by Guest – Gill H
The Dream Fulfilled – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Motorhead and Alice Cooper
Saturday, 17 November 2007. Wembley Arena, London.
In 1976, a long time ago before many of you were born, I had a poster of Alice Cooper on the wall of my room at college. Why is that so important? Well because, now in 2007, I have finally got to see Alice live and it is an experience that I wont forget and that I want to share.
Back in ’76, punk had not yet reached the frozen wastes of the north of Scotland. The great days of the ‘60s were long past. The air waves had been conquered by the Osmands, David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers. Good bands and singers maybe, but not my style. Dances at the Student’s Union were conducted to the sound of disco or funk (ugh!) with 3 minutes of Status Quo as a reason for turning up.
Then there was Alice Cooper – a semi-mythical creature who had been banned in here, there and everywhere, who had a live boa constrictor on stage, chopped up babies and killed himself as part of his act, and who had put out one of the few truly great rock tracks, “School’s Out”!
I thought (and I still do) Alice Cooper was gorgeous. I loved his hair, his make-up, everything about him. But when he played Britain, I couldn’t see him. He didn’t come up to Aberdeen and I didn’t have the money to go down to see him. So I had a poster on the wall and a dream that one day I would see his show.
31 years passed and that dream was buried while I worked and settled into a middle-aged, middle-class rut. Maybe the dream would never have been resurrected but for the wake-up call I got from discovering The Darkness and going to see them in Liverpool. But for whatever reason, the dream was revived and I promised myself that if Alice Copper ever toured Britain again, I would be there to see him.
So that is why on Saturday night, I and my husband were to be found making our way into the Wembley Arena, ready to see the start of a great night of music with three fabulous and completely different bands – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Motorhead and the man himself, Alice Cooper.
Wembley Arena is cold bare place in shades of white and grey. It seems to have been built ready for easy cleaning. Outside the arena proper (but inside the building) there were a multitude of kiosks selling official merchandise, drinks and snacks. Vendors walked through the crowds with beer carriers on their backs filling plastic beakers for £3.50 a go. The crowd was mixed, all ages, with a lot of denim and leather jackets and coats on show (and with one or two pairs of leather boots to die for!). Most people were wearing t-shirts showing their allegiance to their favourite band. So having parted with a fair bit of hard-earned cash (£60), and carrying the plastic bag containing our son’s t-shirt (the goriest Alice one to be had!), we were to be seen climbing up the stairs, me adorned by the Alice 07 tour t-shirt and Andrew showing his support for Motorhead.
Now when I say “climbing” I mean it! The only fly in an otherwise perfect night was the discovery that our seats were only one row from the back of the balcony. It was oxygen mask territory! I still find it hard to believe that all the other tickets had been sold – especially given how early I had booked them.
Looking across the floor of the arena to the other balcony made me realise how far up we were and how BIG the place is. The people looked like ants. There was a slight haze between us! The floor below was about a quarter full as we sat down. A large rectangle in the middle was barriered off. It contained the various sound mixing and lighting boards. One was huge – the size of a three seater settee to my eyes. It was obvious this was going to be a serious night of music.
Anyway the time had come and the show was about to start.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts bounced onto stage. This was not a group I knew, apart obviously, from “I love Rock and Roll”, but immediately they impressed. This is a really professional, competent outfit. Joan Jett looked great – black leather trousers and a shiny black vest top with some silver detail and a body most girls would die for! But it wasn’t the looks that impressed – it was the confidence with which she spoke to the audience, the ability with which she played the guitar and most of all the excellent delivery of the songs. I can’t give you set lists or stuff like that, but I can say I was knocked sideways by their version of “Do you wanna touch me? (There)”. If they have released it, I want it!
Joan Jett played some tracks from a new CD she has put out and it was a seamless transition from the old. The new material sounds as good as ever. This is punk that has only grown up in the sense that it is performed by musicians with a high level of professional competence. However, I think one of the guitarists must have been weaned on punk! He certainly didn’t look old enough to have been alive when it took off, but from his spiked hair to his drainpipe legs in drainpipe trousers, he was the business. He knew the jumps, the walks, the guitar between the legs. It was a joy to watch.
“I Love Rock and Roll” had to be played. From the opening notes, the crowd responded – arms in the air, voices shouting the words. It completed the good work already done and finalised the mood for the night. When shortly after, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts finished they got a lot of applause and they deserved every bit.
As soon as Joan Jett left the stage, the roadies took over. A new lighting rig was pulled into position, more Marshall amps appeared.
