On July 31, 2009, Alice Cooper kicked off his Theatre of Death Tour at the Horseshoe Casino in Elizabeth, IN, just west of Louisville, KY. Alice and his band spent two weeks rehearsing at the Horseshoe, and on July 30, there was an invitation-only dress rehearsal that I was able to attend thanks to Matt Coddington. I blogged about my experiences for Alice’s website; you can find my blog here:
In Spring 2011, it was announced that Alice Cooper would be starting a new tour called “No More Mr. Nice Guy Tour.” Several Canadian and European festival dates were announced. A few weeks later, they announced that Alice would be playing at the Horseshoe Casino on May 12. That was to be the warm-up gig for the rest of the tour—the second tour kick-off to take place at the Horseshoe. There were some band lineup changes for this tour, and the most exciting one to me was that Steve Hunter was playing. Steve played with Alice in the ’70s, recording “Welcome To My Nightmare” and the other ’70s albums, and touring with Alice on the late ’70s tours, including the Madhouse Rock Tour, which was my first Alice concert. I was almost as excited to see Steve play as I was to see Alice perform again.
I emailed Matt and asked him if he knew if they were rehearsing at the Horseshoe. He suggested I email Toby, one of Alice’s managers, and ask him. I hated to do that, because I always hate to ask for things. But if there were going to be another dress rehearsal, I was eager to attend, of course. I bought tickets for my cousin John and me to attend the opening show on May 12.
Near the end of April, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I sent off a quick email to Toby telling him that I was attending the Horseshoe show and that I hoped to see him there. I then asked if they were going to be rehearsing there. He wrote back and said that they were rehearsing in Nashville May 1 through May 7, then they were moving to the Horseshoe to rehearse May 9 through May 11. I asked if there were going to be a dress rehearsal again and told him that if he needed another pair of eyes in the audience, I was available. He wrote back and said he didn’t know if there would be or not, but for me to email him again a few days before the show and that they would see me either May 11 or May 12.
After that email exchange, the rains started and it never even dawned on me that the Horseshoe Casino is on a boat on the Ohio River—the same Ohio River that was rising and causing flooding everywhere. It turns out that the Horseshoe Casino was closed for about ten days due to flooding or the potential. Fortunately, they were able to open again on Thursday, May 5. The rains ended, and things were looking good for the concert to happen as planned.
On Monday, May 9, I emailed Toby and asked if he knew yet if there were going to be a dress rehearsal. He wrote back and said he still didn’t know the schedule, and for me to contact him again Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning. In an effort to not pester him too much, I waited until about 8 AM Wednesday morning to contact him again. He replied back about 15 minutes later and said he still didn’t know the schedule for the day, but that he’d let me know. He also asked how far away I was, and I told him it was about a two-hour drive from here to there (which isn’t quite true—it’s more like two-and-a-half hours to the casino itself, but I forgot about that).
I continued working and at 10:13, received this message from Toby:
Shep says 1 PM, but no cameras
Awesome! I started throwing stuff into a bag, as I’d already decided to spend the night at the casino hotel if there were a rehearsal, and then it hit me: I forgot to mention the hour time difference between home and the casino when I told Toby how far away I was. 10:20 was 11:20, which was less then two hours until 1 PM, which meant there was no way I’d get there in time for a 1 PM rehearsal. I paused from packing long enough to fire off another message to Toby telling him that and asking if I should just forget it. He wrote back, “Get here when you can…”
So I finished grabbing everything I could think of and was on the road by 10:25. Fortunately, the I-65 construction wasn’t an issue for northbound traffic (though southbound was backed up a couple of miles at one point), and I was able to make exceptionally good time. I learned that it *is* possible to get from my home to the casino in about 2 hours and 5 minutes.
I parked my car in the casino parking garage, entered the building, and walked to the Showroom where the concert was to take place. By this time, it was about 1:40 PM, and I heard no music, the doors were closed, and no one was standing outside the doors. Had I missed it?
I didn’t know what to do—I hated to just cross the ropes and try the doors. While I was standing there trying to decide what to do, one of the doors opened and a bald guy with tattoo arm-sleeves whom I thought I recognized came out, headed somewhere in a hurry. I caught up with him and said, “Excuse me, do you work for Alice?” He said, “No,” and kept walking. I said, “Well, I’m supposed to be here for the rehearsal, and I’m looking for Toby.” He stopped walking, turned toward me with a smile, and said, “Oh! Just go through that door on the far right. Toby’s in there somewhere.” I thanked him, and he continued on. It turns out that he is the drum tech for the tour, among other jobs, and he’s obviously used to being hassled by people, hence his denial.
So I went in through the door and found the stage all set up with about 15 rows of empty chairs and only two people standing around. One of them was Shep Gordon, Alice’s long-time manager (43 years and they’ve never had a contract). I walked over to Shep and said hi, and I thanked him for letting me be there. He said that he’d told Toby the wrong time, that the rehearsal was actually scheduled for 2 PM, so it would be getting under way soon. I couldn’t believe it. The timing worked out perfectly! I figured everyone else had been told the right time, and I just ended up being there early.
