I’d witnessed every Alice Cooper show in Wales… until the last one. Why the sabbatical? It was an all-seated affair – the anathema of the true rock ‘n’ roll fan. So why, a number of years later, did I find myself taking a seat in the very same venue to attend the final show on the UK leg of the Godfather of Shock Rock’s ‘Ol’ Black Eyes Is Back’ tour? Well, after squinting my RnR morals and convincing myself that Alice’s legendary live show fusion of vaudeville and Grand Guignol would be the one thing that would suit an all-seated affair, and questioning just how many more times I would get the chance to see the artist formerly known as Vincent Furnier, I conceded that there were worse things to do on a Saturday night in the run-up to All Hallow’s Eve than watch one of the most iconic performers of his generation.
“Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” A curious choice of term to administer to the auditory canals of hundreds of ageing rock fans sat down at around teatime, you’d think. Not when it’s coming from the MC50, the alternative supergroup of sorts put together by the legendary Wayne Kramer to honour the legacy of his original band, the MC5. With Kramer, bedecked with red, white, and blue outfit and matching guitar, flanked by guitarist Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, bass player Billy Gould of Faith No More, with Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty bringing up the rear and Zen Guerilla frontman Marcus Durant finger-snapping front and centre, this would be a true rock ‘n’ roll spectacle to see based on line-up alone; if, of course, the band didn’t have a slew of time-honoured tunes to back it up.
‘Kick Out The Jams’ came early (second song in, following a Kramer-fronted ‘Ramblin’ Rose’) but it was a lighting of the touch paper of an incendiary nine-song set that didn’t shave an inch off the original MC5’s legendary status. A classic one-two-three of ‘Come Together’, ‘Motor City is Burning’, and ‘Borderline’ was given a riotous rock ‘n’ roll run for its money by the similarly pulsing ‘Everything’, ‘Call Me Animal’, and ‘Sister Anne’, before Durant – a masterstroke of frontman recruitment, it has to be noted: towering in both stature and vocal prowess – took off his seemingly perma-shades for a set-closing ‘Looking At You’. “Fight The Power!” a Trump-baiting Kramer shouted as the band left the stage, victorious… and I fought the urge to tell the clod-eared jokers around me who had retreated to the bar to swill overpriced beer down their insipid, Planet Rock-loving necks that they had turned their backs on probably the best band to ever open a three-band-bill at the ungodly hour of 7 pm.
The gentleman seated next to my good self was witnessing The Stranglers live for the thirty-fifth time and, it soon became very clear, a lot of people were there to see the veteran act. It’s almost thirty years now since Hugh Cornwell left the band, but his current replacement, Baz Warne (as featured on a lengthy list of former Toy Dolls band members), is more than a worthy successor to the position; the singer/guitarist more than at home alongside original members, bassist/vocalist Jean-Jacques Burnel and keyboardist Dave Greenfield, plus (baby-faced in comparison) drummer Jim Macaulay.
‘Relentless’, from 2016’s ‘Suite XVI’, reminded everyone in attendance that this band isn’t just a nostalgia act on the retro tour circuit, but the core of the setlist (as many would have expected/hoped of a shorter, eleven-song support set) was culled from the most famed corners of the band’s back catalogue. From opener ‘Toiler On The Sea’ to the set-closing ‘No More Heroes’, via ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’, ‘Peaches’, ‘(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)’, and, of course, ‘Golden Brown’, The Stranglers did nothing but impress upon those not already converted that they had been spectators of a classy performance from one of the truly great British bands. It may have lacked the adrenalin kick of the MC50’s set, but the Meninblack produced something as cool and slick as black ice.
