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!
“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.
Newer 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….
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.
Out 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….
First 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.
The 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.
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.
This product is…