The running order on this box set is not the original UK or US, but the combined running order as used on the previous 20th anniversary edition.

“Still of the Night” blows the doors in, a tornado in the night, mighty and sexy too.  Whitesnake had never been this aggressive before, but “Give Me All Your Love” lulls the listener back to something easier to digest on first listen.  “Give Me All Your Love” was a successful single because it’s melodic pop rock with guitars.  But then the band scorch again with “Bad Boys”, top speed right into your daughter’s headphones!  Whether it was Aynsley Dunbar or just the songs that they wrote, the pace is high gear.

“Is This Love”, a song that David was writing with Tina Turner in mind, was another massive hit.   John Kolodner (John Kolodner) insisted that they keep it for themselves, and he was right as he often was.  For a big 80s ballad, “Is This Love” really was perfect.  It tends to work better in a stripped back arrangement, since the original is so specifically tailored to that era.  Still, Sykes’ solo on it has to be one of his best.

Speaking of hits, “Here I Go Again” is the one that Sykes didn’t want to do, and look what happened.  That humble pie probably tasted no good to Sykes when he found himself fired by Coverdale after the album was completed.  His replacement, Adrian Vandenberg (Vandenberg) actually played the guitar solo, so dissatisfied was Coverdale with the one Sykes produced.  “Here I Go Again” was of course a minor hit from Saints & Sinners, but deserving of a second shot in America with production more suited to their tastes.  Don Airey on keyboards; though Whitesnake did without an official keyboardist this time.

“Straight For the Heart” is a great also-ran that perhaps could have been another single if they kept trottin’ them out instead of stopping at four.  High speed but with incredible hooks, it’s impossible not to like.  “Looking For Love” is the second ballad, but actually originally unreleased in the US.  It’s toned down from the style of “Is This Love”, and Neil Murray’s bass is pronounced.  He was a huge part of the groove on this album, if you really settle in and listen to the rhythm section.  His bass has a certain “bop” to it.  “Children of the Night” returns the tempo to allegro and the lyrics to dirty.  I can’t imagine too many fathers of the 80s wanted their daughters to go to the Whitesnake concert if they heard David cooing, “Don’t run for cover, I’m gonna show you what I’ve learned, just come a little closer, come on an’ get your fingers burned.” Another UK exclusive, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” cools it down slightly, but that Sykes riff is hot like a torch!

“Crying in the Rain” is held back to second-last in this running order, even though it opened the US album.  Another re-recording, “Crying in the Rain” was suggested by Kolodner because he knew Sykes could give it that massive blues rock sound that it had in the live setting.  Again, he was right.  “Crying in the Rain” is massive — perhaps the most sheerly heavy piece of rock that Whitesnake ever dug up.  Finally the CD closes with the last ballad, “Don’t Turn Away”, which closed the US version.  It’s a fine song indeed, and a really good vibe on which to end Whitesnake 1987.


The second CD in this set is called Snakeskin Boots:  Live on Tour 1987-1988.  Presumably, these are recordings from throughout the tour, assembled into a CD-length running order.  The “boots” in the title implies bootleg quality, but it certainly sounds better than that.  Soundboards maybe?

The studio lineup of Whitesnake dissolved and David got Vandenberg in, followed by Vivian Campbell (Dio) and the rhythm section of Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne).  This new lineup was not based in the whiskey blues of the old band(s), but in the flashy stylings of the 1980s.  Vivian and Vandenberg were both capable of shredding your brain.  That’s generally how they do it on these recordings.  Opening with “Bad Boys”, the manic tempo is maintained while the guitars reach for the stratosphere.

Sounds like it was a hell of a show, rolling into the groove of “Slide it In” and “Slow An’ Easy”, and the good news is the 1987 band can play the 1984 songs too.  David Coverdale is the ringmaster, the veteran, confident and in prime voice.  All the songs are from either 1987 or Slide it In, with only one exception:  the slow blues “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” from the original 1978 Snakebite EP.  Sounds like Vivian Campbell accompanying David on this slow, classy blues.  No Deep Purple in the set; but my old pal Rob Vuckovich once said he went to the Toronto show on this tour bearing a flag that said “PLAY PURPLE”.  He also claimed David acknowledged it by saying, “We’re not playing any of that!”

