(DVD, BLU-RAY, CD; UDR MUSIC;2014)
Most everybody who knows me and everybody that’s read my stuff for the past 20 years knows that I am a huge Alice Cooper fan – the band, solo stuff, Billion Dollar Babies… chances are good that if Alice, Dennis, Michael or Neal are involved, I have it. Even through the rough times (as far as I’m concerned, those rough times are called LACE AND WHISKEY, ZIPPER CATCHES SKIN and TRASH… though they are not without their own redeeming qualities). For the last fifteen years or so, Alice the man has mounted a substantial comeback, cranking out some fine albums and touring continually with a show that changes and evolves almost on a nightly basis. Alice always manages to surround himself with musicians of the finest kind and, the band he had playing behind him on August 3, 2013 before a mass of humanity at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany was no exception. Now, with RAISE THE DEAD… , we can experience the sights and sounds that have thrilled and shocked audiences for more than 45 years; both the Blu-Ray and DVD releases come packaged with a two CD set which, between video and audio, manages to capture Alice’s entire Wacken show.
As it was the music that always drew me in, let’s start by an examination of the CDs first. One of the cool things about an Alice Cooper show is the set list; with 26 studio albums worth of material (seven with the band and 19 solo), the Coop always manages to throw in a surprise or two. Even though he took time to open for Motley Crue’s farewell tour, among others, he’s spent a couple of years on the RAISE THE DEAD tour and, even though the set has remained fairly constant during that time, he’s only recently (in Alice time) brought back “Hello Hooray” as the opening number. The tune hasn’t sounded this good since the original band did it back in 1973, even though Alice’s vocals do get lost in the guitar mayhem a couple of times. “House of Fire” is pop star Alice from the TRASH album. It is one of the stronger tracks from that record, so I can live with it. Without stopping to catch their breath, the band (long-time guitarists Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen, long-standing bassist Chuck Garric, drummer Glen Sobel and hot-shot guitarist Orianthi) rip into “No More Mister Nice Guy.” There’s a little bit of playful risk-taking with that familiar guitar riff that adds a new dimension to the song. One of the original band’s snottiest songs, “Under My Wheels,” sounds even more garagey with the three prong guitar attack. Unfortunately, Sobel is no Neal Smith… but, then, who is? His playing is fine but, he just misses some of those subtle nuances that Neal added. Speaking of Mister Smith, his co-writing credit from Alice’s latest, WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE, is up next. “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” was one of three songs on the record to feature the four surviving Alice Cooper members (with former solo mainstay, guitarist Steve Hunter, ably substituting for Glen Buxton); there’s not as much venom in this live version, but it’s still very much in the classic Cooper vein. “Billion Dollar Babies” is the song that finally has all players hitting on all cylinders at the same time, with Glen Sobel being particularly on-point with the complicated drum patterns.
“Caffeine” is an odd little ditty that somehow works better than it should. The vocals are a bit muddy (must be all that coffee!), but it sure sounds like everyone is having fun. “Department of Youth” is one of – if not THE – favorite song from an album of great songs (WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE). This version is really good, though I did miss any mention of Donny Osmond or Justin Beiber or One Direction or whatever flavor of the month was hot in August 2013 when, at the end of the tune, Alice asks, “Who’s got the power?” and, then, “And who gave it to you?” A minor complaint, I know, but it’s the simple things in life that get me through. Alice kind of reasserted himself after TRASH with the more rocking sound of HEY STOOPID. The title track, an anti-drug message wrapped up in a snide Cooper lyric, is sorta in the same sarcastic vein as “Caffeine.” This live version sounds even better than the original studio version, which featured both Slash and Joe Satriani on guitar. “Dirty Diamonds” is the latest in a long line of spy and crime oriented songs (“Halo of Flies,” “Crazy Little Child” and “Man With the Golden Gun” immediately spring to mind) from Alice. It’s a solid rocker but, still, it just can’t compare to those earlier tracks. It features a duet with Garric and Sobel showing off their rhythm section muscles to great effect; near the end of the duet, Orianthi, joins in for a nifty little solo over the top. There’s a subtle shift in sound on the track that launched Alice’s solo career, “Welcome To My Nightmare.” Touring without a keyboard player and eschewing a backing track for the majority of the show gives much of the solo material a slightly different, beefier sound. I like it! The song rolls right into “Go To Hell” from Alice’s second solo outing. This version is relatively close to the original, with a killer guitar sound.
The second disc kicks off with the rarely performed “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” a track from Alice’s MCA days, which barely gets any love from the Coop (a situation that I really don’t understand, as there were some good tunes on both CONSTRICTOR and RAISE YOUR FIST AND YELL… especially side two of the latter). Anyway, gone are the cheesy ’80s synthesizer dance grooves, replaced by a heavier guitar sound, making it even creepier than the original version. Orianthi drops in a nice extended solo toward the end. “Feed My Frankenstein” may not be my favorite HEY STOOPID track, but it’s good theater. For a few tours, Alice would build a hulking monster out of body parts onstage. That worked really well but, now, he undergoes a “transformation,” turning himself into a Cooperstein; I like the idea… I’m just not too sure about that lumbering twelve foot tall Alice thing… looks kinda goofy to me. But, then, maybe that’s the whole point. The ultimate Alice Cooper song, “Ballad of Dwight Fry,” follows, as Doctor Alice is sent away for his crimes against nature. The traditional piano intro (a playback from the original recording) gives way to a haunting, reverb-drenched guitar from Roxie. Alice sounds even more schizophrenic and demented than usual, as “Nurse Sheryl” (named after Alice’s wife, who held the role until daughter Calico took over) torments the straightjacketed patient until he breaks free and chokes her. Now, that action is gonna get you punished, Alice… looks like you losing your head is gonna cause you to lose your head. The band plays the final, execution section of “Killer” (which doesn’t make it to the audio version of the show) as the guillotine does its thing, bisecting the villain at the neck. While Alice is dead, the band offers a truncated version of “I Love the Dead,” no verses just the chorus and the middle bridge section. It’s always been my favorite Alice tune and, after doing it this way for quite a few years, I’m kinda used to it.
