Tag Archives: warfield theater

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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The Specials and Terry Hall

specials_band2_144dpiTerry Hall’s artistry is one of Britain’s fairly well-kept secrets. Sure, the average music fan outside of the U.K. who knows a bit about punk and new wave music from the late 70’s through the 80’s will know of ska sensation The Specials, and might have known about Fun Boy Three – at least their song “Our Lips Are Sealed” (a much bigger hit for co-writer Jane Wiedlin’s The Go-Go’s.) But fewer yet will know about the bands Colourfield or Vegas (with Euryhmics founder David A. Stewart), or in fact any of Hall’s rich and varied solo work. Terry Hall lent his compositions, his smooth expressive voice, and his at times political, satirical, or dryly-humorous lyrics to many bands and projects over the years, delivering them in his distant yet passionate style, improving everything he touched.

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Hall first came to be known with ska revival band The Specials in the late 1970s. Keyboardist and political activist Jerry Dammers formed the Specials. The lineup shifted for a couple of years, gelling into the most known lineup of Hall, Dammers, vocalist Neville Staple, guitarists Roddy Byers and Lynval Golding, bassist Horace Panter and rocksteady beat drummer John Bradbury. Dammers started the 2 Tone Records label in 1979, released the band’s first single “Gangsters” and then their self-titled debut album. The Specials music combines the primarily joyful sound of ska music with often politically charged and socially conscious lyrical commentary, peppered with the energy and attitude of punk.

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After their second album More Specials, and the non-album single “Ghost Town,” Hall, Golding, and Staple left the group to form Fun Boy Three, who were active from 1981 to 1983. The rest of the musicians in The Specials soldiered on in various forms and bands including Special AKA, Special Beat (with members of the Beat), Sunday Best, and others. Dammers disbanded The Specials in 1984. There have been reunion shows, four album releases and various lineups of the band since that demise, but all without Dammers and most missing one or two other key members including Hall. Interest peaked beginning on the band’s 30th anniversary in 2009, which led to several tours, including one of North America in 2013 and another this year, which stopped in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater September 23, 2016.

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The show was fantastic. Today Hall, Golding and Panter represent the original band, with rock-steady Libertines drummer Gary Powell just this year replacing ace John Bradbury, after his unfortunate passing in 2015. Byers left in 2014, and Staple hasn’t joined due to health issues since 2013. Nevertheless, with Hall, Golding, and Panter up front and the full compliment of musicians alongside them, the band sounds amazing and the performance is spirited. Hall himself doesn’t move a lot, and expresses himself infrequently as is his norm. Quips like (paraphrased) “hey what’s this picture of Santa doing on my can of Coca-Cola? Pepsi is the anti-Christ!” belie his continuing acerbic wit, while his real focus is on faithful delivery of the vocals, a treat for any long time fan of Hall’s restrained vibrato.

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The band organized the set list creatively, starting at a slow pace with the hit single from their EP Ghost Town, building the intensity gradually over the next hour, until unleashing the one-two punch of “Nite Klub,” which drew of bit of “slam dancing” from the standing-room only crowd up front. Highlights included one of my favorite Hall compositions “Friday Night Saturday Morning,” which evoked the crowd to croon its instant-ear-worm chorus “I go out on Friday night and I come home on Saturday morning.” Later in the set, “Doesn’t Make It Alright,” and the second a-side single from the EP, “Why?” had us thinking about the sad state of race relations in America:

I’m proud of my black skin and you are proud of your white, so
Why do you try to hurt me?
Do you really want to kill me?

Fittingly, at this point Golding admonished us all not to vote for Trump! The band continued to build the momentum, performing most of their first two albums and the Ghost Town EP to the adoring crowd. By the end, after cranking thru up-tempo songs like “Concrete Jungle,” “Little Bitch,” and “Too Much Too Young” they eased off the gas with covers “Enjoy Yourself,” and “You’re Wondering Now.”

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Dammers once said that when a new innovative music comes to the fore, it can be embedded with political lyrics – he intended that The Specials be able to address the issues of racism, something every fan of the band knows well from their lyrics and between-song banter. Hall continued in this vein with Fun Boy Three, Colourfield, and his later solo work. It’s a successful brew – one that cemented the group’s reputation and importance for their fans. It’s very hard to believe that this groundbreaking band will see the 40th anniversary of their founding next year. These reunion shows are, still, highly recommended. Now, I can still wait and hope for, someday, a solo Terry Hall concert as well!