[LIVE REVIEW] Alice Cooper w/ Ace Frehley @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne – 20/10/2017

The clothing is black…check, the t-shirt from a prior Vegas show is donned…check.   Shortness of breath, thumping of heart and a little bit of wee coming out…check check CHECK.  (Sorry about the last one but we wanted horror, right?)  Ready to spend the night with Alice Cooper. Really Sheryl?  Was he compelled to seek special permission to use that tour title?

Visual reminders adorned by crowd members remind that a good percentage of this vast horde are loyal Ace Frehley fans, here to watch the space man take flight.  With significantly less regalia and fanfare than a headline gig, Ace and the band provide a solid performance more akin to casual mid tour sideline show than a stadium.  This was entirely appropriate and afforded their performance a tremendously enjoyable and distinctly grass roots rock n roll atmosphere.

But then who wouldn’t sit wherever to enjoy the talents of performers like Chris Wyse, whose vocal ability needs no selling to fans of Owl, but to watch a man who has played with the likes of The Cult, Ozzy, Mick Jagger, and see the percussive prowess that earned those gigs is of special significance.

As is the opportunity to watch Scot Coogan, who has been a personal favourite kit killer of mine since 2004 when he took to the stool for Brides Of Destruction and, besides having played with a myriad of performers, is certainly well established with Ace, having first joined his band 10 years ago.   To watch his skill tonight was very special to me personally, reminding me of previous shows in the on US soil and I sincerely hope he was appreciated by all present.

Richie Scarlet is extremely well known to Ace Frehley fans the world over and that tremendous lifetime of experience in providing the Ace show rhythm guitar, shone brightly tonight.  The Emperor of Rock n Roll in Richie, not only rocked with Mountain for the better part of sixteen years, but was also part of the original Ace Frehley post Kiss plan, having been present for inception before Frehley’s Comet even had a name.  Now as a partial glimpse at his vast experience and considering his contributions, its little wonder his string caresses prompt guitar to sing so very sweetly and if that sort of skill doesn’t thrill, I don’t know what will.  Beautiful stuff Richie.

And so to Ace himself, and what really can be said that you would not already know or reasonably presume from this seasoned rock legend.   As skillful as ever and in casual mode as appropriate to the show, but lacking not one ounce of those sensational skills. Fan favourites like Love Gun and Talk To Me pleased the eager crowd and New York Groove had the entire stadium bouncing to the beat. Strange Ways was a particular favourite of mine tonight and watching Ace perform Detroit Rock City will always bring chills for yours truly.   The smoking guitar is surely appreciated as a band member in its own right and, as so deserves special mention to appease its demanding nature, lest it breathe its fury in my direction.

This tour is a tremendous opportunity to enjoy these musicians in the aforementioned style. The Ace Frehley section of the show was an absolute treat and I hope Australian audiences avail themselves of the opportunity to attend the remaining shows and watch in awe of the skill, experience and heritage before them this entire group of rock giants.

While the crowd refresh drinks either exhausted by consumption or spilled in neighborly benevolence over others (and no doubt relieve bursting bladders) the fantastic road crew skilfully manage a brilliantly executed stage renovation.  Only the finest stage operators will do for Alice Cooper because, in exactly the same surgical precision as every other Alice Cooper show I have ever witnessed, the band commence proceedings at exactly the planned start time.  I mean to the second.  What professionals and yes, I do extract a personal thrill for myself by staring at my watch at the beginning Alice gigs.  I’m certain its boring and bordering on OCD in the eyes of others but I find it a hoot to appreciate how refined, professional and precise this entire entourage are.

The band lurch forth from the contemporary stage of horror which is adorned with trinkets and revulsion’s to appall and disgust in brilliant Alice style.  Clowns straight from your nightmarish imaginings, huge deformed babies bursting with malevolent intent and other assorted horrors, sufficient refined, so as to be fresh fanfare without altering the Alice Cooper show atmosphere.

After one last warning with a “well, well, well, what have we here…” and a brief reflection that there may yet be a chance of escape from the nightmare, we are informed that it is indeed “too late now” and we are destined to be his broken toys…forever.  The man of the moment, every malevolent moment, cloaked and magnificent, walks into view amid a shower of sparks and air of evil intent.  Some of the young amid the crowd realise that mummy’s reassurance that monsters are not real, reach the horrifying realisation that mummy was lying.  He is here and he is real.  The horrifying legend, near half a century in the making, become an unforgettable reality.  All commanding and all powerful, more powerful than ever before…ALICE COOPER.  He gazes out, scanning left and right and appears appeased that sufficient souls are assembled for the begging of our end.

