Wonders in AliceLand
Alice Cooper’s managers, Shep Gordon and Toby Mamis, invited me to write this blog post for AliceCooper.com after the opening date of the Theatre of Death Tour, which I attended. It was on Alice’s site for a while, but was removed after a site redesign years ago.
The version on Alice’s site can be found here thanks to the Wayback Machine.
Greetings, Sick Things! My name is Hunter Goatley, and I was invited to share my experiences at the opening of the Theatre of Death tour, but before I do so, I thought I’d provide a little background information.
I’ve been an Alice Cooper fan since I discovered him in 1976, when I was 12. My first Alice concert was March 3, 1979, in Louisville, KY, on the MadHouse Rock tour. I remained an avid fan through high school, college, and my first jobs. In 1992, when the Internet was still very young, I started the first Alice Cooper discussion mailing list, AliceFan. In 1994, the list name was changed to SickThings, and over the next 5 years, the list grew to 1,404 members. Brian “Renfield” Nelson joined the list in 1995, and over subsequent years, Matt Coddington, Mick Mashbir, Glen Buxton’s sister, and other people associated with Alice at various times also joined the list. Great times, great discussions, until the list got to be just too big and unwieldy. In 1999, I shut down the discussion list and created SickThings2, an Alice news list that will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary. Several years ago, I partnered with Si Halley to bring his SickThingsUK site news to both our lists.
Brian was a big part of the SickThings list, answering all sorts of questions about Alice’s career, and we became friends over those years. In 2000, Brian surprised me with arrangements for me to meet Alice after a show in Louisville. We kept in touch off and on over the years, and, like everyone else, I was shocked to hear the news of his death. I had already purchased a ticket to see Alice’s show in at the Horseshoe Casino in Elizabeth, IN, the start of the “Theatre of Death” tour. I was planning to drop Brian a message to tell him that I hoped to run into him at the show when I heard the news. It was hard to imagine an Alice show without Brian there.
I’ve met a lot of great Alice fans over the years, thanks to SickThings, and, unbeknownst to me, two of them set out to make this year’s show very special for me. Matt Coddington, whose fantastic photos of Alice have graced many articles and merchandise over the past ten years, emailed me a few days before the Elizabeth show and asked if I could pick him up at the airport in exchange for admission to the invitation-only dress rehearsal in Elizabeth on Thursday, July 30. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.
As I was preparing to leave for the airport on Thursday, my friend Alan Jackson called me to tell me that he had contacted Shep Gordon, Alice’s manager, to tell him that I was going to be attending Friday’s show. Shep replied to Alan and told him that he’d added me to the after-show list and that he looked forward to meeting me. I was surprised. With Brian gone, I figured I wouldn’t be in touch with the Alice camp anymore, but two of my friends saw to it that that didn’t happen.
Thursday afternoon, I picked Matt up at the Louisville airport. After having known Matt online for about 13 years, it was great to finally get to meet him in person. We grabbed a bite to eat at Cracker Barrel, where Matt got to try grits for the first time—welcome to the South!—and then headed to the Horseshoe Casino for the dress rehearsal.
Alice excitement was in the air—virtually all of the Casino hotel staff I saw were talking about Alice’s show and how Alice and his crew had been there all week. More than one told us anecdotes about seeing Alice around the hotel or about how he’d gone shopping in Louisville.
The dress rehearsal was held indoors in the Horseshoe Casino Showroom. The show was scheduled to start at about 7 PM, and Matt and I got there about 6:30. On our way through the hotel, we ran into Sheryl Cooper, Alice’s wife, to whom Matt introduced me. She was really excited about everyone getting to see the new show, which increased my anticipation.
When we got to the Showroom, we saw Toby Mamis, Alice’s road manager. I re-introduced myself to Toby, but he already knew who I was, and he told me that he’d added me to the after-show list for Friday night. Matt and I chatted with Toby while we waited for the Showroom doors to be opened.
As we made our way into the Showroom, the first thing we saw was the stage covered by a giant scrim featuring some amazing artwork of a skull in top hat and Alice makeup with various torture instruments and the legend “Theatre of Death.” I later learned that the art and costumes were made by Piggy D., Rob Zombie’s bass player.
