Review by John Jeffrey, photos by Thomas S. Orwat, Jr.
Canandaigua, NY – Over the past several years that I’ve seen Alice Cooper perform with his various lineups, it’s been Alice opening for other acts, such as Deep Purple and Motley Crue. Prior to these tours, as a support act, when “the Coop” was headlining, it was either at a small farm team Hockey arena or in a theater seating, with capacities less than 2,000. So when I heard that for the “Ol Black Eyes is Back” tour, that Alice would be performing at the CMAC/Marvin Sands amphitheater, down in the Finger Lake region, I thought it was a little advantageous of the 71 year old shock rocker to be headlining a 15,000 seat capacity facility.
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the fantastic turnout that the triple bill concert drew, with Motionless In White and Halestorm opening the show. The covered seated area, which holds approximately 5,000 was packed and lawn seating for up to 10,000, also had a good showing.
Motionless In White, aka MIW, opened the show at 7 pm, with a surprising amount of fans awaiting their performance. Usually, at amphitheater shows that start this early, most attendees are still milling around the beer tents and merch stands, but you could see many of the younger fans in attendance were standing in their seats, fists raised in the air, singing along to the barely audible vocals being sung by front-man, Chris “Motionless” Cerulli. Cerulli led MIW through a 40 minute set of what I guess you’d call “modern rock” (ie: detuned, repetitious, predictable riffs filled with backing tracks and samples), all being performed through a horrible front end house mix, mostly consisting of bass, with the end result sounding like mud.
While it’s respectable that the band tried to look like ‘rockstars,’ it really seemed like MIW is the tail end of the “Hot Topic” bands, looking as contrived as you can possibility imagine. Think “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and Marilyn Manson, all put in a blender with a Facebook filter. Yeah…Yawn.
Halestorm took to the stage at 8pm, and with it starting to get dark out, combined with a killer light show, I finally started to feel like I was at a rock show. While I always kind of felt Halestorm was more of a pop band disguised as a rock band, I have to admit Lzzy Hale and co. kicked my ass Wednesday night. Their hour long set was a perfect mix of mostly new songs from their 2018 CD release, ‘Vicious,’ and their breakout 2012 release, ‘The Strange Case of…’ Halestorm’s mix was a great improvement over Motionless In Mud, as drummer Arejay Hale’s kit sounded fantastic, which made his solo spot (partially performed with giant, over sized drum sticks) that much more enjoyably.
While Lzzy was dressed in an outfit that you might imagine Pat Benatar would’ve worn if she was in the Runaways, her vocal prowess was like a female version of Tom Keifer (Cinderella) in his prime, mixed in with a little bit of Rob Halford for good measure. Hale has really come a long way in terms of learning how to work a crowd, as she touched on all of the ‘sensitive spots,’ referencing female empowerment, self love, and embracing your inner ‘freak,’ creating nice segues for songs like, “Freak Like Me.” Ending their 10 song set with, “I Miss the Misery,” Halestorm brought the crowd to their feet with an extended jam, with Hale paying dueling guitar solos with her co-axe grinder, Joe Hottinger. The crowd was primed, ready and set for the alter ego of Vincent Furnier.
As the clock hit half past nine, it was so bad-ass to see Alice Cooper and co. take the stage with a full on production. Alice’s “Nightmare Castle” is the first real stage set up (and I’m not talking about scrims and a few ramps here and there) I’ve seen him use since his 1991 ‘Hey Stoopid’ tour. It was very reassuring to see Alice upping the ante, even at this point in his legendary career.
Starting the show with the unexpected, yet bombastic, “Feed My Frankenstein” and following up strong with “No More Mr. Nice guy,” all of the energy got sucked out of the CMAC when they went into “Bed of Nails,” followed by “Raped and Freezin’.” While I am in complete agreeance that the Cooper setlist was in dire need of an overhaul, to eliminate songs like “Welcome to My Nightmare,” “Got To Hell,” and EVERY SINGLE SONG released after 1991 and before 2017 was a HUGE MISTAKE!
It wasn’t until the fourth song in, when Alice Cooper band MVP, Tommy Henriksen and the Coop himself did a “call & response” intro (with harmonica & guitar) to “Fallen In Love” from 2017’s ‘Paranormal,’ that it felt like the show had become re-energized. The show continued to steam-roll ahead with Cooper classics like ‘”Muscle of Love,” “Eighteen” and the 11th hour addition of “Desperado,” all of which sounded fantastic.
When the “Hurricane” Nita Strauss took the stage for her extended solo spot (post “Posion”) it was clear to me what was so different about this current Alice Cooper tour. Not only were there about 2 decades of song selections removed, but although the lineup of the band has remained the same (Glen Sobel – drums, Chuck Garric – bass, Ryan Roxie, Tommy Henriksen & Nita Strauss – guitars), the pecking order of the guitar team has definitely changed. The ‘flash’ has been pushed to the top, while the real talent has been pushed to the bottom. Ryan Roxie, who has been Alice’s guitar player
longer than anybody, truly understands and embodies what it takes to play lead guitar for the band, and Tommy Henriksen is perhaps the most underrated guitar player playing the international rock circuit today. These guys should not be taking a backseat to anybody. Nita is a typical shredder guitar player, whose lead parts are mainly comprised of arpeggios, harmonic pull-offs and whammy bar dive bombs that sound like horse-y noises.
I totally get the reason behind why she’s in the band and the role she plays, but if that means curtailing the set-list to include a bunch of throw away mid 80’s – early 90’s material, I do not get that. I mean, did we all forget why Kane Roberts and Vinnie Moore didn’t last in the band?
Despite being disappointed with the set list and the overall running order of the show, I thought the new theatrical spots in “Roses on White Lace,” “Steven,” “Dead Babies” and the giant baby in “I Love the Dead” were very well thought out, and certainly done in classic Cooper fashion.
As the show came to a close, Lzzy Hale made an appearance playing guitar during “School’s Out,” while Tommy and Chuck goofed around, as Tommy handed his guitar off and started playing bass, with Chuck instructing him where to play the proper parts on the neck of the bass. Ending the show with true bombast, along with the traditional confetti filled balloons, streamers and confetti rained down from the rafters as the school bells rang.
With bands like Motley Crue retired, and KISS at the ‘End of the Road,’ we have to remember to be thankful for these true musical legends like Alice Cooper, who are still giving their all, and entertaining us with their classic rock and roll shows. So while you might read nitpicky reviews like this, go to the shows and have fun, because that’s what it’s all about. Remember the Coop!
For more on Alice Cooper, please visit www.alicecooper.com