The minute Motorhead walked on stage and started to play, you knew this was going to be a totally different experience to Joan Jett. This was music used as a cudgel. It beat you over the head. You couldn’t choose to listen or not listen – it forced its way inside you. Andrew turned to me and said “It’s an earthquake” and it seemed like that. It was outside any control. I could feel my breastbone vibrating in time (I later discovered that it was the caused by the effect of the bass drum). The sound was immense, the distortion disorienting and ear shattering.
By now the floor was about half full and the middle of the front of the crowd went wild. There was a lot of movement and bodies started to come over the barrier near the stage, as Andrew said, some because they wanted to, some because they had to, and some because they were thrown!
All through this mayhem, the music, the people, the shouts, Lemmy stood and played. It was weird watching him. He stays still, unable to leave the mike for more than short periods and there are times when it almost seems as though he could be playing in a room by himself. He doesn’t throw the guitar round but treats it like a craftsman with a favourite tool. But don’t take all that too literally – there are still times when all the guitar playing rock clichés come out. And I did notice the use of the left booted foot to tell the drummer when something was finishing!
The drummer is the heart of the band. He doesn’t play, he pounds. This is back to the primitive – the drum sounds stirring the blood and getting right inside, exciting the tribe. There was an awe-inspiring solo that was worth the cost of the ticket by itself. Then later, stick after stick after stick went spinning into the air while the rhythm never stopped.
As part of an encore, Motorhead came out and played an acoustic blues style number. Lemmy was singing and on harmonica and suddenly the whole thing of rock coming from the blues made sense to me. It might have been the most non-Motorhead part of the set, but it was the song I loved the best. As you can imagine, Motorhead got a huge response from all the crowd.
Now, as far as I was concerned, the preliminaries were over. It was getting time for the great man to appear. The trip to the loo in the interval was as much a response to my nerves as to need. Anyway, we were back in our seats in good time. Nothing was going to be missed.
The lights had changed (another new set in place!) The crowd had swelled again. The floor was now three quarters full. The shouts were going up. It was starting. Over the stage and covering it a huge drape was hung. There was a silhouette of Alice Cooper walking up steps. But what was this? Another Alice and, oh my god, the first was being killed! At that, the drape was flew down and there was the dead body at the top of the stairs and the man himself, in the flesh letting leash with the first of so many great songs. The crowd went mental! “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was blasting through the arena.
But what about me? Well as the drape came down, my hands went to my mouth and as I saw Alice Cooper, himself, real, in the same room as me…. I admit it, I nearly burst into tears! And even thinking about it as I write, tears come again. This was my 30 year old dream and it was happening for real!
What can I say about the rest of the evening? It was as great as I had hoped. Alice Cooper is more than a singer, he is an entertainer of great skill. Every song had to be performed with the walk, the face, arm and hand movements. The guitarists were conducted with the walking cane or the sword. The sword was stabbed into the stage. The audience were brought into the act – necklaces, bills, guitar picks thrown in and they were expected to join in. No sitting listening, you are part of the show! It was a star at work. Someone who knew what effect he wanted and how to get it.
I haven’t said much about the music because it is impossible for me to make an unbiased comment. There are so many great songs. Some had to be cut short because Alice Cooper simply has 30 plus years of material to pick from. It isn’t a case of him “finding” enough for a show – it is a case of cutting enough to finish on time! I don’t have the knowledge to talk about the quality of the guitarists – more than competent I would say. But even I with my limited knowledge knew I was seeing and hearing someone special on drums. And the point when there were three on drums, two guitarists and the drummer – all in time, all perfect, was jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring. And I laughed when Alice threw his white top hat and it was caught by the drummer on one of his drumsticks.
I watched with horror Alice being hanged. Even though I know it is a trick, it is one with a risk attached and it was hands to the mouth time again. Then before I could really believe it, it was the end of the show. As the shouts went up, Alice reappeared and for an encore we had “Billion Dollar Babies”, “Poison” and “Elected”. It says something when the singer doesn’t have to even sing because the entire audience know the words! “Elected” was pretty special and I apologise now to the man sitting next to me for my screams!
As we were leaving the arena, I heard two men talking:
“What did you think of the concert?”
“Not much. Alice Cooper was mediocre.”
Well maybe it was a poor concert and maybe Alice Cooper was mediocre to people who had seen him 30 years ago when he was young and shocking. All I can say is he didn’t disappoint me. It was a magic, unforgettable night.
I just don’t know how to end this. Having a dream fulfilled is a funny thing. Coming home has been strange. Home is familiar but somehow I have changed. I suppose I just don’t want that reality of the show to fade. I want to keep living my dream.
Finally, the greatest memory I will take away is this – however good “School’s Out” is when heard on radio or CD or MP3 player, it is not a patch on it played live to an arena of shouting, singing, screaming fans and with the man himself in front of you. I love you, Alice Cooper.