There was a time in the early ’70s, between the Rolling Stones at their peak and the dawn of punk, that the Alice Cooper Group was the most threatening, anti-establishment band around. A trashy, long-haired rock & roll outfit that scared the hell out of parents with their look and violent stage show. In the process of creating the genre known as “shock rock,” they released a string of great albums, steeped in hard, gritty, psychedelic-garage rock and filled with instantly recognizable teen-angst anthems.
By 1974, the stage show was getting to be less “Clockwork Orange” street-punk and more Hollywood B-horror movie and that great original lineup soon dissolved leaving Alice to soldier on with a long running, if at times spotty, solo career. It seems like he spent a lot of time trying to convince people he was just an average Budweiser-swilling, golf-playing, regular kind of guy, appearing on “Hollywood Squares” and any variety show that would have him. Some of his post-Alice Cooper Group albums had some good songs – most notably his first solo outing “Welcome to My Nightmare” – but many failed to capture the magic of those early Bob Ezrin-produced albums.
Fortunately, when Alice Cooper brought his “No More Mr. Nice Guy” tour to Albany last week, he leaned heavy on the past, offering up hit after hit with a set list that drew mostly from his “Love It to Death” thru “Billion Dollar Babies”-era recordings, while also touching on the best known songs of his solo work. And the fans loved it! Even after all these years, Alice, with his snarl intact, still puts on a “Killer” show!
After the pre-recorded Vincent Price “Black Widow” narrative, the curtain lifter with Alice above the stage like a rock high-priest presiding over his loyal congregation, while his band, decked out in black leather and studs, slammed into “Black Widow” followed by the year 2000’s “Brutal Planet” with Alice descending the steps to take over the proceedings center stage. It didn’t take long to get the crowd of middle-aged rockers looking to relive past glories and young concert newbies (perhaps getting their first taste of a full-fledged rock & roll show) into a frenzy because by the third song they launched into the mega-hit “Eighteen” followed by a slew of early treats like the proto-punk “Under My Wheels,” the title track from “Billion Dollar Babies” and a tough-rocker from the same album, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
Fueled by a triple-guitar attack, Alice’s band was rock-solid throughout. Rock & roll veteran Steve Hunter (Lou Reed, Mitch Ryder, Peter Gabriel, Alice, etc…) anchored the sound with a crunchy, vintage guitar tone while dishing out classic, old-school licks. Co-lead guitarist Orianthi played female foil to Alice on such songs as “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” (the only song played from his new “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” album) and “Only Women Bleed,” while serving up shredding, heavy metal guitar leads that kept all the “faster is better” guitar-heads happy. Third guitarist Tommy Henriksen held down the tight rhythms while dashing around the stage and trading choreographed rock moves with Alice front and center.
Other than a few hand-held stage props (a fencing sword filled with billion dollar bills, a life-sized doll during “Cold Ethyl”), Alice laid back early on with any over-indulgent theatrics and let the songs and band do the talking. After all, you can have all the effects you want, but without the songs, it is nothing. And what great songs they are. He did bring out the snake on the brilliant “Is It My Body,” and “Halo of the Flies” featured a full-blown drum/bass solo performed by bassist Chuck Garric and drummer Glen Sobel. I must not go to enough hard-rock shows these days because it’s been awhile since I’ve heard an extended drum solo. Forgot how some double-bass drumming and stick spinning can get a crowd oh-so crazy!
The stage theatrics picked up a bit towards the second half of the show with an appearance of a nine-foot-tall Frankenstein monster, and later on AC impaled a photo-snapping paparazzi with a mic stand during “Wicked Young Man,” an act that brought out the guillotine and led to the eventual be-heading of Alice, as the band played snippets of “Killer” and “I Love the Dead.”
The show came to a glorious end as Alice returned to the stage – ALIVE! – with bells ringing out and the familiar opening riff of “School’s Out” blasting through the theater. Alice and band returned for an encore of “Elected,” American flag in hand, confetti-filled balloons bursting over-head, ribbon-filled cannons exploding, and the crowd, who were on their feet the whole show, going out of their collective minds. I turned to look at the masses at this moment, and all I saw were ear-to-ear grins and ecstasy-filled eyes, and that is what a rock & roll show is all about.
The only quibble that a hard-core original Alice Cooper Group fanatic could have is that while hearing all the big hits is great – and there were plenty to be thankful for – we would love to have Alice throw in a few more of the classic album tracks. Most welcome would be nuggets like “Luney Tune,” “Public Animal #9,” “Desperado,” “Gutter Cats,” “Black Ju Ju,” “Raped & Freezing” and for the love of God, man, give us “Be My Lover”! Come on, Alice, we voted you in, and now if you want to be re-“Elected,” give the people what they want!
UK band Livan opened the show with a short set of edgy Goth-influenced tunes. Greek-born, London-bred singer/frontman Livan – looking much the warrior with painted face, bald-head, bare-chest and Roman gladiator kilt – stalked that stage or rode his elaborate, smoking, hydraulic mic stand, lifting him up, while delivering hard-rock numbers with a voice that fell somewhere between the Sisters of Mercy, Bowie and Midnight Oil. Goth rock with less synthesizers and more fast, heavy guitar. Highlights included the stomping “King of the World,” the opening “Happy Returns” and their take on the Velvet Underground’s ode to S&M, “Venus in Furs.” The closer, “Black Cherry,” I could almost hear being done by Aerosmith or perhaps Def Leppard, if Livan sang in a higher register (I, for one, am glad he doesn’t). Special shout-out to their flashy and talented drummer, who was throwing and catching drum sticks from all over the stage while holding down a rock-steady beat.
Livan received a fairly warm reception, and deservingly so, winning over fans from an audience that was obviously there for Alice, though I have to wonder when some narrow-minded people are going realize that no matter how many times you yell out “ALICE!” during the opening act he is not going to stop the show and come out! Let the support band do their set! If you’re not into it, go take a stretch. I heard one guy during the intermission say, “I don’t know about that opening act.. that shit may fly in the UK, but not here!” I have no idea what the fuck that means… but, yeah… only in America.
Review and photographs by Tim Livingston
ALICE COOPER SET LIST
(Vincent Price intro)
The Black Widow
Under My Wheels
Billion Dollar Babies
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Is It My Body
Halo of Flies (with bass & drum solos)
I’ll Bite Your Face Off
Muscle of Love
Only Women Bleed (Orianthi short guitar solo as intro)
Feed My Frankenstein
Clones (We’re All)
Wicked Young Man
Killer (“Execution” excerpt only)
I Love the Dead (excerpt only)
School’s Out (including a snippet from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”)