As Nurse Sheryl inspects the body, a voice from beyond calls: “Alice Cooper. Alice, you’ve cheated death once again. How fitting that you should end up in the graveyard of the Hollywood Vampires… here with all of your dead, drunk friends.” Cue Alice’s return from the dead and the unmistakeable riff of the Doors’ classic “Break On Through.” Alice has often recounted the legendary binges that he and his drinking buddy, Jim Morrison, would go on; Morrison was a Hollywood Vampire before the club existed and exited before the first “meeting.” There’s some really nice guitar and drum work on the heavier, funkier version that Alice and his band offer up. John Lennon was a member of the debauched drinking club (and the only one who didn’t die of some sort of substance abuse) and Alice’s rendition of “Revolution” is spot on, particularly the backing vocals. Even though Jimi Hendrix wasn’t a Vampire, I’m sure that he and Alice ran into each other quite often in LA, probably at the Whisky on Sunset Strip. Since we’re talking about Hendrix here, this may not make too much sense but, consider the original before reading on. The beauty of “Foxy Lady” lies in its simplicity. Three guitarists, all trying to be Jimi, is just too much; everything else, including the vocals kinda get lost in the six-string melee. The next song brings things back to earth. The Who’s Keith Moon was a Vampire; Alice salutes him with a great, punky take of “My Generation,” a tune that he’s been doing off-and-on for the past fifteen years or so. Of all the covers, it sounds like Alice had the most fun with this one. As the song ends, he surveys the headstones of his friends, these four legends, proclaiming, “My dead, drunk friends.” It’s a great lead-in to…
“I’m Eighteen,” the band’s first hit single and the one that will always remind us why Alice, Glen, Dennis, Neal and Michael are considered one of the greatest rock anthem bands of all time. The next tune came very close to breaking my camel’s back as far as Alice Cooper is concerned. Oh, how I hate this song! It’s worse than “I Never Wrote Those Songs” and “(No More) Love At Your Convenience.” Combined. And, the most confounding thing about “Poison” is, he was dead sober when he wrote the thing; at least, when he did LACE AND WHISKEY, he had the excuse of living his life in a drunken stupor. For what it’s worth, the band sounded okay and the Wacken crowd (and everybody but me, apparently) really seem to dig this atrocity. As mentioned in a couple of other spots, the three guitar approach didn’t always mesh too well. “School’s Out” is an exception to that statement; the various styles of Orianthi, Ryan and Tommy (in order of their spotlight solos) work really well within the free-for-all confines of the traditional show closer. As he’s done for quite a few tours (probably as long as he’s done “My Generation”), Alice weaves Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In the Wall” into the fabric of “School’s Out,” offering a unique, utterly enjoyable mash-up of the two. It’s become somewhat expected of “Classic Rock” acts like Alice Cooper to release a live document of their shows, seemingly one or two a year. These affairs can, unfortunately, be hit or miss. I’ve never been disappointed with live Alice (“Poison” aside). RAISE THE DEAD… is no exception.
The accompanying video (available in DVD or Blu-Ray versions) sounds and looks great, though it is not without its problems. While we do have the entire “Killer” snippet leading up to the execution, both the Beatles and Hendrix numbers are cut. From “Break On Through,” the video jumps right to “My Generation.” Calico’s performance as Nurse Sheryl is magnificently over-the-top and the executioner’s post-beheading antics get a grin out of Chuck Garric. As Chuck exhorts the crowd to sing louder, the executioner holds the microphone up to the lips of the decapitated head, shrugs his shoulders and smirks, as if to say, “You ain’t got nothin’ to say now, do ya?” A great moment of sick humor. So, anyway, I mentioned problems. They are all directorial or editorial things that should not have happened since this was obviously a multi-camera shoot… meaning that they were all decisions made in post-production. It seems that the director had a very difficult time in finding, focusing on and following the solo or meaningful musical moment or cool theatrical moment. Examples include, but are definitely not limited to: A shot of Orianthi (granted, she is very photogenic), from behind, no less, when Ryan Roxie is playing a nice solo; a close-up of Garric behind his mic, before the chorus comes around and it’s his turn to actually sing… by the time he opens his mouth, the camera’s already off to the next incongruous shot; when we should have extended shots of Chuck, during his duet with Sobel, we see Glen and we see the crowd and we see long shots of the stage; during the climax of “Go To Hell,” Alice menaces Roxie and Tommy Henriksen with a whip… all we see is Alice flailing the weapon from one side of the stage to the other, either in close-up or from over Glen Sobel’s shoulder. Speaking of which, there are far too many such shots (over Sobel’s shoulder, I mean) and too many crowd reaction shots at integral points in the show (solos and such). These may seem like trifles to some but, to those of us who like to know what’s going on and who is playing which guitar part and what Nurse Sheryl is doing behind Alice, that’s what we wanna see, not a sea of indistinguishable faces in the dark. Having said that, problems aside, RAISE THE DEAD – LIVE AT WACKEN is a nice addition to your Alice Cooper collection.