(Blossom Music Center – Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio – September 9, 2017)
I didn’t grow up on classic rock. In high school, I loved bands like the Ramones, the Dead Boys, and Minor Threat. As I grew older, my tastes broadened. In October of 1996, Marilyn Manson’s “Antichrist Superstar” was released. The album immediately captured my imagination. The punchy and infectious songs paired with the charismatic stage antics of Mr. Manson were irresistible.
As I delved further into the lore of the band, I became interested in the acts that influenced it: the New York Dolls, Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie), and Alice Cooper. Each interesting in their own way, there was something about Cooper that stood out. There was a bombastic precision to his stage show that was undeniable. The dates are fuzzy, but I was finally able to see him live sometime within the next couple years. He played the Cleveland Rib Cook-Off. For the price of admission, I was able to see the “Godfather of Shock Rock.” The performance that night was flashy and audacious and was everything I wanted it to be. I’ve seen him three or four times in the ensuing years.
A number of months ago, my buddy Wayne mentioned that Cooper was coming to Blossom in September. Blossom Music Center is a 23,000 seat outdoor amphitheater in the quiet city of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. The summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra, I’ve seen bands there ranging from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to Tom Jones and Etta James—-and a million in- between. When Wayne told me that he had never seen Alice Cooper live, I insisted that we go. Wayne picked us up a pair of pavilion seats for the show and then we just had to wait.
With an advertised start time of 6:30 PM, we arrived at Blossom just before 6 PM. We quickly parked and began the 15-minute hike to the main gate. Along the way, we chatted with a guy named “Martin.” Martin is from Ravenna and rode his motorcycle to the show. We traded stories about the bands we have seen, particularly Motorhead.
By 6:20 we were seated. We had seats 21 & 22 in Section 48, Row B. Facing the stage, we were in the last section to the far left of the pavilion.
I hadn’t been to Blossom in a number of years. The last event I attended there was, I believe, Linkin Park’s “Projekt Revolution” tour in 2007. (Ain’t no way I was missing HIM and Placebo on the same bill.)
We spent the next 20 minutes “people watching.” For example, there was a guy wearing a mashed up black derby, a blue and red dashiki, black pants with thin white stripes and a haggard pair of New Balance sneakers. He had a pearly white Santa beard. His lady friend was dressed in purple from head to toe. Her jacket even had purple faux fur. These two were still living in the warm embrace of 1968.
Then there was an older black gentleman. He was wearing a tee-shirt commemorating one of Alice Cooper’s previous tours and black khaki pants tucked neatly into a pair of combat boots. And he was walking along the concourse with the coolest slow, but meticulously affected, jived-out walk that I have ever seen in person. This cat has mad style.
And Harley-Davidson attire. There were dozens upon dozens of people adorned in officially licensed Harley-Davidson shirts, vests, bandanas and, uh, “do-rags.”
“Nobody’s Winning At This Kind Of Game”
Edgar Winter took the stage precisely at 6:45. He and his band grooved and jammed their way through “Free Ride” and a particularly compelling cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Winter: “Alright! Alright! Alright! Alright! Is everybody feelin’ allllllrightttt??”
The band then dove into “Tobacco Road,” which he reminded the audience that he wrote with his brother. Winter played sax on this one.
I have to pause at this time to take note of the insane amount of air guitaring/drumming going down in the audience. Winter’s fans are lost in the moment.
As “Tobacco Road” progresses, Winter goes into a blues-scat portion of the song. He would vocally bust out a riff and his guitarist would duplicate it. The more he did, the more complicated it would get. It was actually rather impressive. At one point the noodling eventually breaks into an impromptu (but brief) rendition of “In A Gadda Da Vida.” When this happens, a 60-year-old woman seated in the section in front of me throws up “devil horns” with her hand. Somewhere, Satan is smiling.
When “Tobacco Road” finally wraps, Winter introduces the band. As he does, the audience salutes each member with hands clenching beverages. There are mad beer coozies up in this bitch.
Winter’s band breaks into Rick Derringer’s “Rock N’ Roll Hoochie Koo.” (Observation: Winter is no “Mean Gene Okerlund.”)
Winter closes with his smash hit, “Frankenstein.” During the introduction, he said that he started out playing piano and organ. He claimed that he was the person who thought of putting a strap on a keyboard and playing it in a mobile fashion. Winter said he wrote “Frankenstein” to feature the synthesizer.
I’m sure this will be a sacrilegious statement to a large portion of people who read this, but Winter is just a so-so live act. His voice started out sounding really rough during “Free Ride,” though it admittedly warmed up. He felt like a really decent bar act and not a large venue performer. Does he have fun on stage? Absolutely. It’s just that a lot of his set felt like filler.
Edgar Winter: God bless you all! And don’t forget to keep on rockin’!
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Rock ‘N Roll Hoochie Koo
My friend and I head to the restrooms for a piss break. The line was long but moved quickly.
