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Best Rock Concerts of 2016

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

In a year that saw the sad loss of so many musical artists, entertainers and sports heroes, there was concurrently much to celebrate, as go on we must. For this patron, there were more than two-dozen amazing classic, progressive, or goth/new wave rock concerts by legendary artists, along with some fantastic shows from more recent bands that carry the torch of rock in all of its forms.

More than half of these bands can be found in my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels which I am happy to say is now available on Amazon here.

For this patron, the best of the year:

ARW (Anderson Rabin Wakeman), Yes, Rick Wakeman

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These are a holy trinity of artists that together comprise most of the core members of Yes. First up, Mr. Wakeman absolutely nailed his one-time performance of the King Arthur album redux at the O2 earlier this year, with orchestra, choir and narration. Then, the Steve Howe / Geoff Downes led version of Yes arrived to faithfully play renditions of half the double album Tales From Topographic Oceans paired with Drama, which sounded fantastic live. But the capper was seeing ARW who played Howe and Rabin era Yes music with a fever that brings a new appreciation to the work. It was a heartwarming, wonderful experience to see Jon Anderson so happy, and sounding as good as any night I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. This topped the year off in style.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Relayer/Solos tour:

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Steve Hackett, Sting/Gabriel

In the Genesis camp, while we wait for Phil, Mike and Tony to put something together, we always have Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel as working musicians – the former working often, the latter not so much! Hackett has been absolutely on fire, both during his Genesis Revisited performances, and with his solo work. The night we saw him here in San Francisco at the Warfield was by far, and I am not padding here, the best show I’ve seen from him since Wind & Wuthering. His renditions of classic songs from the Genesis catalog, along with his first four albums, and newer work from Wolflight, have never been bested. He is my true prog hero. Gabriel went out with Sting this year, in a fun and pleasant show – different for him – I think both better on their own, but it was nice to see the camaraderie. Chills when Sting teased us with the first few bars of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” Chills.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour:

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The Cure

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The Cure on this year’s tour played crowd-pleasing set lists that changed each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” Leader Robert Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen this year in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice.

Watch for The Cure in my next book, should this sell out!

 

David Gilmour

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Witnessing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. He absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during The Wall tour:

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Photo (c) Brian Weiner / The Illusion Factory

 

LCD Soundsystem

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This band performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 14 tracks that were also played at their “farewell” concert five years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. The music as presented was incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with aplomb. Their songs progress, contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone, ultimately building into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. See this band in 2017 if you possibly can.

 

ELO

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Seeing ELO last September 10, 2016, on the second of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl was like stepping back in time, as Lynne, band, and orchestra faithfully replicated every note of the original ELO compositions, along with a few newer tracks from Lynne’s most recent album. At around 80 minutes, incredibly, nearly every track on the set list was originally a hit or at least massively popular FM radio staple for ELO, including “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Turn to Stone” and on through seventeen songs, ending inevitably with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which as one would expect, highlighted the immense contribution of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra let by conductor Thomas Wilkins while fireworks lit the night sky.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Out of the Blue tour:

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Coldplay

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Coldplay brought their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour to our 49ers (Levi’s) stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco this year, and they will be back in 2017. It was an amazing night of lights, confetti, stagecraft, and music, courtesy of Chris Martin and band. Followers of Coldplay take no issue with their often-sentimental lyrics and gut-wrenching delivery by heartthrob Martin. I’ve read some number of critics who are dismissive of this band and their music exclaiming, “There’s no crying in a rock concert!”. Fair enough, Coldplay’s songs veer towards “adult contemporary,” with few gritty guitar licks, in favor of acoustic guitar and piano. This is, after all the man who very publicly decided to undergo a “conscience uncoupling” with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, then penned a song called “Fun” featuring the lyrical refrain “Didn’t we have fun” to honor what they had together. Very adult…and, excellent!

 

Adele

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We saw Adele this year, yes we did! It was truly amazing – what a talent. Her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit while her image was projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view. What was unexpected for this uninitiated punter is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat songs in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.

 

The Who

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We caught the most recent, maybe last tour, of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour. The show was fabulous. Daltry is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! Townsend still hits his vocal marks and his guitar technique is immaculate. Though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare. We were lucky recipients!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Tommy tour:

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Photo (c) Neal Preston

 

Alice Cooper

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Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. The man brought his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes to San Francisco this year. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. The set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.” If only he had actually run and won!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Welcome to my Nightmare tour:

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Bad Company

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Bad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. This show, which included opener Joe Walsh, was absolutely amazing. Importantly Paul Rodgers has kept himself and his voice in perfect shape, and the band is as tight as ever, pinned down by Simon Kirke’s “rock steady” percussion. Catch this band while you can!

