Manhattan Beat – Richard Thompson, Alice Cooper, & More!

Richard Thompson/The Loft at City Winery/September 5, 2018

    Richard Thompson was born in West London, England, where he formed his first band, Emil and the Detectives, with classmate Hugh Cornwell, later lead singer and guitarist of the Stranglers, on bass guitar. At age 18, Thompson joined the newly formed Fairport Convention and debuted as a recording artist in that band in 1967. Thompson left Fairport Convention in 1971, did extensive session work, released his first solo album in 1972, and paired with his then-wife as Richard & Linda Thompson in 1973. The couple split in 1982, and Richard Thompson resumed a solo career in 1983. His 18th studio album, 13 Rivers, will become available on Sept. 14, 2018. Since 1985, his home base has been in California.

    Radio station WFUV hosted Richard Thompson’s solo acoustic performance at the Loft at City Winery and recorded it for later broadcast. As such, the program lasted about an hour and included an interview by air personality Darren DiVivo. Thompson’s set consisted mostly of songs from his forthcoming album. Thompson’s singing was superbly tasteful, highlighting earthy and deeply emotive tones that complemented the soft-spoken character he exhibited as he chatted between songs. The new songs further distanced him from his earlier, more personal lyrics, however; he humorously introduced a new song by saying that he did not know what the lyrics were about. The new songs did not feature Thompson’s signature hybrid picking, where he plays bass notes and rhythm with a pick between his first finger and thumb and adds melody by plucking the treble strings with his other fingers, but the encore of “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” featured this pick and fingers technique in abundance. While the performance and interview format was pleasant, the 10-song set seemed skimpy for an admission priced at $50.

Alice Cooper/The Beacon Theatre/September 6, 2018

    As a child in Detroit, Vincent Furnier dreamed of playing left field in the Detroit Tigers baseball team, but following a series of childhood illnesses, he moved with his family to Phoenix. In 1964, 16-year-old Furnier formed a group for a local talent show. The group won the talent show. Encouraged, the members decided to become a real band, the Spiders, and performed regularly around the Phoenix area until they relocated to Los Angeles. Seeking a gimmick to succeed, they chose the name Alice Cooper because it sounded wholesome, in humorous contrast to the band’s horror-inspired shock rock stage show. In 1970, Alice Cooper relocated to Pontiac, Mich., where the theatrical performances developed a following. Alice Cooper achieved international success in 1971 with a series of hits beginning with “I’m Eighteen.” The band split in 1974, however, and Furnier legally changed his name to Alice Cooper. He was now a solo act with an even bigger stage show. Alice Cooper’s 27th and most recent studio album, Paranormal, was released on July 28, 2017.

    Alice Cooper’s stage show constantly evolves, yet the concert at the Beacon Theatre, was yet another romp in campy horror backed with solid hard rock music. Accompanied by guitarists Ryan Roxie, Nita Strauss and Tommy Henriksen, bassist Chuck Garric, drummer Glen Sobel, and Cooper’s daughter, Calico Cooper, as dancer and “evil nurse,” Alice Cooper might have found his best band ever. Cooper sang in a snarly and raspy voice his tongue-in-cheek songs about monsters and teenage angst, and the exceptional guitar team played dazzling, head-spinning leads and crunching riffs. While the guillotine, straitjacket, Frankenstein monster and other props justifiably commanded attention, the musicians were respectably show-worthy on their own. There was never a dull moment visually nor sonically. In the end, there is nothing else in rock music quite like an Alice Cooper concert.

The Dead Boys/The Bowery Electric/September 10, 2018

    In 1974 and 1975, a band called Frankenstein, later Rocket from the Tombs, was adapting some of the new punk rock sound in Cleveland. The time came in 1976 for the band to try its merit in the thriving New York City punk scene. The band adopted a new name, the Dead Boys, which came from the Rocket from the Tombs song “Down In Flames”, and gained a rapid following at CBGB’s. The Dead Boys moved to New York, recorded two studio albums, but commercial success did not happen and the band split in 1979, reuniting occasionally in the late 1980s. In 1990, vocalist Stiv Bators (Steve Bator) died in France from injuries sustained after having been hit by a taxi; the remaining band members reformed for a few shows in 2004 and 2005. With the band’s legacy still strong in 2017, lead guitarist Cheetah Chrome (Gene O’Connor), who had been playing Dead Boys songs live as part of his own set, and drummer Johnny Blitz (John Madansky) formed a new Dead Boys for a 40th anniversary tour. The new band also includes vocalist Jake Hout, who led a Dead Boys tribute band, rhythm guitarist Jason “Ginchy” Kottwitz and bassist Ricky Rat. The new band released Still Snotty: Young, Loud and Snotty at 40, a re-recording of the Dead Boys’ debut album, on Sept. 8, 2017.

    The Dead Boys’ performance at the Bowery Electric was the third time around in about a year, and it is likely that this 40th anniversary tour may last a few more years. Played no new songs, the new Dead Boys authentically revived the spirit of the original band but with a sound that was cleaner and slicker than the original band ever was. This in itself was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the audience enjoyed a driving concert by a band of real musicians, and a curse because, well, these seasoned professionals understandably could not thoroughly reproduce the daring creative experimentation of the original upstarts during the first wave of the punk rock era. The band started the set with its best known song, “Sonic Reducer”, and transported the audience to an earlier epoch right through to “Son of Sam”. Hout even provided moments of danger when he climbed to and swung into the audience from the overhead pipes. A good time was had by all. If the first Dead Boys had performed as tightly and as polished as the 2018 lineup, perhaps the originals would have crossed over to mainstream audiences.

Killing Joke/Irving Plaza/September 12, 2018

    Vocalist Jeremy “Jaz” Coleman was born in Cheltenham, England, studied piano and violin until age 17, and was a member of several cathedral choirs in England. Coleman and drummer Paul Ferguson left another band in 1978 to form post-punk band Killing Joke in Notting Hill, London. Placing a classified ad in a local music newspaper, the pair recruited guitarist Geordie Walker and bassist Martin Glover (aka Youth), and debuted as a live band in 1979. Killing Joke’s recordings and tours quickly became popular in England. After 10 albums, Killing Joke split in 1996, and then reunited in 2002. Coleman and Walker have been the only constant members of the band, but since 2008 the band has consisted of all four original members. Killing Joke’s 15th and most recent studio album, is 2015’s Pylon.

    Killing Joke’s tour celebrates the band’s 40th anniversary. At Irving Plaza, Killing Joke included touring keyboardist Reza Uhdin. The set married old songs with selections from more recent albums, providing a panorama of the band’s history rather than locking on one period. This allowed the band to showcase many its styles, from brash industrial metal to more sedate synth-pop and gothic-rock. The bulk of the show inclined heavily on the denser, aggressive ragers that kept the audience bopping to frenetic beats. Coleman bellowed, Walker played icy riffs, Glover’s overly-loud bass pumped scales, Ferguson hit tribal-sounding beats, and Uhdin’s electronic wash provided an undercurrent of sleekness. Just as the grooves settled into the hypnotic, Coleman would interrupt with a savage shout. Kudos for a 40-year-old band that remains provocative and continues to reinvent itself.