“Here I Go Again” comes early on the CD, fourth in line, and it’s excellent.  “Guilty of Love” is a nice surprise, and “Love Ain’t No Stranger” is more than welcome at the party.  “Is This Love” is well received, and works well in the live setting without too much extra production.  Adrian can’t top the Sykes solo, though he gets within very close range.  Vivian and Adrian get a feature solo with a keyboard backdrop, and it’s quite good — more like an instrumental than just a solo.  It leads into a brutally heavy “Crying in the Rain”; Tommy Aldridge literally beats the shit out of it!  The CD closes on “Give Me All Your Love” with David substituting the word “baby” in the opening line with “Tawny”!

There’s little question.  For most fans, the major draw of this box set will be this live CD.  If that is you, you will not be disappointed by Snakeskin Boots.


Disc three in this monolith of a box set is the 87 Evolutions.  This is an interesting concept but not one that you will be craving to have a listen regularly.  This disc is intended for deeper study.  These tracks are the album’s songs in various stage of demoing.  “Still of the Night” for example starts as a living room demo, with David slapping his knees for drums, and only the most basic of lyrics.  Then this demo fades seamlessly into a more advanced full band arrangement, with the lyrics still unfinished.  There’s a funky middle solo section here that is more jam than song, but a blast to hear.

That is the kind of thing you can expect to hear on 87 Evolutions.  No need to spoil what you should enjoy discovering yourself.  This is for the hardcore of hardcore fans, those that want every squeal that ever came from Sykes’ axe.  You are gonna get it.  Incidentally, I think I prefer David’s original, rough slow bluesy version of “Give Me All Your Love” to the glossy pop song it became.

This disc ends with a “Ruff Mix” of the completed “Crying in the Rain” from Little Mountain studios.  All the parts are in place, the mix just needed that modern bombast that David was aiming for.


The fourth and final CD, 87 Versions, is a collection of alternate remixes released on various singles, and brand new remixes as well.  These are really cool bonuses.  The 2017 mix of “Still of the Night” has a really dry sound, allowing you to really hear the spaces between the instruments.  A lot of these remixes have a different balance of instruments, so you will hear different things yourself.  There are two remixes of “Give Me All Your Love” on this CD:  the 2017 with the original Sykes solo, and the highly coveted alternate with “new” solo by Vivian Campbell.  There are also two remixes of “Here I Go Again”, including the old “Radio Mix” with a completely different group of musicians and a much more pop arrangement.

Among these remixes is something called the 1987 Versions:  Japan Mini-Album, proving that Japan always get the best stuff.  This apparent EP contains the B-sides and bonus tracks that you couldn’t get on the album.  “Standing in the Shadows” was another song re-recorded for 1987, though left as a B-side.  “Looking For Love” and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” are also included, since back then you could only get them in the UK.  “Need Your Love So Bad” was a previous Whitesnake B-side, remixed in 1987 for a new B-side!  It’s an absolutely stunning ballad, quiet with only keyboard accompaniment.

With all these tracks included, pretty much every track associated with the 1987 album and singles is covered.


Whitesnake: The Videos is the fifth disc, a DVD.  It’s really just an add-on, nothing substantial (like a 5.1 mix).  First on the menu:  “More Fourplay”, the classic MTV videos that set the world on fire in 1987.  Some behind the scenes footage too.  MTV was a huge part of this band’s success (hopefully Tawny gets paid a royalty from this reissue?).  These glossy videos are…well, they didn’t age as well as the album did.  Why does Rudy always lick his bass?  You just gotta laugh at “Here I Go Again”; the pretentious image of the three guys (Viv, Adrian, Rudy) playing keyboards passionately side by side…utterly silly.  But yet iconic.  “Is This Love” has the band playing on evening rooftops, Rudy wielding a double-neck bass.  Why?  Doesn’t matter; in 1987 we thought it was awesome.  “Give Me All Your Love” is a notable video, being a “live on stage” type, but also with the brand new guitar solo cut by Vivian.  For his solo, Viv chose to play on the wang bar a bit too much, but at least David let him do one.  It remains Vivian’s only studio appearance with Whitesnake, ever.  Unannounced but cool just the same, “Love Ain’t No Stranger” (from Slide It In) is used in whole as the end credit song for the “More Fourplay” segment.