 

Roger Hodgson

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Roger Hodgson performed again this year in the states to audiences of adoring fans. Our show down at Coachella was a heart rending, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp. Hodgson was in fine voice, still able to hit all those soaring high notes, and also waxing philosophical between the hits and deep cuts, which included four from my favorite, Crisis? What Crisis? He spoke plainly and warmly about the meaning of these songs, to him and to others, sometimes reading notes he’s received from fans or sharing his thoughts about how music can bring back memories, and heal troubled spirits. Truer words.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Breakfast in America tour

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Styx

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Styx is a Chicago based rock band that released nearly a dozen records from the start of their most enduring lineup in 1972, through 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. Three multi-talented singer-songwriters Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), and James Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards), backed by brothers John Panozzo (drums) and Chuck Panozzo (basses) penned a dramatic blend of rock and pop that placed them in league with stateside brethren Kansas and Journey. This author caught the group on tour supporting the Pieces of Eight album on January 27 1978 at the Long Beach arena. It was an exciting, powerful presentation, featuring a tight performance that showcased the soaring vocal prowess and instrumental credentials of each principal musician. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. We saw the Shaw/Young band this year and several times this decade and every time they were absolutely fantastic!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Pieces of Eight tour:

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Ambrosia

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The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia was back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Last year we caught cofounder David Pack who also continues to perform solo shows amongst many other pursuits in the music business. These musicians remain at the top of their game, and it’s been amazing to see them perform again.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled tour:

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Special mention goes to Ian Anderson’s multi-media concert about the original Jethro Tull – very innovative use of filmed sequences which help with the vocals and storyline – and, I finally got to meet Ian, one of my musical heroes! Jethro Tull of course features in my book as well, focusing on their 1973 epic, A Passion Play!

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Other shows this year that were similarly fantastic included Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Specials, X, Ra Ra Riot, American Football, Beach House, St. Germain, Album Leaf and Steven Wilson, who made a final victory lap in support of Hand.Cannot.Erase. All in all a big year for live music!

 

Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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Titled Rockin’ the City of Angels, the book was a 2 year labor of love for this long time rock fanatic. I described it on the back cover in this way:

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STROBE FLASHES PIERCE THE DARK STAGE to reveal a NYC street punk as he faces the other half of his fractured self. A father’s WWII fighter plane crashes into a wall, temporarily slowing its ascent around his son’s troubled heart. A fiend clad in a white tuxedo steps out from the frame of a graveyard scene onto a haunted stage welcoming all to his many nightmares. A woman, weapon drawn, tells the story of James and his very cold gun. The top drummer from the top 70s rock band in the world pounds out the opening beat that tells us it’s been a long time since he rock ‘n’ rolled . . . a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely lonely time.

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David Bowie photo (c) Neil Zlowzower / Atlas Icons

THESE IMAGES ARE SEARED into my memory from the rock concerts I witnessed in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels” in the 1970s, a time when rock bands were making expansive concept records with sweeping themes. Rock albums at the time promised “theater of the mind,” and their creators were inspired to mount elaborate stage shows that brought these dreams to life. These artists used every available piece of stagecraft—lights, projections, backdrops, props, and costumes—to create awesome spectacles for arenas packed with adoring fans— fans like you and me.

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This book celebrates more than thirty of these incredible performances including key tours by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Heart, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes. We’ll share memories of those legendary concerts and my reviews of the best video documents of the era, each band illuminated by a hand-picked collection of brilliant images—some never-before seen—by the best photo- journalists of that time including Richard E. Aaron, Jorgen Angel, Fin Costello, Armando Gallo, Neal Preston, Jim Summaria, Lisa Tanner and Neil Zlowzower along with many others.

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Who photo (c) Neal Preston

This coffee-table book is nearly the size of an LP album cover, 396 pages, over 500 images, written by Douglas Harr, designed by Tilman Reitzle. Forword by Armando Gallo.

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The bands, order by category, then the date of their key performance in L.A.

Alice for President!

cooperalice2016_alice_72dpiAlice Cooper started as a band that featured Vincent Furnier (vocals), Glen Buxton & Michael Bruce (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). The group’s early performances are some of the first examples of overtly theatrical rock, designed to shock and excite young audiences of the 70s. Because of their antics and stage sets that included guillotine, live snakes, baby dolls, fake blood, spiders and an electric chair, the group gained prominence and was banned more than once in multiple countries. In 1974 after 7 albums and countless concert dates, the group took a hiatus. Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career. We just caught his latest band in concert in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater, fittingly near Halloween, on October 28, 2016.

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Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. Of their place in history, Cooper sums it up best in a documentary interview: “From the very inception of Alice Cooper [the idea] was, there are so many rock heroes, we need a rock villain. I want to be the rock villain. I want to be the personified Captain Hook of rock. I don’t want to be Peter Pan. But I wanted Alice to also … have a sense of humor. I enjoyed playing the heavy… a bizarre vaudevillian character.”

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This all remains true today, as Cooper completes a long 2016 tour with his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. The best visuals included costumes like the Harley Quinn-styled ballerina and the huge “FrankenAlice” monster, which rages about the stage after being shocked to life during “Feed My Frankenstein.” Other bits included the long running gag where Alice is decapitated via guillotine, and the scene featuring the limp doll he caresses during “Cold Ethyl.” This, along with excellent stage lighting, pyrotechnics, and even bubbles (bubbles?) created a visual feast for the enthusiastic crowd.