All-seated? Pah! The curtain hiding Alice Cooper’s latest stage set – his Nightmare Castle – hadn’t hit the deck before almost every single person in the floor seating area was on their hooves, bolt (in the neck) upright, raising fists and yelling in the direction of opener, ‘Feed My Frankenstein’. That opener (culled from 1991’s ‘Hey Stoopid’) was an early indicator as to the tone of the show, with many tunes pulled kicking and screaming from that mid-eighties onwards cock shock rock period of the Alice Cooper story. Guitarist Nita Strauss, a whirling dervish throwing out, at times, Vinnie Vincent-like numbers of notes, was perfectly suited to paying the utmost rocking respect to this era; her hard-hitting shredding style underpinning ‘Bed Of Nails’ (from 1989’s ‘Trash’), ‘Roses On White Lace’ (from 1987’s ‘Raise Your Fist And Yell’), and the ‘Constrictor’ duo of ‘Teenage Frankenstein’ and ‘He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)’. The latter was, of course, featured on the soundtrack of 1986 horror sequel Friday the 13th, Part 6: Jason Lives, and this unashamed Eighties horror obsessive loved hearing it in the set. Jason himself made an on-stage appearance too; goring the throat of a teen with a plastic machete before revealing that the man behind the mask was none other than – yep, you’ve guessed it – that fella whose face was on those thirty quid T-shirts in the foyer.
The song choices weren’t purely focussed on big hair and big scares, however: ‘Raped and Freezin’ made a most welcome return to the setlist, a true highlight to be honest, and ‘My Stars’ and ‘Muscle of Love’ checked the same box too. ‘Fallen in Love’, from 2017’s ‘Paranormal’, appears to be a mainstay in the set nowadays and fits in perfectly and, writing of mainstays, ‘Poison’ appeared surprisingly early at the mid-point of the set, following a seminal one-two of ‘I’m Eighteen’ and ‘Billion Dollar Babies’.
Babies, you say? Arguably the most ludicrous yet entertaining of Alice’s stage props appeared after a breathless ‘execution’ section where a twisted fusion of ‘Steven’, ‘Dead Babies’, ‘I Love The Dead’, and ‘Escape’ saw the Coop rid himself of straightjacket, cleaver a baby’s head off, lose his own head via tried and trusted guillotine, then burst back from the dead via a coffin adorned with his legendary eye make-up: interspersed by a giant inflatable baby toddling around with his severed head, of course.
There was a Chuck Garric-sized hole on the stage – the bass player temporarily replaced by Hollywood Vampires four-stringer Chris Wyse, who certainly has the pedigree (The Cult, Ozzy, Ace Frehley) if not the same stage presence – but Strauss attempted to fill it at every available opportunity. Glen Sobel remains one of the finest drummers hitting the skins today – that punters didn’t return to their seats during his drum solo says a lot – and the über cool six-string pairing of Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen never fails to impress, inspire, and make a little jealous, even if the latter has added a meta twist these days by channelling his inner Andy McCoy and looking not unlike Electric Angels era Roxie.
After the aforementioned ‘Teenage Frankenstein’ closed the main set, Alice reappeared for the two-song encore wearing a Wales football shirt – with Cooper and the number 18 on the back, obviously – and parked the proverbial bus for an understandably incredible run through the classic ‘Under My Wheels’. Only one song could have brought the night(mare) to an all-too-early conclusion. Original Alice Cooper band bass player Dennis Dunaway had joined the stage for ‘School’s Out’ earlier on the tour, but for the Welsh date it was first Wayne Kramer, then Kim Thayil who stepped up; the latter half-inching Henriksen’s guitar and having to be guided through the now-expected mid-song segue into ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. Before class was over, the rest of the MC50 and all of The Stranglers were on the stage for proper throwback end-of-tour hijinks in keeping with the Eighties feel of the setlist.
I have never seen a bad Alice Cooper show, and nothing changed on an October night in the Welsh capital. In fact, if the stewards employed at the Motorpoint Arena had been as torch-happy as the cinema ushers of my youth (when I first experienced some of these Cooper tunes) then I would have found myself on the edge of my seat…
Author: Gaz Tidey
Photos courtesy of Nev Brooks