As we made our way back to our seats, I stopped by the concessions thinking that I might get a beer to stave off the chilly summer night. Umm, how can I say this? The beer prices were motherfucking ridiculous. Totally, utterly, wholly ridiculous. Let’s take a quick tour of the prices of various beverages:
Bottled Soda: $5.50
Bottled Water: $7.50
Premium Beer: $10.50
Domestic Beer: $12.00
Premium Beer: $13.50
ULTRA Premium Beer: $16.00
What in theeeee fuck is “Ultra Premium Beer?” I realize that bitching about the prices of concessions is about as trite as it gets. But $16.00?? That is obnoxious and greedy.
Credit: JR Eaton/CBS Radio Cleveland
“And Playing The Part Of Alice Cooper Tonight…”
At 7:58, Alice Cooper storms the stage amid a barrage of smoke and fireworks. He is cloaked in a black satin cape. White sparks rain down upon the stage as he greets the audience.
The band opens with the title track of 2000’s Brutal Planet album and continues to rocket along through a 16-song set. Make no mistake, at 69-years old, Alice Cooper has not lost a step when it comes to performing. Touring in support of Paranormal, which was released in late-July, Cooper snarls and stomps around the stage like a man a third of his age. He is trim and energetic and the proceedings run like clockwork. Cooper’s voice has aged well and shines during set favorites like “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “Poison,” and “Feed My Frankenstein.”
I find it curious that “Only Women Bleed” (1975), a song about domestic abuse, is still included in the set. It feels conspicuously out of place in 2017 America, though “Alice Cooper” (the gender-bending character) feels unexpectedly modern and forward.
Cooper closed out the evening with the expected one-two punch of “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out.” The set was equal parts vaudeville, burlesque, classic Hollywood, and horror—and it was indubitably awesome.
I’m not sure how many more years that Cooper will choose to continue to tour, but he is still able to deliver the goods…and do so at a high level.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under My Wheels
Billion Dollar Babies
Woman of Mass Destruction
Guitar Solo (Nita Strauss)
Halo of Flies
Feed My Frankenstein
Only Women Bleed
I Love the Dead
As the last note of “I’m Eighteen” fades, I lean to my left and whisper to my friend that I “wouldn’t want to have to follow that.” Cooper is a showman. And as such, he slays. I admittedly didn’t know much about Deep Purple heading into the evening. Of course, I’d heard of them, but I had never paid particular attention to their body of work. It felt like Cooper had set a rather high bar for the remainder of the evening.
While the stage setting was being changed over, I had a conversation with a guy who walked by me wearing a “Shark Sandwich” Spinal Tap hoodie. It turned out that he and I had both attended the “Break Like the Wind” tour when it made its way to Cleveland in June of 1992. (Pro tip: If you ever see me out and about and you are short on time, don’t bring up Spinal Tap cuz I can go on all day long about that film/band.)
Credit: JR Eaton/CBS Radio Cleveland
“What To Believe, What Not To Say, From Cradle To Grave/
Ah….. Like A Good Little Slave”
Not being familiar with the material proved to be a strike against my overall enjoyment of the early part of Deep Purple’s performance. The opening third of the set felt a bit like a warm-up to me. Vocalist Ian Gillan’s vocals needed the time to percolate. Though once the band heated up, they cooked. For me, things kicked into high gear once the opening strains of “Perfect Strangers” were played. (If you are a regular follower of Super No Bueno—and why wouldn’t you be?—then you would know what a huge fan of professional wrestling that I am. The legendary ECW champion “Franchise” Shane Douglas has used the song for decades as his ring entrance music.) So as “Perfect Strangers” unfolded, I got chills.
And it was all kick-ass goodness from there. “Space Truckin’,” “Time for Bedlam,” and “Hush” were a devastating flurry.
As the band played into the final stretch, it occurred to me why they paired so well with Cooper. Cooper is an entertainer. He concentrates on the overall show. Deep Purple are musicians. They focus on their instruments. Those opposing approaches make for good bedfellows.
Speaking of concentrating on instruments, Don Airey (keyboardist) is an utter maniac. I just read up about him before writing this. He was classically trained as a pianist from a very young age. During his career, he has played with the likes of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Saxon, Rainbow and Thin Lizzy. He has played full-time with Deep Purple since 2002. I don’t think I’ve ever described a keyboard solo as “jaw-dropping,” but his was. He adroitly morphed from genre to genre and style to style effortlessly. His virtuosity was mesmerizing. The guy is crazy-talented.
Deep Purple closed with “Smoke on the Water.” The audience stood and swayed and sang along. It was a chilly, but gorgeous, evening, and very cool moment.
Strange Kind of Woman
Knocking on Your Back Door
Pictures of Home
Keyboard Solo (Don Airey)
Time for Bedlam
Smoke on the Water
So that was my night. I got to see a trio of legendary acts do their thing. There were decades of experience and thousands of live performances under the belts of the musicians that evening, and it showed. It has been rumored that Deep Purple’s “Long Goodbye” tour may be their last. Or at least their last of any amount of size and scope. If that’s the case, I feel privileged to have been able to have seen them…and seen them in fine form.
To quote Alice Cooper:
“Out for summer/
Out till fall/
We might not come back at all”