Next up is a 28 minute documentary about the making of the album.  David has clear recollections and is always a delight to listen to. (Some vintage Coverdale interview footage is actually from a MuchMusic piece with Denise Donlon.) Interestingly, he claims that the “Still of the Night” riff is one that he found in his mother’s attic, that he wrote back in the tail of Deep Purple.  “Still of the Night” could have been a Purple song, but it took John Sykes to make it what it became.  We then move on to the assembly of the touring lineup, dubbed the “United Nations of Rock”.  Tommy and Rudy are also interviewed in vintage clips, with Tommy proudly proclaiming that they want to bring musicality back to rock and roll.

The “Purplesnake Video Jam” (whut?) video of “Here I Go Again” is basically a brand new music video using alternate footage from the time.  The mix is similar to the old single mix, but spruced up.  Finally there is the “’87 Tour Bootleg”, and woah!  It’s pro-shot multi-camera footage.  You only get half of “Crying in the Rain”, and all of “Still of the Night”.  Why not more?  Is this a tease for some kind of upcoming DVD?  The footage reveals a band of their time, but a good band.  Not the best Whitesnake lineup ever (Sykes gets that), but a good lineup with something special together.  They were tight, they could all play their nuts off, and present a high energy 80s stageshow, especially Rudy.  By the end of “Still of the Night”, David is actually dodging panties being thrown at his head.  I kid you not.


As per usual, any box set worth its own respect is packed with added stuff usually made of paper.  In this case, a nice hard cover booklet, a smaller softcover lyric book, and a poster.  Posters have to be the biggest waste of money in a set like this.  Who’s going to hang it?  I’m probably never even to unfold mine once.

Now that you have all the details, you should be able to decide if this box set needs to be in your collection.  It needed to be in mine.  And guess what — Slide it In is next!

5/5 stars

#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.

 

REVIEW: Winger – The Very Best Of (2001)

WINGER – The Very Best Of (2001 Atlantic/Rhino)

Winger broke up in ’94, but reunited in 2001.  Part of the reunion entailed new music.  Before they finally released a new album (Winger IV), they tested the waters with one new song on The Very Best of Winger.  Yes indeed, you had to buy a “greatest hits” to get the new song.  At least Winger also gave you a Japanese bonus track for your money too.

New tune “On the Inside” was written for Pull (their third album and last before breakup) but recorded for Very Best Of.  It’s a chunky, heavy tune with splashes of anthemic keyboard in the chorus.  It really underlines that Winger could write and play with integrity when they wanted to.  Reb Beach’s solo is unorthodox and outside the box.  “Hell to Pay” is listed as an outtake, but it was actually released as a Japanese bonus track to Pull.  Stuff like this saves collectors for shelling out mucho dinero for a Japanese import.  Good sassy tune, and listen for that scorching outro.

Pull was a record that never got a shot, so it’s OK that the first chunk of tunes are from that album.  It deserved a second chance.  These are standout songs:  “Blind Revolution Mad” smokes white hot, and with depth.  “Down Incognito” has a bright, memorable chorus contrasted with groovy verses.  90s-style riffing worked perfectly on the track “Junkyard Dog”, a seven-minute thrill ride through different textures.  Winger were not playing it simple.  Even their ballads from that era have more heft.  “Spell I’m Under” has edge under those layered melodies.  Few songs are as starkly lovely as “Who’s the One”.

The Very Best of Winger takes a dive after the Pull material.  The CD is in reverse chronological order, which almost never works.  Yes, it highlights the most current sounding music, but at the cost of consistency.  Winger II: In the Heart of the Young was, let’s be honest, not good.  The ballads were sappier and the rockers too cheesy.  Only “Rainbow in the Rose” really fits on this set.  Past the dreck, the four singles from album #1 are included.  This means the CD at least ends on an up, though the ballad “Headed for a Heartbreak” is a bit anti-climatic.

Go for The Very Best of Winger if:

a) you want to check this band out, or

b) you want the rarities.

Your needs might be met by just buying Pull.

3.5/5 stars

#662: Wingers of Destiny

DOUBLE FEATURE! Check out Deke’s Winger story at Stick It In Your Ear!

GETTING MORE TALE #662:  Wingers of Destiny

A highschool guy named Rob Petersen recommended Winger to me. Rob was one of the only kids with long hair. I was so jealous of him. He had the Rick Allen curls and everything. Girls thought he was cute. I thought maybe some of his cool could rub off on me. Luckily I sat next to him in Mr. Lightfoot’s history class.