After catching up with Shep a few minutes, he told me to help myself to the food and drinks and went off to take care of business. I hadn’t had lunch, but was too hyper from the drive up to really be hungry, so I got a bottle of water and watched the happenings. A lady was spray-painting some of the backgrounds on the stage, and then Tommy Henriksen and Steve Hunter came out, checking their guitars’ sound and playing bits and pieces of Alice and AC/DC songs. The closer it got to two, the rest of the musicians came out and started setting up.
Eventually, Alice came out and looked around the stage. He walked by me to go talk to Shep, and I said hello as he passed. After he finished talking to Shep, he went up on the stage and was checking on various things. He had his microphone by then, and it picked up enough of what he was saying that I was able to hear him through the P.A. One of the things he was telling his band and crew was that he’d just gotten off a 30-minute phone call with Ted Nugent. Alice said that he was surprised, they only talked about music, no politics. Alice said, “I’d have bet you $10,000 that first words out of his mouth would have been, ‘We finally got Osama Bin Laden!’ But he never mentioned it.” He also said, “Ted said, ‘You’ve got Damon Johnson *and* Steve Hunter in your band? Now *that’s* rock and roll!'”
During all of this, I noticed a lady sitting in the front row taking notes. It dawned on me that she must have been Karen Hunter, Steve Hunter’s wife. I walked over to her and introduced myself to her; we knew of each other from the SickThingsUK forum.
The whole time, I was standing there wondering when other people were going to arrive. And then it started to dawn on me: there weren’t going to be any other people there. I was about to have my very own personal Alice Cooper concert.
Alice said that he wanted to run through the two effects songs before starting the full rehearsal. I took a seat in the third row and watched as they picked up “Feed My Frankenstein” from about halfway through. Alice moved back to an electrical gizmo that looked like something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, and Pat, the prop master, came out and helped Alice into a lab coat and red gloves. Pat then moved behind the gizmo and held up an Alice dummy between the electrodes. Alice threw a switch, the lights flashed, and the dummy was gone—replaced by a 15-foot “Alicestein” or “FrankenAlice” that came walking out, knocked Alice over, and proceeded to sing the rest of the song. The puppet looked amazing, and the effect was superb. They then played “Wicked Young Man,” with the mic stand through the photographer gag, and the guillotine was wheeled out and Alice was beheaded.
Alice and the band then regrouped, getting ready for the full rehearsal. Karen Hunter came over to talk to me for a few minutes, then suggested that I move farther back in the Showroom to sit with her and watch the show, as it was going to be extremely loud where I was sitting (and it would have been—without people to absorb the sound, it was very loud). So we moved about halfway back and sat down to enjoy the show.
The show began with Vincent Price’s “Black Widow” monologue, which was awesome to hear so loud! And then the band launched into the full version of “The Black Widow,” which hasn’t been performed in full for many, many years—it has been an performed only as an instrumental. I was loving it, and seeing Steve Hunter, who performed on the original studio recording, playing it was just icing on the cake.
I’ll spare you the breakdown of the whole show, but suffice it to say that the band was incredible—with three guitarists, it was a heavier setlist than recent tours, and they were able to do full versions of other songs like “Only Women Bleed” with its full instrumentation, another song that hasn’t been performed in full for many years.
The last song of the set was “School’s Out,” but this time, there was a twist—part of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Part II” was played in the middle of it. It worked very well and was a tribute to Bob Ezrin, who produced both songs.
About halfway through the show, I finally saw Toby. He was on his way to Louisville for something, but he stopped and told me that he was glad I made it to the rehearsal, and that he’d see me the next night at the show.
After the rehearsal, I said goodbye to Karen, who was going to help Steve, and spoke briefly with Shep about the show. He left for a band meeting, and I hung around the Showroom for another 15 minutes or so just to see if there were going to be any more. I finally decided to go get my bags and check into the hotel.
I walked to my car, got my bags, and walked to the hotel, arriving at the elevators just as one of them opened and Alice walked out. He was waiting for Kyler, his assistant. I reminded him who I was, and we talked about the rehearsal for about five minutes, until Kyler arrived and they left.
I checked in to the hotel, then went to the Paula Deen Buffet for supper. The buffet was better than it was when I ate there in 2009, but it still wasn’t as good as you’d think with Paula Deen’s name on it.
The next morning, I was trying to decide what to do for breakfast. I considered going to a Cracker Barrel, but the nearest one was in Louisville. I also considered room service, but it was going to be cheaper to go back to the buffet, so that’s what I did. As I was paying my way in, I heard someone say, “Good morning.” It took me a second to realize that she was talking to me, and I turned to see Karen and Steve Hunter standing right behind me. Karen introduced me to Steve, and I told him that the rehearsal was great. I didn’t want to intrude on their breakfast, so I got my table and ate. (Breakfast was better than dinner at the buffet.)
