Tag Archives: metal

Alice Dies Again…

Wakeman2016Cooper_StoneFreeAd_72dpiQuite a weekend just passed at the O2 Arena, London. The Stone Free festival featured a series of bands over two days, June 18th and 19th, 2016 headlined by American rock legend Alice Cooper on day one then on day two Britain’s treasure, Rick Wakeman. It was both a complementary and divergent pairing, Alice heading a list of bands Saturday who are principally heavy rock ‘n’ rollers, such as The Darkness and Apocalyptica, and Wakeman with various progressive rock bands on Sunday including among others Steve Hackett and Marillion. I’ve seen this type of pairing before in Britain, last year’s Ramblin’ Man festival paired The Scorpions opposite Camel, and it’s entertaining just to walk around and people-watch. It’s easy to guess who came to see which bands as the rockers tend to favor adornment of leather, skulls, and crosses, and the proggers, well, they tend to arrive in carefully selected t-shirts commemorating Yes, Genesis, ELP, and so on. I started the weekend by picking up a Wakeman t-shirt so as to immediately declare my allegiance.

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Having said that, I was also very excited to see Alice Cooper on “Classic Rock” day, as it was to be my first time seeing him after all the years I’ve spent in concert halls. For anyone not familiar with the history, Alice Cooper shows have featured dancing skeletons, attacking spiders, an 8-foot-tall Cyclops, broken baby dolls, and fully functioning guillotines all fronted by Alice’s vaudevillian protagonist backed by a rock ‘n roll band that Cooper_DVDCover_3x4_72dpiwould influence rock and metal upstarts for decades. In 1974, after racking up seven albums and countless concert performances, the original ban split. Singer Vincent Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career. His first album and tour spawned the movie Welcome To My Nightmare that screened in 1975 at my local movie palace. I took to this film immediately, reveling in the clever stagecraft that included dancers appearing to step in and out of a movie.

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Now more than 40 years on, and many solo album releases later, Alice still rocks — the concert was fantastic. As you might guess, these shows are quite well rehearsed now, a bit less anarchy on stage, replaced by more carefully crafted choreography, better lighting and effects. Yet the feeling of spontaneity and naughtiness remains, still aided with stage antics, props and costumes, continuing Alice’s long string of compelling rock ‘n’ roll Grand-Guignol, attended by the faithful and curious alike. The set list was packed with classics, beginning with “The Black Widow,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” He included several hit singles ending with “School’s Out” and the encore “Elected.” Late in the set list, Alice covered four songs by departed rockers, revealing a tombstone flag for each as he honored Keith Moon (“Pinball Wizard”), Jimi Hendrix (“Fire”), David Bowie (“Suffragette City”) and Lemmy (“Ace of Spades”). Alice’s voice sounded great — he’s kept the growl, but can still deliver a ballad like “Only Women Bleed.” Of all the fine musicians on stage, Nita Strauss stood out for her demonstrative searing leads on guitar. But this show has been and remains about the performance, about making a rock concert interesting by investing the proceedings with theatrics, in this case celebrating all things macabre. And, as is tradition, Alice died once more on the guillotine, guilty as always.

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p.s. oh yeah, and time to pick up some leather, skulls and crosses to balance my allegiences!

 

Black Sabbath Survival

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was discovering classic and progressive rock music back in the 70’s, Black Sabbath was on the outs in my circle of friends. Their lyrics, presence and brand all shouted ‘satanism’ and ‘occult.’ The fantasy elements of Yes, Genesis, Camel and their ilk seemed more welcoming to our young minds. So, I never collected Sabbath recordings and did not attend any of their shows, nor did I know anyone who did. As their influence spread and drove the heavy metal movement over time I also stayed away, even though I became enamored of the goth movement in the ’80’s, and even later, knowing that Ozzy Ozbourne actually had become quite an entertaining front man and TV personality and that Dio had become one of the best metal vocalists ever, not to mention the fact that Toni Iommi kept showing at the top of guitar players popularity polls.

All of that changed for me earlier this year when I read of Toni’s illness, recovery, and the rebirth of his classic guitar techniques on the new recording ‘13‘ – hailed as a metal masterpiece and return to form from these survivors. I downloaded the tracks and instantly loved the album.  This led me to look into their past work to discover what I had missed. In fact, while several of their most popular tracks present the occult, more of them are about other topics well suited to aggressive rock – the folly of war, drug addition and other social ills.  Heck they even sang about fairies with boots!  Often there were long instrumental breaks with a clear blues-rock vein, at times reminiscent of early blues based Jethro Tull, with a sometimes ‘progressive’ approach to songwriting, as many of their best tracks switch keys and rhythm as they unfold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATherefore it was with great anticipation that we finally attended the most recent Black Sabbath show at the Shoreline Amphitheater on August 26, 2013. And it was everything I hoped it could be – great set list, Ozzy still an energetic front man, able to sing and deliver the old and the new work, Toni in rare form ripping through his riffs, and Geezer proving why he’s been one of the most celebrated bassist in rock. The set list featured original work from their first albums, including War Pigs, N.I.B., Paranoid, Black Sabbath, and Iron Man, as well as new tracks including God Is Dead? and Age of Reason. Not sure this will lead me to collect more metal than I have today – I’ve always been more a fan of keys driven work, but I now have Sabbath sitting in their proper place in the collection, between Bad Company and Camel, and alongside the contemporaries of their day. A rebirth of survivors for this older, newer fan.