With a shedding of the cloak, and a spinning of the cane Alice signals his musical minions to join in with the tormenting, as Melbourne falls helpless into the web of his nightmare.

I first clap eyes on the unmistakable and slightly sinister figure of Chuck Garrick emerging from the shadows, as though he is manifesting into our reality from a demonic dimension.

This prompts the most brilliant feeling of tremendous excitement because this is the first time we will see Chuck on an Australian stage since, along Tim Husung, Jan LeGrowChris Latham, and Calico Cooper they released their soaring and sensational sophomore album as Beasto Blanco.  What a thrill is about to be bestowed upon us as this beast, who is the epitome of everything heavy rock and brilliant guy to boot, becomes larger than life from the sinister veil of the shadows.  Seldom do you see a percussive protagonist grasp and command a crowd like Chuck, so much so that he is the envy of performers all over the world.  Only a lucky and select group have had the privilege of shared the stage with this sensational behemoth of the bass.  Cheap Trick, Billy Bob Thornton, the late, great Ronnie James Dio, L.A. Guns, Ted Nugent are but a few of the famous who have watched their music rhythmically launched beyond their imaginations and their stage shows enhanced immeasurably by his skill and very presence. Hell, this is the man (term used as descriptive only and does not allege that he is mere mortal) who took over bass duties from Karl Cochran, joined on stage with the brilliant John Corabi, Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer together as the Eric Singer Project, providing a hefty helping of oomph to their live work.  And here he appears, live before our very eyes.

Flanking the opposite side of our host of horrors is the utterly sensational Hurricane Nita Strauss and the realisation again strikes me, like a Godzilla to the face courtesy of Nita’s signature guitar sling, that its really her… live on stage.

Nita has performed her unique style as part of The Iron Maidens and Femme Fatale, but took over guitar duties with Alice Cooper from Orianthi Panagaris in 2014.  Since that time she has been the darling of Alice Cooper show fans all over the world, but it is her sensational guitar work and theatrical engagement that is on show for us tonight.  And what a show she provides.  Skillful, engaging and somehow enchanting in a rock and roll manner.  All the young who would aspire to the ultimate contemporary ‘rock chick’ archetype need look no further for inspiration and aspirations. But with that moniker cast aside, Nita is a wailing sensation in my top picks of theatrically thrilling rock guitarists of all time and I don’t have gender categories.

How many performers would have the skill and intestinal fortitude to be suffering pain and persevere with performing so brilliantly regardless.  I don’t think anyone else noticed Nita but all hats off to you anyway.  Magnificent.

To the left of Nita is the one and only Tommy Henriksen.  No matter whether you’re a fan of War and Peace, Warlock, Big Trouble, POL, Boink (with Glen Sobel) Hollywood Vampires, or any others from the distinguished list, DiS ViciOuS one is THE man.  In fact, anything great in contemporary rock, anywhere in the world, ever, probably had Tommy’s masterful contribution at some critical point.  The list of his accomplishments and contributions is too long for a review, too long for an article and too important to make up anything other than a Henriksen Historica reference book Volume One.  All one can do is sit back in awe of his unbelievable skill.

At the kit we enjoy the drum dominance of Glen Sobel.  The man who Alice Cooper describes as the best drummer in the world, and who is going to argue with Alice, right?  Watching his skills during his solo’s, you know Alice Cooper is on the money with his assessment.  The secret weapon in Glen Sobel’s quiver of skills is diversity.  Picking up the sticks at eleven years old, Glen obviously possessed a wisdom that belied his youth, because he worked, studied and developed until he became recognised as a master drummer in any genre of music and in any environment.  Glen is so accomplished, and celebrated by others accomplished that he is sought after all over the globe for his percussive prowess.  From Kesha to Weird Al and everything in between (and everything outside those to be honest) the mastery of Glen would be on many fan favourite tracks, without many of those present even being aware that he was at the kit.  Its arguably one of the enjoyable aspects of any Alice Cooper show that he selects such distinguished people to make up his ensemble.  You could attend twenty Alice Cooper shows over an equal number of nights, and enjoy them all equally by concentrating your attention on one of these sensational musicians, their history, their dominance and their skills all culminating into one show.  Perhaps I’m biased, but one Alice show is never enough for me to thoroughly appreciate who is performing and the standard they display each show.

