Alice Cooper is a musical enigma, with a successful career spanning in excess of five decades and a live performance that is known and loved the music world over.
As such, support bands on his tours are often met with scant regard no matter their quality or pedigree. While often a great opportunity for the chosen bands to play in front of Alice’s audience, their value to a one-eyed crowd is generally measured in terms of how much closer they are to finishing their set so that the headline act would be closer to showtime.
Not so tonight, with Detroit proto-punk/hard rock outfit MC 50 and Australian hard rock warhorses, Airborne handed the usually difficult task of appeasing an increasingly restless audience.
Unfortunately, I caught only the last two songs from MC 50, ‘Call Me Animal’ and ‘Looking At You’, but these were enough to make me regret my late arrival.
Playing old school riffs over tight and driving bass licks, MC 50 were anything but overawed by the occasion. They laughed and joked with the crowd with their twin guitar assault laying the foundation for thunderous rock tunes that oozed with confidence.
Organisers must hold Airborne in high regard given they received the nod for main support over a band they had brought out from the States, and the Warrnambool four piece wasted little time in proving why, launching into ‘Ready to Rock’ after a spectacular red light show that danced over the crowd as the tension built and the lights blazed atop the 16 strong Marshall setup that left no doubt as to their intentions.
Powering through ‘Boneshaker’, ‘Back in the Game’ and ‘Girls in Black’, frontman Joel O’keeffe relished his time in the spotlight, running the length of the stage and throwing his body and guitar into every note with the ferocity of a wounded animal.
By the time they closed the set with ‘Runnin’ Wild’, Airborne had managed to do what many support bands have tried and failed in the past – gained the respect of a crowd that previously could not have cared if the band had been on the stage or not. The rapturous applause was genuine rather than polite and O’Keeffe’s promise that rock music is not dead was justified by tonight’s performance.
Dubbed the Ol Black Eyes Is Back tour, Alice Cooper chose a castle setting as his visual stage presence, complete with flashing red lights and typical gothic trimmings.
As the lights dimmed a voice crackled over the in house system, in a sinister tone announcing “Welcome to Alice Cooper’s nightmare castle. The doors have been locked and you are all doomed!”
The crowd erupted as the backing band filed onto the set, before Alice’s appearance through a doorway to the castle sparked a frenzy of applause as the first notes of ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ pierced the air and the restless crowd surged forward wildly.
In stark contrast to the abundance of Marshall’s adorning the stage for Airborne, Alice and co. displayed no visible amps or equipment, with the large and ominous castle monstering the stage.
The drum kit was set off slightly to the left to allow for the often used castle doorway and the continuous stream of support characters and hellish henchmen provided additional entertainment to the world-class musicianship on display.
Tommy Henriksen (bass), Chuck Garric (guitar) and Ryan Roxie (guitar) formed the nucleus of the rhythm section but it was Nita Strauss who emerged as Alice’s new billion dollar baby with an epic and talented display of guitar playing that was faultless in it’s delivery. The three pronged guitar onsluaght provided wave after enduring wave of precision axe playing, with each guitarist given their individual time in the spotlight but it was when the three came together on stage that the magic really happened. They played off and with each other with venemous intent, while Alice stormed the stage in commanding fashion, refusing to let father time reduce his impactful presence.
With numerous costume changes and an assortment of ever-changing weapons at his disposal, ranging from a cane to a fencing sword to a dagger never far from his reach, Alice wound back the clock with classics ‘Department of Youth’, ‘I Love the Dead’, ‘No More Mister Nice Guy’ and ‘Raped and Freezin’.
Running through set pieces to ‘Dead Babies’ and ‘Roses on White Lace’, Alice conducted the entire set, losing nothing in the way of theatrics from previous tours.
By the time the show finished with ‘Schools Out’ and the customary confetti, bubbles and large balloons fell from the roof, Alice had once again reaffirmed himself as the master of his domain. He is a man who refuses to act his age and is universally loved for it. He refuses to rest on past achievements and still attacks each performance with the youthful enthusiasm of many half his age and judging from the standing ovation the full house gratefully directed in his direction Ol Black Eyes might yet be back once again.
Images (C) Simone Gorman-Clark