The year was 1989 and the easiest way for me to check out new bands was via the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic.

I recorded the music video for “Seventeen”, which was OK, but didn’t particularly stand out.  Kip Winger’s abs did.  Towards the end of the video, he did this weird thrusty-dance with his bass.  This is memorable to me because the tape that “Seventeen” was on, was also used for a school video project.  I made a music video for “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison with friends, for a school award.  I recorded my copy on the same tape as “Seventeen” — immediately after it, actually.  When we presented the video to the film teacher, she caught the tail end of “Seventeen”, and Kip’s thrust.  “Oh,” I heard her comment, and I sensed it was more disgust than titillation.

Kip Winger mid-thrust

Despite their image, Winger possessed a rare rock pedigree.  Classically trained bassist and singer Charles “Kip” Winger was fresh from Alice Cooper’s band, as was keyboardist Paul Taylor.  Kip also performed on Twisted Sister’s Love is for Suckers LP in 1987, with future bandmate Reb Beach.  Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein was an alumnus of Steve Morse’s Dixie Dregs.  Yet all these massive players went and made a commercial hard rock album with, let’s face it, pretty juvenile lyrics at times.

It’s hard not to be critical of Winger for this.  Knowing what these guys are capable of, the debut album Winger seems like pandering.  They did sneak in a few progressive hints, such as a string quartet on “Hungry”, but the impression was that they were just another hard rock band with big hair and candycane hooks.  They were underachieving, from a certain point of view.

Winger was in the batch of the first CDs I ever got, for Christmas of 1989.  This was based almost entirely on Rob Petersen’s raving.  Another reason I chose it was the “CD bonus track”!  One of the incentives for buying a CD player was to finally get songs that were only on the CD release.  I had mixed impressions.  The first “side” was decent but the second was a little filler-heavy.

I’m sad to admit this, but Winger’s version of “Purple Haze” was the first time I ever heard the song.  Ozzy’s version was the second.  Go ahead, judge me.

Winger could have taken it further on their second album.  In a way, they did:  progressive songs and complex rhythms stood alongside the pop rock tracks.  While they advanced in that regard, they took a step backwards in another.  Some songs were even dumber:  “Can’t Get Enough” for example, was a transparent re-write of “Seventeen”, and the ballads were dreck.  Worst of all was Kip’s very unnecessary rapping on “Baptized by Fire”.

Two songs, “Rainbow in the Rose” and “In the Heart of the Young” (the title track) were so far above and beyond the pack, they could have come from a different album.  These two epics drip of the kind of progressive rock you know these guys can play.  Yet they kept it radio accessible, somehow, even while Rod Morgenstein is playing rhythms my brain can barely compute.

While Winger II charted higher and sold as well as the first, 12 months later it was hopelessly outdated by the birth of grunge.  Winger then fell victim to two of the 90s greatest antiheroes, Beavis and Butt-Head.  A black Winger shirt was worn by nerd character Stewart, and the band were repeatedly mocked.  This eventually killed Winger off as a business.  Gigs dried up.  Fortunately for fans, Kip Winger and Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-Head recently had a make-up session. Even Kip admitted, “Winger was a band that was popular for some of the wrong reasons, man.”

The third album, Pull, is a reference to skeet shooting.  Kip knew that for all the chances they had, they may as well throw the album into the air and take shots at it.  “Pull!”

It was a lose-lose situation and both Winger and the public lost by Pull‘s commercial failure.  Keyboardist Paul Taylor had left, and so Pull features less of the instrument and a far heavier sound.  Taylor was eventually replaced by John Roth, a guitarist.  The message was pretty clear.  Pull featured some of Winger’s best tracks:  “Down Incognito”, “Blind Revolution Mad”, “Junkyard Dog”, and “Who’s the One”.  Had Pull come out in 1990 instead of 1993, things would have gone very differently.  Instead, Winger broke up.

The happy news is that like many bands, Winger reunited (the John Roth lineup occasionally with Paul Taylor as a fifth member), and started putting out albums again.  Good ones, too.  Their last Better Days Comin’ is pretty great.

As further proof of Winger’s greatness, Reb Beach went from there to Alice Cooper, completing the circle.  Winger, after all, was originally founded by two ex-Cooper players.  He was then picked to replace George Lynch in Dokken.  And Kip?  His 30 minute symphony “Ghosts” should speak for itself.