But let’s not forget Chuck’s stage right wing man in the charismatic Ryan Roxie, who burst onto the Alice Cooper scene in 1996.  Yet again, vastly accomplished in his own right and my personal favourite performances form the veritable plethora of tunes that make up his musical curriculum vitae, would have to be his contribution to Inhale by James Michael and Ain’t Life Grand from Slash’s Snakepit.  But it is in the live performance that Ryan oozes charisma and sensational performance appeal.  Yet again, it is a huge privilege to watch a musician who has performed so much with so many, to be classed and a legend and he alone on stage would thrill a crowd to the point of exhaustion.

With all elements and protagonists briefly represented above, I hope to have been successful in portraying the rock and roll reverence owed to each before us in this spectacle, and the sheer magnitude of the magnificent display they together impart.

And as for Alice, this is Forty years since on since the very first Australian headline shows of 1977 and Alice Cooper has never been more engaging, thrilling, commanding and thoroughly brilliant.  With each decade performing (yes, decade) he has become increasingly compelling and talented and I don’t make this claim lightly because he was incredible to start with in the band named Alice Cooper in 1968.  But, it is said that practice makes perfect and Alice Cooper has set the standard of perfect against which others are measured, and for such a long time.   What is most remarkable is that he knows exactly where he fits in the grand scheme of his existence among us mere mortals.  In person he is a thorough gentleman who is genuinely interested in each, and everyone he meets.  A true megastar with the gift of longevity, and the nature that one feels fortunate to have occupied the same space, at the same time and enjoyed a conversation.

As for this particular Melbourne show, a new experience for all to enjoy, because there is nothing else on this earth that is akin to the particular excitement of an Alice Cooper performance.  As the set-list unveils, I watch my young son visibly bursting with the excitement I felt the very first time I met Alice.  The same experience I have somewhere in the memory banks when I first heard his tracks performed live, and an odd pride encapsulates me as I watch him singing No More Mr Nice Guy word for word. With fans younger than he in attendance and in equal celebration of Alice Cooper, the unique nature of he and his concerts becomes clear.  The memories he has, and continues to provide.  The memories his music prompts, having been lifelong and loyal companions in providing the soundtrack to our existence.  The rock and roll majesty and relevance that he now conveys to the next generation, but still at the fore performing as strongly as ever.

As would be expected, Poison delights the crowd sending them into a frenzy before Ryan and Nita’s guitars decide that it is time for a brief and amorous interlude atop the fold-backs.   A guess when a guitar decides its naughty time, there’s no getting in the way and they don’t care who’s watching.  Ten points each for the dismount, by the way.  Awesome.

Rather than replicating the entire set-list here, I chose to concentrate of the individual performers who are likely just feeling at work, doing their thing, but to us, they are thrilling us with the show of a lifetime. If they ever have an off night, their commitment to the crowd is of paramount importance, and it would still be a lifelong benchmark for the audience. From Chuck Garrick stalking the stage like a demon, permissively luring potential prey, to Glen’s incredible theatrical skills at every, EVERY beat, culminating in a solo duel between the pair that pounds against your chest throughout, this is rock ‘n’ roll at its finest.  Nurse Sheryl integrates into the show in superb fashion, killing off her number one man, yet again, but with the promise of his return after his alter ego has its stage time allotment.  My wife is so jealous.

The guillotine takes the head of Alice, yet again but it feels like it’s for the first time.  Everything in this contemporary show fits as brilliantly as ever before and, somehow, never gets old.   Just as an encore of Schools Out could never be replaced as the show finale, and its appeal is just as fresh as in 1972.

Melbourne is dismissed, but we long for detention as the realisation takes hold that the show is at an end.  One of the few shows of all time where you wish would just start again.  The show that you want to go back the next night and enjoy it all over again.  The one that has me considering that Alice will always be, but will we? I can’t wait for his next return. Where’s my car keys? Because I have to head north for more of this Australian Tour.

Mon 23 Oct – AIS Arena, Canberra, ACT
Tue 24 Oct – Newcastle Entertainment Centre, NSW
Wed 25 Oct – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, QLD

Review Contributed by Casper