There’s always something special about arena shows. The vast amount of people, the carefully structured stage and the finely tuned sound all play a part in making these nights cherishing. The Birmingham Arena has been host to numerous greats from many genres and on the 14th November 2017, it was the rightful return of rock icon, Alice Cooper.
To open a show for such a huge player in rock is quite the honour and The Tubes did themselves well. Universal have just released a five-CD bundle of their eclectic collection of music and the band are currently on tour to promote this discography. The songs were hugely diverse with an overall blues overtone. From prog guitar solos to soft ballads, this band is formed of incredibly proficient players who are clearly well-seasoned tourers. The biggest reaction came from the single “White Punks on Dope” where frontman Fee Waybill sported a huge feather scarf and 2 foot tall platform shoes that by the time their last track “Talk to Ya Later” ended, he needed more than one helping hand to get himself off the stage.
They were quite quickly followed by the second act of the night, The Mission. They advertise themselves as gothic rock but to be honest, this wasn’t the vibe being given off. A reverb saturated guitar and questionable vocals showcased what would be quite euphoric melodies with the only real energy coming from the drummer at the back of the stage. The guitar effects engrained with thick chorus across all of the rhythm and leads gave each song a similar feel that I overheard being described as “floaty”. This almost sums up the entire performance for The Mission: floaty. Everything felt a little drawn out and the moments between songs were slightly awkward even with the audience being treated to quaint pieces of knowledge such as being told that custard originated in Birmingham. Good to know.
Two eyes highlighted in bright spotlights filled the front of the stage. There was a tremendous amount of shuffling going on behind the curtain and the crowd cheered anytime the slightest change was perceived. The anticipation was real. At no notice, the curtain fell and the heaviest guitar tone of the night blasted out across the arena. The principal star, Alice Cooper, struts out to the centre and takes his rightful place on the stage riser under a ceiling of sparks and smoke. The icon began spinning his cane and bellowing out his gritty voice to an already stunned audience. The rest of the band oozed cool.
Not only was the musicianship flawless, the entertainment and showmanship was equally, if not more, impressive. Throughout the entirety of the performance every member of Alice Cooper’s band exuded energy and flair. The songs were a mix of the latest album Paranormal all the way back to the first hits that debuted on the 1970s airwaves. Despite some of the tracks being quite uplifting and dare I say it, happy, the songs all had the signature gothic feel to them. Alice Cooper’s voice was full of tone and melody and everything he did was grounded in his horror style demeanour. The costume changes were sudden and barely noticeable and they added a serious amount of character and structure to the show. With Alice whipping himself dressed as a jockey during “Pain” which could have come straight out of a Tim Burton film, down to a bloodied surgeon, each song had meaning in the set and a performance to match.
Nita Strauss had her own moment to herself on stage to showcase her incredible talent of providing fast but emotional neo-classical lead which blended perfectly into the masterful intro riff of “Poison”. The lights dimmed as red and yellow spotlights narrowed onto the drum riser giving a moment everyone was expecting at such a classic rock event. The drum solo had everything going for it, including cowbell and one handed mastery to appease the captivated crowd. This was nothing less than a pure, unadulterated rock show. As the show went on, the stage became more and more irrational. During the solo of “Feed My Frankenstein”, Alice Cooper is strapped into an electric chair as yet more sparks and smoke fill the stage to reveal an 8ft tall Frankenstein (clearly homemade) to sing everyone the final chorus. The set continued with Alice Cooper ballroom dancing to “Cold Ethyl” with a soft mannequin woman whom he flung around the stage and abused with a kiss or two. It was after all of this absurdity that the set took its first real slow moment with “Only Women Bleed”.
However, that creepy life sized doll? She jumps out of a box as a real woman with a wind up key attached to her back. After what she’s just been through as Alice’s plaything, she does what she can and expresses her feelings through interpretive dance. This sick love story continued when Alice Cooper is placed into a straitjacket and is licked by the nurse doll/human. Yes, licked. She pulls out a giant syringe and injects him with it; leading into “Ballad of Dwight Fry” where in its closing moments Alice breaks out of the constraints and attempts to strangle the nurse. Fortunately he is foiled, tied up and a guillotine is brought to the stage. Although the effects were cheaply executed, every part of it worked in the performance and if anything it actually added to the excitement of it all. With a crash, the stage is soaked in heavy blood red lighting as the fake head of tonight’s main star is paraded around for the audience in a sing-a-long moment of “I Love the Dead”. This is great song to finish on in terms of stage performance and what was about to follow for the encore.
It’s worth mentioning that at this point Alice Cooper had barely said a word between the songs so when he announced that joining him on stage was the original Alice Cooper band the crowd rightfully went into a glorious state of madness. It was hard to watch without being caught up in all of the excitement as the original band played through “I’m Eighteen” with Alice Cooper sporting a bright, glittery, golden suit. I think the audience had been spoilt a bit by the show up until this point with the band being ridiculously good at playing. When the original members took over, the quality made a steep dive. Guitars scraping, drums sticks dropped and timing issues took the helm in the encore. This did serve as a reminder that looking past the glitz and glamour of the stage production, Alice Cooper started out as a rock and roll band that simply wrote great songs. For the finale, both new and old members joined Alice on stage for “School’s Out” and whatever bubbles, sparks and smoke remained were thrown out in plenty for a climax encompassing the full body of work of Alice Cooper. The pounding drums of the chorus played by two drummers was nothing short of tribal and made even more heroic with chanting from the entire arena.
The final bow was made after adding the chorus lyrics of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. With a long applause, the lights started to dim. The words, “The nightmare is on us” echoed across a now stunned and star-struck crowd in Birmingham.
Photos by Amplified Gig Photography