The second thing to catch my eye was the rows of seats—approximately 150 of them. There were only 75 to 100 people in attendance at the dress rehearsal, but the excitement level was no different from any other show. We all sat and waited for the show to start, wondering what the show would be like. I hadn’t heard anything about it, aside from Sheryl’s comments a bit earlier that it was unlike anything Alice has done recently.
At about 7:15, the lights went out and the “School’s Out” bell sounded. The scrim dropped as Alice’s band launched into the opening riffs of “School’s Out.” What? “School’s Out” first? That’s when I knew that this show was really going to be different from any of the others. Over the course of the next hour and forty-five minutes, Alice and the band ripped through a set of Alice Cooper classics, while Alice was killed repeatedly throughout the show. A number of the songs hadn’t been played in concert in quite a while, including “From The Inside,” “Guilty,” and “I Never Cry.”
The band for this tour consists of Keri Kelli and Damon Johnson on guitars, Chuck Garric on bass, and Jimmy DeGrasso on drums. They sounded great and looked great, and a couple of the songs featured extended instrumental sections in which the band really shone.
The show featured some now-standard Alice bits, like the guillotine *and* the gallows, but it also featured several brand-new skits and set pieces. Visually, the show really was like no other show in recent memory. Alice had numerous costume changes during the show, and each of the outfits was an amazing thing to see, from the Voodoo witch doctor-like Hell outfit to the asylum garb, which has the words “Renfield Nelson Asylum” stenciled across the chest—I teared up when I first saw that tribute to Brian—to the incredible spider jacket and mirrored tux at the end. The guillotine and gallows have both been redesigned, and I thought both were a lot more effective than those used in other recent tours.
There were a couple of minor mishaps during the rehearsal, but the best one happened when a crew member had trouble putting the noose over Alice’s head. Alice did something I’ve never seen before—he dropped out of character for a minute or so, laughing about the problem and telling us that that wouldn’t happen the next night. That moment aside, the show played as a full-blown show, and it was hard to believe that they put it all together so quickly after ending the Psycho-Drama tour. There were a few minor sound issues, mostly lead guitar cues that the soundman appeared to miss, but otherwise, the music and the vocals sounded great.
It was very interesting being part of such a small crowd for such a big show. No one in the audience knew the protocol for a dress rehearsal. Were we to remain seated? Could we take photos? Should we stand and yell like at a real show? Most people remained seated most of the time for the first half of the show, but as soon as the crew wheeled out a wagon full of jewels and “diamond” necklaces, complete with dolls in Alice makeup sitting on top, everyone stayed on their feet, and you’d never have known there weren’t a few thousand people behind us.
After the show, Shep came over and introduced himself to me, and we talked for a while about the show and about how much Brian is missed. Matt and I hung around for a bit longer talking with Toby and Shep, and then we left so the crew could tear down the stage and load it onto the trucks to drive it around to the outdoor venue where Friday’s show would take place.
I drove to my home in Bowling Green, KY, that night, with plans to drive back up to Elizabeth for the show on Friday with my friend Steve Coleman.
Friday morning, I looked through the photos I’d taken at the dress rehearsal and was pleased to find that the majority of them turned out well. You can find all of my dress rehearsal photos here:
Friday afternoon, Steve and I drove back to Elizabeth and met up with Matt and a couple of his friends for supper at the over-priced buffet in the hotel. After supper, Steve and I went back out to my car to get our tickets, and we realized that the outdoor venue was right behind the parking structure I had parked in. We walked to the end of the structure to check it out. The outdoor stage is nestled in a little valley surrounded by huge trees—a beautiful venue, and given the unusually mild-for-Kentuckiana July weather, it was pretty much a perfect setting for the show.
While we were taking it all in, the band started their soundcheck, so Steve and I stood and listened as the band played AC/DC’s “Have A Drink On Me,” Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” and several Alice songs. Hearing the non-Alice songs helped demonstrate just how talented the band is, as they sounded flawless on those songs, too.
