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Jun. 5, 2024

Gig Review: Alice Cooper + Blondie At Newcastle Entertainment Centre

via Hot Metal Mag

Shortly after the stage set of Alice Cooper was being meticulously constructed like massive Lego pieces of some sort of haunted mansion or, staircase flanked court room setting, the curtains were dropped to add to the element of surprise. As the PA pumped out tracks from Alice’s new Road album, and people could only speculate on the stage set, the energy in the room lifted. Soon enough, it was all systems go, with a mock broadsheet newspaper headline of a masthead titled The Australia Chroniclesscreaming “Banned in Australia! Alice Cooper. Trial Set: for Deeds Against Humanity”. And a cloaked bell ringer in a Bubonic plague doctor mask and assorted other costumed ghouls as the curtain fell. At the top of the mirrored side of stage stairs, bassist Chuck Garric stood stage right with guitarist Tommy Henriksen at stage left.

The newspaper article curtain dropped to then reveal the top hat, and coat and signature makeup adorned, pirate sword brandishing front man Alice Cooper. Suitably stage clothed co-guitarists Ryan Roxie and Ibanez signature guitar queen, Nita Strauss were alongside but as the first portion of the raw rock of “Lock Me Up” from late eighties classic album Raise Your Fist and Yell segued into latest album track, “Welcome to the Show”. All mobile band members were like constant moving targets, darting around the stage, weaving in and out of Cooper’s orbit, and jumping on and off a raised walking platform parallel to the stage front border. Everyone in the room was up on his or her feet, except of course incredibly drummer, Glen Sobel, whose double kick drum kit, sat front of four towering visual panels bordered in gothic styled border panelling, relaying close-up visuals of stage action for the benefit of the audience in the cavernous arena.

A suitably seventies-sounding arrangement of the classic “No More Mr. Nice Guy” had audience singalongs, and hints of falsetto from Cooper. It was followed by the powering tracks “I’m Eighteen”, set list staple “Under My Wheels”, chock full of guitar soloing trade-offs, fluid drumming, and amusingly insightful lyrics from Cooper that still have a great sense of black humour.

Guitar playing lurched between more expressive, blues-based style of Roxie to the fleet-fingered virtuosity of Strauss, with the meat and potatoes, unison bends style work executed with brash style by Henriksen. All guitarists – and bassist Garric – provided recognisable, and well-timed backing vocals, with the title track classic hit “Billion Dollar Babies” demonstrating the band and Cooper’s tight execution of song performance.

“Hey Stoopid” was almost as bombastic as the recorded version, with various vocal tracks added, and some cowbell from Sobel. Prior to the guitar solo trade-offs between Strauss and Roxie, Cooper and Strauss had eye contact during the relatable lyrics, indicating some lived experience. As the song progressed to a chorus repeat, and almost a band tacit moment as the crowd sang along, the band kicked in, and Strauss’ outro solo took flight, yet still managed to reference the known riff of Clapton’s “Layla”. It’s probably a running joke in the band to keep them amused but it was fun.

“Department of Youth”continued the hit parade, as big chords and unison bends melded with audience call-and-response work. A couple of tracks from Hey Stoopid ensued with the more melodic “Snakebite” seeing Cooper adorned with a real python, as Strauss riffed and soloed nearby. The comical, double entendre filled rock boogie vibe of “Feed My Frankenstein” let Strauss indulge in whammy work, and Sobel in drum fills galore, with Strauss then letting rip a barrage of squealing harmonics, and fluid soloing, and rock poses, trading off with Roxie as the ten foot Frankenstein’s monster on stilts appeared, arms outstretched behind them, adding pantomime to proceedings.

Pulsing synth parts introduced monster hit “Poison”, including Strauss’ breathy backing vocals, and Cooper toying with the lyrics to include audience members and saying ‘raise your hands if you’re poison.’ A “Black Widow Jam” was preceded by the screen showing the now classic Vincent Price narrated black widow spider segment from the Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare film. This introduced Strauss’ solo spot, as she appeared atop the staircase at stage left, soloing with sustained notes and legato playing, then walking down to the drum kit area, peeling off segments of chromatic tapping, and whammy screams, into riffing with an Eastern vibe completed with descending trills and whammy affected renditions of known melody lines, backed by some bass tonic notes.

Theatrics ramped up “Ballad of Dwight Fry”, with Cooper in a strait jacket, taking a certain turn from controlled knife throwing, balloon popping and impaling paparazzi photographers to darker territory. This of course was the part of show with the guillotine segment, which included ever reliable Sheryl Cooper dressed as Marie Antoinette, revelling in Cooper’s well practised decapitation routine. Kids didn’t bat an eyelid at the gag.

After this, the band only, fronted by Garric, played “I Love the Dead”, including a very late eighties Megadeth-sounding rhythm interlude. Miraculously re-appearing, atop a huge podium with flags, Cooper and band completed the main set with the humorous evergreen track, “Elected”, having all the more comical aspects given the unedifying state of world politics. Streamers from the ceiling rigs were then dropped on the audience, along with a stream of plectrums.

The encore quickly arrived in the form of classic album title track “School’s Out”. The marching feel, double stop chorus riff and song structure allowed for plentiful guitar embellishments between vocal parts. During the song, a breakdown part saw Cooper address the audience in laconic fashion and introduced his band members with a nod and a wink, then introducing himself in classic third person irony, saying, “and playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight – me.”

Then with the song reaching its natural, over the top conclusion, Cooper quipped, “may all of your nightmares be horrific – goodnight.” So, with that, the band left the stage, as new album track, “I’m Alice” played over the PA.

Alice Cooper live is an experience and remains one of the best international touring acts around. It is fair to say that he singlehandedly saved a rapidly nosediving festival from abject oblivion. He continues to deliver and do so without being overly repetitive or becoming subject to the trappings of a sometimes fickle and largely unpredictable industry. In fact, similar comments could be made of Blondie but when it comes to this rock show, Alice saved the day.