As I was leaving, I decided I had to take the opportunity to tell Steve how excited I was about getting to see him play with Alice again. I walked over to their table and said, “Excuse me, I really hate to interrupt your breakfast, but I just wanted to tell you how happy I am to see you play with Alice again.” He thanked me and started talking about how he was enjoying it, too. Steve, Karen, and I ended up talking for an hour before they had to leave. It turned out that their room was on the same floor mine was, so we talked all the way back to hotel and up the elevator before saying a final goodbye.
I had to check out of the hotel at 11 and had nothing planned until a 4 PM supper with some Alice fans I know. I decided to drive into Louisville and take John’s ticket to him. I checked out of my room and made my way to the elevator—which opened to reveal Shep Gordon standing inside. We talked down to the lobby, then stood in the lobby talking for about 15 minutes before he left. We talked about the show, and he said that they had learned that the crowds at the festivals didn’t really care that much about the theatrics, which was why this particular show had a heavier setlist and fewer props than other recent tours. I thanked Shep again for letting me attend the rehearsal, and he told me that he enjoyed watching my reactions to the show. It’s a good thing I didn’t realize he was watching me watch the show! 😉
Shep and I parted, and I drove into Louisville to John’s office. My good timing continued there, as my cousin Mary Dele showed up at the office to go to lunch with my uncle, and I ended up going with them. It was a really nice visit. Afterward, I dropped by a Barnes & Noble and worked for about 45 minutes until my laptop battery died (you know, the battery that’s supposed to last a couple of hours).
I headed back to the Horseshoe to meet with my friends for supper. I’ll spare you the details of that, but it was fun talking with them. John wasn’t going to arrive until around 7, so I walked around, said hi to a couple of people I knew who were waiting in line to get in to the show, and went over to the Will Call to see if Toby had left passes for me. Turns out that there was nothing there, which I was OK with. I had a private show the day before and had talked with Alice, so not having backstage passes was not a big deal.
I saw a Horseshoe employee with a rolled-up poster under her arm walking toward the Alice poster on the wall. I went over and asked her if she was swapping them out, and she said she was. I asked what was going to happen to the Alice poster advertising the show, and she said that someone else had already asked for it. But then she said, “I have another one over there that’s bigger. Would you want it?” I told her, “Yes, please!” and she said she’d leave it with one of the bartenders when she left work.
I decided to head into the Showroom and just after they took my ticket, I spotted Toby. I went over to him and thanked him again for everything, telling him that I had no idea I was going to be the only person at the rehearsal. He said he was glad that I made it and enjoyed it, and he apologized for not having time to be more sociable the day before, as he’d been putting out fires ever since they’d gotten there. We were walking through the Showroom, as Toby was headed backstage. He said hello to someone, then introduced me to the person. He turned out to be Airic Brumitt, who is a painter who had painted an iconic image of Alice that was half Alice, half skull. Toby started to walk away, then turned back and said, “Are you here alone or do you have someone with you?” I told him my cousin was arriving soon, and he said, “I didn’t get a chance to get your passes.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a “Working” pass, handed it to me, and said, “Here, this will keep them from kicking you out after the show. I’ll get you another pass later.” Hot dog! 😎
I stood and talked with Airic and his wife for probably 30 minutes or so, before we decided we’d better get to our seats. I then found that I had missed a phone call and three texts from John, who had arrived and was in his seat. I made my way to my seat, and the show began a little later.
It was another fantastic performance, and the show went off without a hitch, from what I could see. After the encore, John and I made our way over to where the backstage people were gathering. Airic and his wife were there, so we stood and talked while waiting our turn to go back to see Alice. Toby came out, gave me a VIP pass for John, and told us that it would be a while. We got to see the crew tearing down the stage and putting the AliceStein back in his case. Up close, the puppet looked even cooler—just very well done.
I finally remembered my poster and went to get it from the bartender. It turned out that Airic and his wife had the first poster I’d asked about.
While we were waiting, the band members started coming out, and Steve and Karen Hunter stopped to tell me goodbye. Finally, I heard Toby calling my name, and our group headed backstage to follow Toby to Alice’s dressing room. We walked into the room, and Alice was sitting on a couch, talking to a couple of people. We all chatted for a bit, then Kyler suggested that we go ahead and start taking photos. He took photos, then Alice signed things for everyone. In my haste to leave, I hadn’t grabbed anything to get signed, so I just handed Alice my ticket stub. He signed it, “You’re the 1st –Alice Cooper” and told everyone that I had had a private show the day before. He also signed my Horseshoe poster.
Airic showed Alice a painting of the original Alice Cooper Group that he’s been working on, and we all chatted a few minutes more before Toby came in and said it was time for us to go. My parting comment to Alice was that he should do this again for the next tour, and he said they might.
A team from The Travel Channel was waiting to interview Alice for an upcoming documentary on Distortions Unlimited, the company that makes many of Alice’s stage props. I said goodbye to Toby, and thanked him again for everything.
After my adventure in 2009, I figured nothing would ever top it, but these two days were even more amazing, thanks to Toby, Shep, Alice, Steve and Karen Hunter, Airic and his wife, John, Glenn, Kev, Chris, and everyone else I saw at the show.
May 15, 2011