Words by Brett Ensbey
Photography by Elizabeth Sharpe of @Ummagummamumma – Live Music Photography – FULL GALLERY LINK HERE
Growing up I was always fortunate enough to discover cool music through my older sister and her friends. But in 1999, when I was 13, it was time to trade in my hand-me-down albums and find a musical style of my own. The timing sucked. I was a few years too late for grunge, and I hadn’t quite discovered punk rock yet, so I was going through my dress in all black and blast all the nu metal hits as loud as I could phase. One day my mum walked in as I was watching The Beautiful People music video on MTV and asked what I was watching. Assuming I was about to get in trouble for my “rebellious” choice of music, and thinking I was all edgy and cool, I gave her the rundown on who Marilyn Manson was, and why she just wouldn’t get it. I was wrong. To my surprise, my mother laughed at me, and told me that I should “at least listen to the original”. From there I was introduced to the world of theatrical rock and roll via Alice Cooper’s 1975 masterpiece, ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’. A lot has changed since then, but one thing that remains the same is my love for Alice Cooper’s music, so obviously I jumped at the opportunity to witness the man himself live on stage at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre last night (18/02/2020) for his ‘Ol’ Black Eyes is Back’ tour.
It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Entertainment Centre, and I forgot about the strict security and metal detectors, so after picking up my ticket, my next adventure was making it through the gate (handy tip for anyone heading to a concert at Boondall, leave the safety pins and wallet chains at home). Once inside I didn’t have long to wait before the first support act, MC50, hit the stage. For anybody unaware, MC50 are a supergroup in every sense of the word. Put together by MC5 original Wayne Kramer in 2018 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of MC5’s Kick out the Jams, the band consists of guitarist Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, drummer Brendan Canty from Fugazi, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass, and Zen Guerrilla frontman, Marcus Durant. With a set full of old school rock and roll deeply rooted in the blues, MC50 really showcased everything that era of music was known for; high energy performances and a take no prisoners attitude. It was great to see so much musical history on stage at one time, giving the audience a modern take on classic rock and roll music.
In the past, I’ve heard people describe bands as “high octane rock and roll”, and I never really knew exactly what that meant until I witnessed the nights next act, Victoria’s own, Airbourne. With a stage presence I can only describe as AC/DC meets Metallica, Airbourne delivered a heavy but catchy style of aussie pub rock that I doubt most aussie pubs could handle. This is a band made for a big stage. No strangers to entertaining large audiences, Airbourne have played festivals all over the world, including Download UK, and the Wacken Festival. It was obvious from the very first song that these guys know exactly who their audience is, and how to play to them. Even Brisbane’s biggest venue could barely contain them, with singer/guitarist Joel O’Keeffe leaving the stage and making his way through the crowd, while playing the leads for their song Girls in Black. Airbourne is definitely equal parts talented and entertaining, even bringing an air raid siren on stage to help kick off a song. There’s not much more I can say about Airbourne, apart from they seem too young to be so good at playing old school music, and it was great to hear a band give a massive shout out to the road crew that had been working hard since 4:00AM that morning to make sure that everything was ready for that nights show.
After the first two bands were done, there was about half an hour to kill before it was time to make my way back through the sea of long hair, leather, and layers of black makeup, to wait for the man himself, Alice Cooper to take the stage. This was not the first time I had seen the king of shock rock in action, but that doesn’t mean I had any idea what to expect. Alice’s stage show is forever growing and evolving, and I couldn’t wait to see what he had in store for us this time. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long before the lights went out, and the crowd fell silent in anticipation. A voice came over the speakers, welcoming us to Alice Cooper’s nightmare castle, ensuring us that we were all doomed. Finally, the curtain fell, and the show was opened with an obvious crowd favourite, Feed my Frankenstein, complete with the return of the Franken-Alice monster. Giving the crowd no time to catch their breath, the band jumped straight into the 1973 classic, No More Mr Nice Guy, and immediately followed it up with Bed of Nails.