Those who are curious but sceptical should check out Winger’s Pull, and the albums that followed.  Go ahead and wing it!

REVIEW: Winger – II – In the Heart of the Young (1990)

Part II of a Winger DOUBLE SHOT.

WINGER – II – In the Heart of the Young (1990 Atlantic)

Another awful album cover; another Winger album!  The ambitious follow-up, still sonically mutilated by producer Beau Hill, was several steps forward and a few steps backwards at the same time.  The year was 1990, and while most bands were starting to toughen things up and go a little heavier, Winger turned on the tap marked “syrup”.

Truly awful is “Can’t Get Enuff”, which Winger admitted took about five minutes to write, when he decided they needed to “make a video about sex”.  Because that’s never been done before.  Nor has a song called “Can’t Get Enough” (spelled correctly).  There is nothing new or necessary here; the talented band are neutered by programmed rhythms and cheesey, generic lyrics.  Not good enuff, although the second tune “Loosen Up” is better.  There could have been some rock and roll groove with “Loosen Up”, but the plastic and thin production removes its teeth.

Keyboardist Paul Taylor, who left the band after this tour, wrote the ballad “Miles Away” by himself and it hits all the bases that a power ballad needed to hit:  Big chorus, sad keyboards, and sappy lyrics!  “Miles Away” never quite felt like it fit on the album stylistically, but it’s actually a decent ballad.  It’s well written and arranged, but so pigeonholed to its time.

I hate synth horns, therefore I hate the single “Easy Come Easy Go”.  There is no substitute for real horns.  Keyboards are quicker and easier, but there is no comparison to the real thing.  Thankfully Winger did utilise real horns on “Rainbow in the Rose”, the first of two epics on the album.  Where “Can’t Get Enuff” was written in minutes, “Rainbow in the Rose” took a year to compose and arrange.  Its complexity is admirable, but a better producer could have given it the finish it deserved.  It’s a shame that with a complicated track like this, you can barely hear what drummer Rod Morgenstein is doing.  He’s one of the best in the world, but he’s buried under keyboards.  When you do listen to what he’s doing, it’s quite incredible work.  As for the song?  The chorus kills!

The second side was more of the same, including another epic at the end.  “In the Day We’ll Never See” was Winger’s attempt to write more serious lyrics, and that’s all well and good.  With a peppy riff and serious tone, it’s a good enough song for a car tape.  Reb Beach’s anthemic guitars are the highlight.  Another side; another ballad — “Under One Condition” sounds like a Warrant song, although that’s probably being unfair.  Warrant could never play like Winger.

Side two has a slew of annoying songs in the middle.  “Little Dirty Blonde” is as putrid as it sounds, but let’s face it folks, it’s not as bad as Kip Winger rapping.  The story goes that they wanted to get Tone Lōc to do his thing over “Baptized By Fire”, but that didn’t happen so Kip rapped it himself.  It’s as annoying as you expect.  One of the most impressive moments on the album is just a short instrumental break, sounding like speedily tapped guitar and bass, right before “Baptised By Fire”, but it’s over too soon before MC Kip takes over.  “You Are the Saint, I Am the Sinner” improves the outlook mildly, annoying title aside.  That leads to the final epic track, “In the Heart of the Young”.  Like “Rainbow in the Rose”, this is a more ambitious arrangement, done with skill and care.  Once again, focusing on Rod Morgenstein allows you to hear the complexities within.  The melodies are strong and Kip’s singing is under-appreciated.

Winger were on to something with the more progressive material.  Where they lost fans was with the dumbed down sounds of songs like “Can’t Get Enuff”, and they paid for it during the grunge onslaught down the road.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Winger – Winger (1988)

Part I of a Winger DOUBLE-SHOT.

WINGER – Winger (1988 Atlantic)

When Winger started out, they really played down to their audience.  Kip Winger was a classically trained musician.  Reb Beach was already a virtuoso guitar player whose talent can’t be under-stressed.  Keyboardist Paul Taylor had been around the block a number of times, including a stint with Kip Winger in the Alice Cooper band.  Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein is best respected for the rock fusion combo Dixie Dregs.  To hear guys with that background singing a song that goes, “She’s only seventeen, Dad says she’s too young but she’s old enough for me,”…well it’s just embarrassing.