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Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own cooperalice_nita_72dpistill-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. Near the end of the main set, Cooper paid unexpected and fitting homage to three fallen rock stars, Keith Moon, David Bowie, and Lemmy of Motörhead. Other than that the set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.”

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With many number one hits, multiple awards and a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper hit his marks once again, continuing a long and successful career as rock’s oft lighthearted prince of darkness.

Be sure to vote!

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The band included:

Tommy Henricksen, Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss (guitars)
Chuck Garric (bass)
Glen Sobel (drums)

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cooperalice_superdvd_72dpiFor those interested in more on Alice Cooper, the band, and the man, consider picking up the brilliant documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) which is every bit as artfully presented as his unique stage shows. It provides deep insight into the madness that created the Alice Cooper character, a persona that almost killed the man.

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Alice Cooper’s Nightmare

Cooper_Alice3_5x3_72dpiAlice Cooper was a band, and a man, that originated in Phoenix (via Detroit) featuring Vincent Furnier (vocals), Glen Buxton & Michael Bruce (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). The group’s performances are some of the first examples of overtly theatrical rock, meant to shock and excite young audiences of the 70’s. Because of their antics and stage sets that included guillotine, live snakes, baby dolls, fake blood, spiders and an electric chair, the group was banned more than once in multiple countries. In 1974 after 7 albums and countless concert dates, the group took a hiatus. Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career.

Cooper_DVDCover_3x4_72dpiHis first solo record, Welcome To My Nightmare (1975), is a concept album that takes a journey through the childhood nightmares of Steven, the central character. The album, though less gritty than prior works with the full Alice Cooper band, is a classic in the rock genre, spawning a television special, international tour, and concert movie of the same name. These concerts, and the film that captures them represent a milestone in the presentation of a rock concert as a theatrical experience.

The Welcome To My Nightmare concert film, taken from a performance at Wembley Pool in September 1975 (with added footage from Shepperton Studios) was produced, directed, and choreographed by David Winters. The movie had a limited run in 1976, at which time I saw the film at a local Cooper_Chorus_72dpitheater outside Los Angeles and was struck by the brilliant performance, along with the rapturous audience that night. It captures the fantastic theatrical production, complete with dancers depicting skeletons, spiders, and other characters, and featuring narration by Vincent Price. In one segment Cooper decapitates and kills an 8-foot-tall Cyclops, in another he battles with giant spiders, and throughout he plays the lead showman, rocking the crowd, and even dancing in a chorus line, clad in a white tuxedo, recalling elements of Vaudeville. One of the most unique and striking set pieces of the show, designed for the song “Escape” features Cooper and four dancers appearing onto the stage by leaping out of a movie screen, and then dancing in and out of the ongoing film. The concert ends with a series of tracks that better feature his band, which includes Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter (Guitars) and Whitey Glan (Drums).

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Of the many rock bands in the 70’s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. Sets and costume designs, some created by Disney studios combined to create a stunning evening of macabre entertainment.

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Of their place in history, Cooper sums it up best in the documentary interview: “From the very inception of Alice Cooper [the idea] was, there are so many rock heroes, we need a rock villain. I want to be the rock villain. I want to be the personified Captain Hook of rock. I don’t want to be Peter Pan. But I wanted Alice to also … have a sense of humor. I enjoyed playing the heavy… a bizarre vaudevillian character.” Later, he adds, “We couldn’t go on stage and do a straight rock n roll show – we had to do it theatrically.” With many number one hits, awards, and a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper hit those marks and sustained a long and successful career in music.

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Though the film is a bit dark, it is of high enough quality to be enjoyable, and does capture this show for posterity. The 1999 Rhino Entertainment DVD release, clocking in at 109 minutes, includes an interview and commentary track with Cooper, and a few other extras. Also of note, there is a television special called Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975) that preceded this film, and is itself heralded as an early example of long form video, featuring the entire album plus an additional track, and appearances by Vincent Price. The show won a Grammy award for Best Music Video, Long Form in 1984. While it was released on home video, it has not been issued on DVD. Instead, the best way to see what the commotion and controversy was all about back in 1975 is the Welcome To My Nightmare film.

For those interested in more on Alice Cooper, the band, and the man, consider picking up the brilliant documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) which is every bit as artfully presented as his unique stage shows. It provides deep insight into the madness that created the Alice Cooper character, a persona that almost killed the man.

Film Credits:

Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
Executive Producer Willam Silberkleit
Producer, Director & Choreographer David Winters
Set Designer Jim Newton, Costume Designer Casey Spencer, Special Costumes Jack Shaften, Make-up Delores Wells.

© Copyright 1976 by Tommy-J Productions
Photos@Michael Ochs Archives/Venice, CA
Program @Rhino Entertainment Inc. (1999)

The players (cast) included:

Dick Wagner (guitar)
Steve Hunter (Guitar)
Whitey Glan (Drums)
Vincent Price (Spider Voice)
Sheryl G. Goddaard (Ethyl)
Robyn Blythe (Bat Woman)
Eugene Montoya (Voodoo Man)
Uchi Sugiyama (Frog Man)

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