Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alice Cooper Live @ Vets Park 7/17/2010

I have to be upfront with you, I was never a fan of Alice Cooper. From the very first time I heard to Love it To Death to his high flying seventies output with guitar gods Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter I always regarded Cooper’s shtick was a bit too juvenile. I got it – the idea that there is this gender bending Alice Cooper Group satirizing misogyny, racism, sexism, and homophobia. I truly felt he was also goofing on a “rock star” image that he never quite believed yet was sucked in just the same…sex, drugs and rock & roll. Hell, once he sobered up he cheated on his girlfriends, voted Republican and played golf just like Tiger Woods. He showed us the Real Stuff. Tonight he put on a great show. At 62 years old he still looks good and has a stage presence that rivals Liza Minnelli. He is thin, energetic and with his jet black Grecian formula hair he looks and acts just like his younger self… like a rock star. I don’t know how he does it or why he does it, unless it’s just for the money. To bring out the guillotine, the hangman’s gallows, the same old songs and the skits that deal with themes violence and retribution must get a little thin sometimes.

Cooper has put on essentially the same show for 30 years. And it is an excellent show. The biggest problem is that to make the show work, Copper must stay in character, keep the energy up and project an image of danger – with a nod and a wink. It can put a huge divide between the audience and the performer - even though we are all in on the joke. And because of the tongue in cheek naughtiness, we can all join in with a massive love fest of memory and song. For a glorious moment we can be eighteen again.

The audience had an interesting demographic – this was an all ages show from nouveau rich marina folks to minimum wage working class couples and newly initiated teenagers. For some, the message from songs like Eighteen and Schools Out resonated in the present moment. They were wearing their (necessary) angst on their sleeve and living it to the hilt - a right of passage.

It was an entirely different experience for the Baby Boomers. Cooper’s music transformed us to an image of our much younger selves. We were recapturing a moment in a chain of associative sights, sounds, and aromas. Our memories flickered like a brief candle as we sang a long and shook our groove thing. Much of the crowd was able to cast aside their baggage - booze it up and get high and leave their worries behind. Tomorrow can wait. Live in the moment.Dance.

Alice Cooper understands the need to embrace and cultivate his image. He’s the Billion Dollar Baby. And he is a marketing genius. Otherwise, Cooper would have to rely solely on the strength of his music and the quality of his singing. He would stand naked and vulnerable. It would be like Kiss out of costume. I, for one, would love – just once - to see a stripped down Alice Cooper show without frills, theatre or costumes. If you’ve heard his radio show, you know Cooper is a great storyteller and has a very entertaining shtick. He’s a natural conversationalist and a quite charming dude. It could be a better show, at least in terms of making a real human connection to his audience. Hmm. Maybe not.

But Cooper is a smart business man. He knows it just wouldn’t work if he stepped out of character and got real and told stories about his days in Saginaw and Detroit and his relationship with our favorite son Dick Wagner. That would ruin the show. You don’t see Lisa Minnelli stepping out of her role in Victor/Victoria to talk about how tough it was to get a break in the biz. No sir. Neither could Alice. It would reveal too much about Vincent Furnier. And Vincent is not your typical sexy rock & roller name. It conjures up images of nurdism and normality. It would make the entire concept of Alice Cooper vulnerable.

Furnier had a tough time in the beginning. In 1967 his new band the Nazz were voted the worst band in LA, a well-deserved accolade based on listening to their single Lay Down and Die, Goodbye. By 1968, they were the Alice Cooper Group and though their first two lps Pretties for You and Easy action were roundly panned (for good reason). But the band hit their collective stride when Bob Ezrin came on board and produced their fabulous hard rock masterpiece Love it To Death. By this time Copper was gigging in Detroit and taking in all those hard rockin’ influences such as Bob Seger, The MC5, The Stooges and the Frost. Vincent Furnier found his stride, his image and his purpose.

The Alice Cooper show was note for note perfection beginning with Schools Out, No More Mr. Nice Guy and I’m Eighteen pounded out in rapid succession. This was full bodied sonic boom rock that created a musical landscape that was both powerful and melodic. The band consisted of anonymous but capable musicians that were young and frisky. This proved to be a high energy Detroit ROCK show with a little heavy metal thrown in for good measure. The act began in earnest with a series of songs that played out Cooper’s familiar themes that dealt with violence, murder, revenge, rape and domestic violence – pathos as well as humor. This is actually quite sophisticated musical theatre. The songbook created both the storyline and the subplots to Cooper’s outrageous musical vision - Wicked Young Man, Ballad of Dwight Fry, Go To Hell, Guilty, Cold Ethyl, Poison, From the Inside and Nurse Rozetta. I felt Dick Wagner’s presence throughout the show. He is truly a master, an undeclared musical genius – and he is ours. Wagner co-wrote six of the songs and created the guitar licks (as a session man for Cooper) on many more. I can recall dozens of times I’ve listened to Dick perform his Alice Cooper catalog at White’s Bar including Go to Hell, Only Women Bleed, I Might as Well Be on Mars, I Never Cry, and You and Me. The music shifted as the themes became more nuanced and elusive. Be My Lover was both a cry out for intimacy and a threat of violence. Cooper colored Only Women Bleed and I Never Cry in tenderness and a wisp of longing. I left between Black Widow Jam and Dirty Diamonds not because I didn’t like the show – it was magnificent – but I had enough. I was tired by the heat and the blinding rays of the hot sun and frustrated with a baby boomer Marina crowd that pushed their way into tight spaces and sang Eighteen at the top of their lungs and meant it.

I wish I could…

Bo White

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