I call bullshit, Mr. Clarence R. Winger.  He’d been studying classical music since the age of sixteen.  You know he could do better if he wasn’t trying to write cliche rock lyrics.

Musically, Winger (the debut album) isn’t half bad.  In fact it’s more than half good!  The opener “Madalaine” is cheesey rock, but it’s above the bar due to the intense guitar shreddery of Mr. Beach.  It was an era when it was OK to just get up there and tap tap tap away.  There is some musical integrity contained herein, but it’s not in the lyrical department.  The single “Hungry” begins with a string quartet (only 22 seconds’ worth), arranged by Kip.  See?  Flashes of the talent within, but cloaked behind a typical rock power ballad with one of the most overused titles in the genre.  Good songs both…but written down to a specific audience by guys who can do better.

Chief offender “Seventeen” wouldn’t be half bad if it had a different title; any title.  Call it “Buttermilk”.  Instead of:

“She’s only seventeen (seventeen),
I’ll show you love like you’ve never seen,
She’s only seventeen (seventeen),
Dad says she’s too young but she’s old enough for me.”

Change that to:

“I love my buttermilk (buttermilk),
Makes my pancakes as smooth as silk,
I love my buttermilk (buttermilk),
Mom says it’ll make me fat, stop that buttermilk!”

See?  My lyric had depth that theirs doesn’t.  It’s light and shade.  Yes, buttermilk will make your pancakes extra tasty, but what of the health costs?  I could go on and on about the brilliance of my lyric vs. Kip Winger’s.  But I won’t.  You get the point.

Shredding musicianship aside, “Seventeen” is not a good song.

“Without the Night” works well enough as a Bon Jovi-esque power ballad.  What should have been deleted, because they already had enough original material, is a cover of Jimi’s “Purple Haze”.  This is dreadful, overplayed, oversexed, with the only saving grace being a guitar battle with Reb Beach on one side and Dweezil Zappa on the other.  Two monster players going at it is right on.  Kip Winger “ooh ahh-ing” all over “Purple Haze” is blech.  Just focus on Reb and Dweezil, and try your best to ignore Clarence.

The original LP had a side break here, and I think that’s a good idea.  I need to take a moment to get some fresh air.  Something stinks in here….

“State of Emergency” has a little progressive complexity to it, some chops and lyrics that are not about seventeen year old girls, so that is good.  “Time to Surrender” shreds impressively over a slow Ratt-like riff.  All considered, “Time to Surrender” is one of the strongest tracks on the album.  Sadly, “Poison Angel” is the worst.  This one could have been dropped.  “Hangin’ On” is good enough, again boasting some impressive playing from Reb Beach.  The key to listening to Winger is to focus on the instrumentation.

The most impressive track is the ballad “Headed for a Heartbreak”.  Cheesey, yes.  But listen for a moment, to the arrangement, and to the playing.  It’s a hit power ballad, yes…but there are progressive complexities to the arrangement.  Listen to Rod Morgenstein’s drumming.  His patterns are not simple rock cliches.  Too bad it’s so hard to hear what he’s doing.  Winger has a brittle production, thanks to schlock-meister Beau Hill, ruiner of many an album.  Over-processing and harsh gating on Rod’s drum sound gives the album a plastic feel.  Some tracks such as “State of Emergency” should have more heft, but it is lost.  “Time to Surrender” needs less gloss.  The album has hardly any bass, and the thing about that is that Kip Winger is actually a pretty good bassist (not to mention singer).

The CD only bonus track (oh 1988, I miss you so) is a short rocker called “Higher and Higher”.  It’s a better track than the similar-paced “Poison Angel” and should have swapped places with it.  There’s also one other interesting little track to be found.  Another short rocker called “Out for the Count” made an appearance on the soundtrack to Karate Kid III.  I picked that up at a Zellers store, I think, on a clearance sale around 1992.  It was an odd find, but being a collector I grabbed it for the one track.  (Also on the CD is “48 Hours” by a band called PBF, better known as Pretty Boy Floyd!)  Swap “Out for the Count” for “Purple Haze”, and the Winger album would have been far stronger.

It’s really hard to boil this down to a simple number rating.  I’ve come up with an equation based on your valuing of playing and songcraft,

Where x = a scale from 0-5 on how much you value shredding,

and y = a scale from 0-5 on your importance of song craft,

Then the rating for this album is:

= 3 + (x/4) – (y/4) / 5 stars

WINGER