All photos by Karlo X Ramos
Last month, on October sixth, I was lucky enough to witness one of the great musical reunions of the 21st century; the original Alice Cooper band reconvening at Good Records in Dallas, Texas. Originally announced as a book signing for Dennis Dunaway’s recently published Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!, the evening slowly morphed—thanks to the obsessive, persistence machinations of Good Records co-founder Christopher Penn—into a Q&A and short performance from Dunaway and his bandmates Neal Smith and Michael Bruce. That was enough for me to put it on my calendar.
On the afternoon of the book signing, a rumor spread among the Dallas musical cognoscenti that Alice himself was going to join his former bandmates for a song or two (throughout this piece, "Alice Cooper" refers to the band. When the man Alice Cooper, née Vincent Furnier, is mentioned, I’ll refer to him as "Alice" to keep things clear). Logistically, this checked out. Alice and his current band were scheduled to open for Motley Crüe the next night here in Dallas, and they had a few travel days in between shows.
Good Records put their all into the event. A blow up of Alice’s spider-eye makeup adorned the wall above the stage, and ALICE COOPER was spelled out in silver balloons. Three custom made electric chairs were set out for the Q&A. The place was packed, with more than 200 people filling the aisles. The Q&A showed evidence of a band dynamic set long ago, with Dennis Dunaway supporting the amusing and commanding Neal Smith, finding a groove and letting the drummer drive. Guitarist Michael Bruce picked his spots for interjections and anecdotes, and had a less sentimental view of the good old days. Their one point of absolute agreement was when they talked about their late friend and bandmate, guitarist Glen Buxton. The three men were effusive and heartfelt in their praise for him and his contributions to the music they made together.
The signing that followed took a dog’s age. In the end, many attendees, myself included, left their books and ephemera for the band to sign the following day. It was time for what everyone wanted most. The lights dimmed, and Alice Cooper was back where they belonged. Micheal Bruce came out to stage right, Dennis Dunaway stage left, and Neal Smith took his place behind the drum kit. Everyone paying attention noticed the empty space and extra microphone stand perched invitingly front and center.
As the applause died down, they launched into the Bruce-penned “Caught In A Dream”. It was a little shaky in that first verse, but by the end of the first chorus, Bruce’s voice had limbered up, they’d settled on a key, and Smith and Dunaway had found some semblance of the telepathic connection that defined the Alice Cooper rhythm section.
As the crowd clapped in approva, a second guitarist took the stage. A lot of folks recognized him as Ryan Roxie from Alice’s current band, and that garnered the first audible cheer from the crowd. As Alice walked to the front of the stage the cheering continued, though the clapping stopped; at least a hundred phones were raised to try and capture the moment as the now five-piece band launched quickly into “Be My Lover”.
I was grinning from ear-to-ear, and looking around, I wasn’t alone. I was tall enough to see that the band, too, was smiling broadly, enjoying the performance as much as the audience. That reaction continued throughout the set. This was a group of old friends who had known each other for almost fifty years (longer, in the case of Alice and Dunaway) and were relishing this chance to celebrate their legacy in front of 200 or so devoted fans. There was no pressure, no expectations, and no one to please but themselves. Them merely being there was enough for the fans, and that we were treated to a wild and woolly thirty minutes or so of Alice Cooper was beyond imagining.
With each song, the band loosened and limbered, and it felt like we were seeing a rehearsal. Though Alice Cooper are nothing if not showmen, without the gimmicks and make-up, it made me remember what an amazing rock'n'roll band they were at heart. “I’m Eighteen” will always get my hair to stand on end; at 67, Alice still sang it like it was relevant to his being, and it’s a tribute to the song that it has remained timeless and current for generations. Before launching into “Is It My Body,” Alice quipped that they hadn’t played it for over forty years. It wasn’t a hit to be dragged out for the hall of fame reunion set, but a tune beloved by fans and band alike. Alice Cooper played it like it was their defining moment.
The hit parade continued, the applause kept growing, and the band soaked it in and reflected it back on the crowd. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels” rolled out like world-beaters, the perennial favorites of malcontents and garage bands who will kee[ listening to and playing for decades to come. The band was really firing at this point, shedding rust by the minute—which, of course, meant it was coming to a close.
“Big sing-a-long on this one, guys. If you don’t know this one, leave right now.” How else do you introduce “School’s Out” to a room full of believers? Joined by Chuck Garric on harmonica, Alice Cooper wrapped up the evening in appropriate fashion. The crowd sang along with every ounce of the meager energy they had left, tunelessness be damned. As balloons bopped around the audience, the silver “P” fell off the wall, and ALICE COO ER left the room.
As a few dozen of us clapped, hooted and hollered, nearly half the crowd filtered out of the store. Sources I trust say the band left spent and happy, and with nothing else practiced, there was no encore planned. However, it seems Ryan Roxie couldn’t stand the idea that it was done; he knew the Alice Cooper catalog, and wanted to play all night. His cajoling eventually got them to agree to play one more tune, and the band returned for a rough and rollicking run through “Elected”. It was sloppy and silly and veered out of tune, much like the current crop of political campaigners. As with those out on the stump, none of it mattered one bit.
The 200-odd folks in attendance got more than they ever imagined—an honest-to-god reunion of a band that had fractured over forty years before. This wasn’t 2011's Hall of Fame ceremony, nor the three-song cameo on Alice’s album Welcome 2 My Nightmare that same year, nor even the partial reunions that had periodically happened with some—but not all—of them since the late 1990s. This was old friends playing the music they made together because they wanted to again; not for money, though a tour or even a one off somewhere like Madison Square Garden would earn them millions. No snakes, guillotines, nor electric chairs. No, this was for love, of the music, and of each other.
Erik Highter is charming snakes on Twitter.