Blues, Shock and Rock Rumble New Jersey

Edgar Winter Band, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple blew off roof at PNC Bank Arts Center

What do you get when you have blues rocker Edgar Winter, Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and hard rock pioneers Deep Purple on one ticket? Three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some hearing loss!

I cannot believe it took me more than 30 years after I first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band live. Last night, that time finally came when Deep Purple played the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Also on the ticket were Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, who opened the four-hour night including breaks for stage changes.

From the very beginning, the Edgar Winter Band felt like an engine running on maximum rpm the entire time – almost as if Winter, who is the younger brother of electric blues legend Johnny Winter, wanted to bundle the energy of Alice Cooper’s and Deep Purple’s longer performances in a much shorter set. If that was indeed his goal, he succeeded!

Winter’s five-track set included the 1973 Edgar Winter Group hits Free Ride and Frankenstein, as well as covers of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Tobacco Road and Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. He dedicated the last two tunes to his brother. In addition to Winter’s impressive vocal dynamics, he showcased his multi-instrumental skills, playing keyboards, saxophone and percussion. Here’s a clip of Tobacco Road captured during a performance in Atlanta earlier this month.

Next up was Alice Cooper. I only knew four of the sixteen songs he performed, but fortunately, there is setlist.fm. With a discography of 27 studio albums to date, Cooper had plenty of material he could draw from. The set spanned tacks from 1971’s Love It To Death until his last album Paranormal, which was released at the end of July.

Cooper’s gig started off with Brutal Planet, the title song of his 2000 studio album. This was followed by No More Mr. Nice Guy from his best-selling 1973 record Billion Dollar Babies, which hit no. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. No More Mr. Nice Guy was the most successful of the four singles from the album, climbing to no. 25 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here is a clip from a show in Nashville back in May.

The stand-out musician in Cooper’s band was lead guitarist Nita Strauss. The 30-year-old from Los Angeles is a quite a shredder. According to Wikipedia, one of her ancestors on her father’s side of the family is Johann Strauss II, the famous Austrian composer. Strauss, who became Cooper’s touring lead guitarist in 2014, was ranked no. 1 on Guitar World’s 10 Female Guitarists You Should Know. Here is a clip of a solo Strauss played during the show, which blends into Poison, another big hit for Cooper from his 18th studio album Trash, released in 1989.

Of course, a review of Cooper’s set wouldn’t be complete without the epic School’s Out, the title track from his fifth studio album, which appeared in June 1972. Perhaps not surprisingly, he kept it all the way until the very end as the encore. Here’s a clip from Appleton, WI from June.

And then it was finally time for Deep Purple, the main reason I was at last night’s show. The gig was part of the band’s Long Goodbye Tour, which supports their 20th and latest studio album Infinite. When Deep Purple announced the tour in December 2016, drummer Ian Paice told Heavyworlds, “It’ll be a long tour; it may be the last big tour, we don’t know…We haven’t made any plans, but it becomes obvious that you cannot tour the same way you did when you were 21.” In June 2016, Paice had a mini-stroke, which impacted his right hand and forced the band to cancel some shows in Scandinavia.

Last night, I have to say I thought Paice was in superb shape. There were no signs of any impairment. In fact, I was most impressed with him and keyboarder Don Airy. Singer Ian Gillan, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit subdued. At 72 years, he is the oldest member of the band. Plus, as a vocalist, changes are perhaps more obvious. Unlike a guitar you can tune, the voice is a natural instrument that changes over time. Gillan has been a singer for a whooping 55 years. Even though his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it was still amazing to see him perform alongside his Machine Head compatriots Paice and bassist Roger Glover. Steve Morse, who at 63 is the youngest member of Deep Purple, is a very fine guitarist.

Deep Purple opened their set with two of their greatest songs, Highway Star and Fireball from Machine Head (1972) and Fireball (1971), respectively. I’ve always loved Highway Star’s organ and guitar solos on the studio version, which were played by the amazing Jon Lord and rock guitar virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore, respectively. Perhaps that version puts the bar impossibly high for a live performance. Here is a clip from a show earlier this month in Woodlands, Texas.

Machine Head was the best represented album in Deep Purple’s set. In addition to Highway Star, they played Lazy, Space Truckin and of course Smoke On The Water – frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if they had included all of the record’s tunes – each of them is great, in my opinion!

Songs from the Infinite album included Time For Bedlam and The Surprising. Deep Purple also played two tracks from 1984’s Perfect Strangers, Knocking At Your Back Door and the title song. I always thought Perfect Strangers, the first record after the band had disbanded in 1976, was a pretty good comeback album. Here is a clip of the title track, which was also captured during the above Woodlands concert.

Another great moment in Deep Purple’s set last night was Hush, which is from their 1968 debut Shades Of Deep Purple. By the way, Paice already was part of the band’s lineup then, making him the only member who has played on all Deep Purple records to date. Written by Joe South, Hush became the band’s first hit single climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a clip captured a few days ago during a concert in Mansfield, Mass.