After the soundcheck, we headed back inside to go to the Will Call desk to pick up our after-show passes. I was very pleased and excited to see that the passes were VIP passes, which meant we’d get to meet with Alice after the show. Toby had included two tickets to the show, but since we already had tickets, I quickly called my brother and offered them to him. We then headed down to the outdoor venue, where we met a few other people I knew from the SickThings list but had never met in person before.
As the sun dropped behind the trees, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” started blasting through the P.A., and when it cut off abruptly, everyone knew the show was about to start. The venue is fairly small, but was pretty full, if not completely sold out. From the noise the crowd generated as “Thriller” stopped, you’d never know it wasn’t huge. Even though it wasn’t dark yet, the show worked remarkably well, proving, I think, that it’s a great show that doesn’t just depend on good lighting and darkness to be effective.
The first show of the tour went off with only a couple of minor hitches (the scrim fell down on top of Alice, and Keri’s guitar got hung up in some of the netting on stage) and was even better than the dress rehearsal the night before. Alice clearly feeds off the energy of a crowd, and it showed through Friday night. The band was also even livelier than the night before, and everyone on stage seemed to be having a great time. Sonically, the music was pretty perfect from my seat, dead-center nine rows back. The minor sound issues from the night before had been addressed, and everything went well, despite a problem with Alice’s in-ear monitors near the end of the show.
The crowd reacted pretty much the same as the dress rehearsal crowd had—shock and confusion when “School’s Out” started the show, and lots of excitement with each new set piece and costume change. Alice proved, as we already know, that he’s a master showman, keeping the audience engaged every moment he was on stage, with Keri, Damon, and Chuck all taking over when Alice was not on stage.
After the show, those of us with after-show passes gathered stage right, where there seemed to be a lot of confusion among the security people about who was supposed to be where. Finally, everything was sorted out and we were queued up stage left. I would guess that there were about 50 people with after-show passes, and most of them seemed to have some connection with the casino (and many of them had also attended the dress rehearsal the night before).
After a 10- or 15-minute wait, Toby came out to select the next group, which included Steve and me. We made our way backstage to the corner of a trailer, where Toby asked us to wait for a bit. While we were waiting, Shep came over and we talked some more about the show and how much better it went even than the very good dress rehearsal. We also talked about the new AliceCooper.com website, and I told him how much I liked both the redesign and the new blog feature. Shep told me that he’s supposed to write a blog soon.
A few minutes later, Toby stepped out of the trailer and called us in. We walked into a little living-room area, where Alice was seated on a couch. He spoke to the radio winners who went in with us, then he recognized me and stood up to shake my hand, calling me the “Sickest of Things.” In the past, Brian used to tell Alice that I was responsible for starting the entire Internet fanbase, which isn’t quite true, but I was there in the very beginning.
Our group asked questions about the show, and Alice said they’d been rehearsing it for 8 hours a day for two weeks. Rob Roth, who choreographed “Beauty and the Beast” for Broadway, helped put this show together, and Alice said he wasn’t too sure when the idea of death-by-spikes was broached. While Alice signed the items I’d brought (my Marvel Premiere Alice Cooper comic book and an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland with Alice on the cover!), he asked me what I thought about the “Renfield Nelson Asylum” on the asylum garb. I told him that I thought it was a perfect tribute. I asked Alice for a photo, and when I sat down on the couch, Alice said, “Here, let me sign your T-shirt.” After the photo was taken, I got to talk with Sheryl again for a few minutes, and Alice and Sheryl posed for another photo with me. Toby then came back into the room, announcing that he “hated to break up this lovefest,” but he had to.
We made our way outside the trailer, and I went over to say goodbye to Shep. He told me that he and Toby had been talking, and they wanted to me write a blog for the site about my experiences the past two nights. I was honored and a little intimidated by the request, but here it is.
I had wanted to say hello to the members of the band, but they were busy with family and friends, and I didn’t want to intrude. I’d like to use this space to say “Thanks!” for two nights of great music and entertainment.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my two days in Aliceland. Thank you Shep, Toby, Alice, Sheryl, and Matt for really making me feel like part of the Alice family for two days. I had a fantastic time, and I hope to see you all again soon!
Hunter ------ Hunter Goatley, firstname.lastname@example.org August 3, 2009