From the very opening of the show, Alice seemed to control the stage like some type of psychotic conductor, and his amazing band each played their role flawlessly as the production unfolded. Long-time members Chuck Garric (bass), and guitarist Ryan Roxie of Slash’s Snakepit fame work well with Tommy Henriksen to make up three quarters of the string section, with each of them bringing something unique to the table. Drummer, Glen Sobel not only keeps the beat effortlessly for the band, but his mid-set drum solo was as if it was being delivered by something not quite human, his hands moving so fast that you could barely see them. Last but by no means least, filling out the sound, is the bands third guitarist. All I can say here is that I don’t care who your favourite guitar player is, they don’t hold a candle to Nita “The Hurricane” Strauss. Voted guitarist of the decade, Strauss is not only a force to be reckoned with on guitar, her stage presence alone had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand.
As anyone who has seen Alice before knows, his concerts are more than just a rock and roll show, they’re theatre. His showmanship coupled with his band’s pure talent make for one hell of an experience. And last night’s show was no exception. With costume changes and more props than a than a cheap store at Halloween, Cooper brought classics like Under my Wheels, and I’m Eighteen to life. The nightmare castle was also visited by other ghoulish characters throughout the evening, from faceless nightmare creatures, to a bloodstained bride, a creepy as hell giant baby, and even a special appearance by Jason Vorhees, who showed up to lay waste to a couple of selfie taking teens during He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),which happens to be the theme song for part six in the ‘Friday the 13th’ film series, ‘Jason Lives’.
Spectacle and theatrics aside, the setlist alone was enough to have the crowd dropping to their knees like Wayne and Garth screaming “we’re not worthy” as the original monster of rock continued to deliver from his back catalogue of classics. Songs like Billion Dollar Babies, complete with a money cannon shooting American dollar bills out into the crowd, got a huge reaction from the fans, but nothing on the night compared to the eruption from the crowd when they heard the opening notes from the 1989 hit single, Poison. I don’t think there was a single person in the venue that wasn’t singing along, and the band seemed to feed off the energy, delivering, in my opinion, one of the best live performances of the song I have ever heard.
As the nightmare continued, the band showcased their skills, jamming out the music to 1975’s Black Widow, before Alice re-emerged, dressed in a straight jacket, to perform Steven, a song from the alter ego of Alice Cooper that appears on many of his concept albums. Next up, the character known to fans as Little Betty is wheeled on stage in her pram and the band goes into the morbidly soothing intro of Dead Babies. As the song draws to a close the suspense continues to grow as Alice is stopped before he can sacrifice Betty, with the meat cleaver in his hand. By now most fans know that his inevitable execution is not far away. Applause rang out through the Entertainment Centre as a guillotine is brought out, and the Alice character is beheaded in front of the crowd (this is where the giant baby monster I mentioned earlier makes its way out and dances around the stage all while holding the severed head of Alice Cooper) as the band leads the crowd in a sing along of I Love the Dead from the ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ album. Of course, Alice isn’t one to stay dead for long, and pretty soon, he is stepping out of a coffin to close the night’s set with the 1986 classic, Teenage Frankenstein. But, just like at any good rock concert, the fans don’t leave, the house lights don’t come back on, and pretty soon the band makes its way back on stage to perform it’s encores; Department of Youth and an extended version of Schools Out that includes a mashup of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, before Alice wishes the crowd horrific nightmares, and the last stop on his Australian tour comes to an end.
At 72 years of age, with a career spanning over five decades. Alice Cooper has done it all. He’s been beheaded, electrocuted, and hung on stage, he’s seen every music trend come and go since the 60’s, not only outlasting those trends, but often playing a part in inspiring them. On top of all of that he’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, hosts a popular radio show, ‘Nights with Alice Cooper’, plays 18 holes of golf every day, and has starred in many movies, including a cameo as the abusive foster father of Freddy Krueger in ‘Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare’. You might be asking yourself if there’s anything Alice Cooper can’t do, and the answer is yes; the man seems incapable of putting on a bad show. This is a guy who came from a time where everyone in the audience actually watched the show, instead of witnessing it through the screens of their phones, and he has continued to adapt his style and his shows to entertain today’s audiences. Without Alice Cooper we wouldn’t have bands such as Kiss, GWAR, Marilyn Manson, Wednesday 13, or Rob Zombie (who inducted Alice into the Hall of Fame). Even pop artists like Pink and Lady Gaga have to give some thanks to Alice for paving the way for elaborate stage shows and theatrical performances in modern music. The music world owes a lot of thanks to Alice Copper for everything he’s done over the years, and I feel I also have to take this time to thank my mum for introducing me to his music 21 years ago. She would have loved last night’s show.
With thanks to TEG LIVE & Identity PR