Last but not least there is what is probably the band’s signature song featuring a riff every guitarist learns: Smoke On The Water. It was the final tune of Deep Purple’s set and a great end to a terrific rock night. Here is a clip recorded in May at a show in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Alice Cooper/School’s Out

One of Mr. Shock Rock’s defining tunes

To say it right upfront, I know very little about Alice Cooper, so cannot claim to be a fan. Yet, I’m seeing him tomorrow night as part of a double feature with Deep Purple, my favorite hard rock band since I was 14 or so, when I got the Machine Head album on vinyl – still own it to this day! Cooper’s School’s Out is one of a handful of his tunes I know and kind of think is cool. The following clip was captured back in May during a show in Ohio.

Credited to all members of the Alice Cooper Band, who in addition to Cooper included Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Glen Buxton (lead guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass, backing vocals) and Neal Smith (drums backing vocals), School’s Out was first released as a single in April 1972. It’s the title track of the band’s fifth studio album, which appeared in June that year.

The tune became Cooper’s first big hit, peaking at no. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and catapulting the album to climb to no. 2 on the Billboard 200. In the U.K., the song did even better, hitting no. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart. In 2011, School’s Out was also ranked at 326 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Alice Cooper Still Shocking

Shock rocker returns with first new album in six years

Alice Cooper is one of these guys who have been around forever, 50-plus years to be more exact, yet other than a few hits like I’m Eighteen, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Poison and of course School’s Out, I really don’t know his music. But since I’m going to see Deep Purple together with Cooper at the end of August, his new album caught my attention when I spotted it coincidentally earlier today under new releases in Apple Music.

While I’ve always liked the aforementioned tunes, I’ve never further explored Cooper’s music. That being said, every time I encounter him, there is something I find intriguing – I can’t quite explain what it is. It’s not the guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood and other weird objects he uses during his live performances. That’s simply all part of his shock rock style, a genre he pretty much invented – BTW, kudos to any artist who creates their signature style!

So is his new album, which was released today, going to make me a fan? I’m not sure. After having listened through the 12 studio tracks a few times, what I can say with confidence is most of the music rocks nicely, but there’s no School’s Out material – except for the six additional live versions of old Cooper tunes, which include School’s Out, as well as No More Mr. Nice Guy.

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A few things are remarkable about Paranormal. To start with, it is Cooper’s 27th studio release, if you include the first seven albums that were recorded when Alice Cooper still was known as a band rather than a single artist. Speaking of that band, two of the songs on the album feature four of the original members: Cooper (vocals, then known by his real name Vincent Damien Furnier), Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). Additional guests include Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and U2’s Larry Mullen.

In a Billboard story, Cooper explained his initial intention had been to make “another Alice Cooper album,” but the outcome was a concept. “Lyrically every single character has some sort of abnormal, paranormal problem going on and I didn’t have a name for the album, so Paranormal ended up sounding like the thing that cemented this all together,” Cooper noted. “It wasn’t paranormal on a level of ghosts or UFOs or Bigfoot; It was just paranormal on the fact (the characters) were next to normal. It certainly wasn’t normal.”

Paranormal opens with the title song, which features Roger Glover. The above Billboard story also includes a video breaking down the record. Commenting on the title track, he noted he wanted the album to have at least one “Cooperesque” song: “It’s a love song about a guy who’s on the other side. He’s dead and he comes to visit the girl, but there is that curtain between them where he can’t really touch her. She knows he’s there…It’s a creepy song, and we made it a little over the top…” I suppose you could say that – but what else would you expect?

Fallen In Love is a rock & roll tune with a nice ZZ Top vibe. Cooper explained for that reason he wanted to have Billy Gibbons – makes sense. It’s safe to assume this turned the rocker more into a ZZ Top-like tune. The song’s riff and solo definitely sound like classic Gibbons.

Holy Water is an unusual song for Cooper, which combines rock with a soul-like horn section. Apparently, when it initially was presented to him, he immediately liked the tune but didn’t feel the lyrics were something he’d ever sing. So he changed the words. Holy Water was also turned from what he called a rap tune into a rock song. The result is a song with a nice groove.

The Sound of A is the first tune that Cooper ever wrote back in 1967. At the time, his band was still called The Spiders. Dunaway, the bassist, had brought it in. “It was the most psychedelic song, because during the recording, everybody just went off on these guitar parts and things, and it just swirled,” Cooper noted. “It ended up being one of the most interesting songs on the album…totally forgot that I wrote it.”

Paranormal was produced by Bob Ezrin, who first worked with the Alice Cooper band in 1971, producing their third studio album Love It to Death. It included I’m Eighteen, the band’s first hit peaking at no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Since then, Ezrin produced 13 additional Cooper records, including the new album. Ezrin has also worked with other top-notch artists, such as Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Peter Gabriel. In fact, he produced Deep Purple’s last album Infinite.

As noted above, in addition to the studio songs, Paranormal features six live tracks. They were captured last May during a show in Columbus, Ohio. Here’s a clip of my favorite one, the epic School’s Out.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, YouTube