Thursday, May 18, 2006

concert: Alice Cooper May 16, 2006

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May 16, 2006
Centennial Concert Hall
attendance: 1400

I saw Alice Cooper twice in the 80s at the old Winnipeg Arena but had not seen his recent shows since then. When I discovered that he would be playing at the plush Centennial Concert Hall, I jumped at the chance to go. This is the home to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and The Manitoba Opera Society, in other words, not your typical venue for a rock concert.

I ended up in the 6th row, which is about as far away as the 10th row in most theatres, due to the fact that the rows are spaced quite far apart, with no centre aisles, to ensure easy access to the seats. A few seats away from me sat a 70-something grandmother with her grand kids. Probably the most surprising aspect of the show was the broad age range of the attendees. There were loads of people in their 50s and 60s who look like the normal type of folks you see shopping at the store. None of these people looked out of the ordinary. Born-again Christian, 4-handicap golfer Vince Furnier, aka Alice Cooper, is 58 years old and can still draw a crowd. The 1400 people in attendance was fewer than I expected, but may not have been surprising since ticket prices started at $69 coupled with the fact that he hasn't had a bona fide hit since 1989's "Poison."

Crash Kelly are a relatively unknown rock band from Ontario and they opened the show with a bit too much posing from their lead singer/ guitarist, who should have toned things down a bit for the audience. Despite many of these awkward moments, he tried to raise the energy level in the room with their sound that ranged from classic pop/rock (think The Sweet) to bland, mainstream rock. The response from the audience was polite but not especially elevated, even when he announced that their bass player was from Winnipeg and when this guy later appeared on stage wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey. The two most memorable tracks they played were "She Put The Shock (In My Rock n Roll)" from their new Gilby Clarke produced album and "Roxy Roller," the classic Sweeny Todd single that won the band the Best New Band Juno in 1977.

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Opening with music from The Phantom of the Opera, Alice Cooper's bandmates all appeared in Phantom-like masks for their first number, which made them look suitablly creepy. Alice the man strutted around the stage to a roaring welcome with a cane, which he later tossed into the audience. This tossing of props to the fans was revisited a few more times during the show, leving people with baited anticipation as he tantalized them with bead necklaces, a riding crop and other goodies. It was hilarious to see a group a guys in front of me bowing whenever Cooper approached their side of the stage with the "we're not worthy" moves from Wayne's World.

He opened the show with a track that I wasn't familiar with, "Department of Youth" off 1975's Welcome To My Nightmare, followed by "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Dirty Diamonds" and several well-worn favorites including "Million Dollar Babies," "Be My Lover," "Lost In America," "I'm Eighteen," "Go To Hell," "Feed My Frankenstein," "Welcome to My Nightmare," "I Never Cry," "Woman Of Mass Destruction," "Only Women
Bleed" and "Poison."

Never one to disappoint, Alice appeared on stage with a long, light green boa constrictor, which weaved its way around him and through his shock of jet black hair. I have wondered if the snake is affected by the loud sounds but I suppose it isn't. No Alice Cooper show would be complete without seeing him wrapped in a straight jacket and his beheading and we were treated to these once outrageous spectacles
once again. This must have been absolutely shocking to parents in the early 70s but for many years now, the beheading is simply a campy, quaint trick. Throughout the show, a leather bikini-clad dancer acted her way into several of songs, with a pair of flailing whips and then later on, dressed up as a nurse and then as a Paris Hilton knock-off. This dynamic young lady turned out to be his 25 year-old daughter, actress/dancer Calico Cooper.

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Former member of Kiss Eric Singer showed up on drums. Guitarist Keri Kelli plays with other bands, including Skid Row, and Slash's Snakepit, among others. Damon Johnson, who also favour Gibson guitars, has recorded with musicians as diverse as Faith Hill, John Waite, Sammy Hagar and Damn Yankees. Bassist Chuck Garric is another veteran, having played with La Guns, Dio, Gilby Clarke, Lynch Mob and Billy Bob Thornton. Alice Cooper sidemen, with the exception of the drummer, appeared to be decades younger. While not unbelievable players, they were razor sharp and more than adequate. I would have appreciated seeing some more spontaneous interplay between them, however.

He's been a true innovator and his influence continues to live on in the multitudes of bands who seek to shock as they entertain us. Alice Cooper is mostly a nostalgia act these days, however, so long as he is able to confidently effortlessly perform, he should remain a vital touring icon for a few more years.

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