Despite being sat out on the edge of zone 5, good old Wibbly-Wobbly Arena is actually a FUCKLOT easier to reach in terms of both transport and venue access than the dreaded 02- especially if you happen to reside, as I do, in the Midlands. It’s also slightly smaller, considerably more old-school and far less imposing than the giant Greenwich behemoth- and, more to the point, not quite so fucking vertical either, meaning that even the seats in the ‘gods’ aren’t that ‘goddy’, and there’s far less chance of an abject coward like me having a sudden attack of the collywobbles.
All that said, though, it’s still as freezing bloody cold as ever, with those time-honoured ‘concrete acoustics’ still not having improved in the six or so years since my last visit: as a result of this, despite cramming several of their finest tunes into a tight 45 minutes, the subtly textured sounds of The Tubes – from the sublime electro-rock of TV Is King, Love’s A Mystery and She’s A Beauty to the more esoteric likes of What Do You Want From Life, Prime Time and the evergreen White Punks On Dope (replete with wig and 15-inch stackheels) struggle to penetrate the room’s four corners. Then again, on these ‘package’ dates, the best sound is always saved for the headliner anyway: from the Arizona quintet’s point of view, the fact that someone within the corporate industry machine cared to invite them onto this tour in the first place must surely be affirmation enough, and with that in mind, they make every effort to enjoy themselves and deliver against clearly adverse odds.
Not everybody, however, continues in quite such good spirits once The Mission take the stage. True, they are popular with a certain contingency of the crowd: they also seem to have brought along their own, rabidly-devoted following of MILFish females in their mid-40s (most probably the very same ones I fancied when they and I were fey, eyelinered, leather’n’lace-clad young things of 19 and 20) who’re more than happy to twirl their arms in time-honoured, gothy fashion through Wasteland and ever-effective electro-ballad Butterfly On A Wheel as if it were still 1989. If only. Yet for every ‘Kerry and Rachel’ still drooling after 30 years over the now considerably greyer Hussey and Adams, several equally disgruntled complaints emerge from the more glam-inclined punters (particularly among my own group) that the bill has been arranged in what they consider to be ‘the wrong order’.
Basically, had the Mish been on first, they could have enjoyed one final cheap pint in Wetherspoons: had they not played at all, The Tubes could have done a full 90 minutes. I guess you can’t please everybody. Personally, with the exception of the dire Neil Young cover (why do they insist on doing that?) I’m rather enjoying the miserable Northern gits: they do know how to crank ‘em out, their undercarriage is suitably dirty and grimy, and that ‘Classic Goff’ phased-guitar sound has always been music to my ears. Plus, Wayne Hussey, Liverpool fan though he may be, does come across as an extremely likeable bloke. But yes, if I’m pushed, I’d rather the bill were the other way round too. It just seems too…disjointed like this. And it must be said, despite starting in earnest with their best track, Tower Of Strength, and the aforementioned slew of hits, their set does taper off somewhere in the middle before Deliverance hammers it back again. A set of two halves, Brian…
Besides, there’s only one headliner- and there’s only ever been one Alice Cooper. Well, almost. Lest we forget, before Welcome To My Nightmare cemented the concept of Alice the solo artist, there was Alice the band: an ‘Alice band’, if you will, only without a twat from Shoreditch inside it. And, with the exception of a reunion at LA’s House Of Blues in 2007 (piped live by satellite into Battersea Power Station) tonight will be the first time in over 43 years that British audiences will have had the chance to see them together. Sure, it would have been even better had original bassist Glen Buxton lived to take part- but for me, the excitement felt at the prospect of witnessing Alice play with Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith again is indescribable, almost like validation.
Nevertheless, before we quite reach that exalted level, we’ve got the rest of the gig to do: and for a full 90 minutes, via his usual plethora of guillotines, monsters, beheadings, whips (wot no snakies?) and hooded demons, Alice is still the consummate showman. With a set that frenziedly rips through all points of his expansive catalogue from Brutal Planet, Lost In America, Poison and Feed My Frankenstein to lesser-known gems (he always throws a couple in) like Pain and The World Needs Guts, the occasional Vincent Furnier is never less than exhilarating: you’ve seen his domestic violence rag-doll schtick during Only Women Bleed a squillion kintillion times before, but it loses, even in these days of enforced PC, none of its power. Similarly, Department Of Youth, Cold Ethyl, Ballad Of Dwight Fry and Halo Of Flies remain capable of chilling the spine and making you want to leap from your seat like a yelling loon: granted, I yearn to watch the old gang taking on those last two titles rather than Nita Strauss and Ryan Roxie thrudding metallically through them again, but at least they bludgeon with panache.
But then, suddenly, after Ballad… those yearnings are yearnings no longer – instead, the indefatigable spectacle of reality is laid before us, and there they are. Four-fifths of the original band, looking not like a bunch of old cunts but as glam as fuck, piling like velvet sledgehammers through I’m Eighteen, Billion Dollar Babies and No More Mr Nice Guy: Alice even trades his now-customary all-black gear for classic ’71 era gold lame, and if that weren’t enough, they also have the temerity to tease us with the intro to Hello Hooray before exploding into Muscle Of Love, Dunaway missing not one beat of the song’s awkwardly proggy time signature before the trilling bell heralds the inevitable arrival of School’s Out.
Yet, as the arena explodes in the time-honoured barrage of tinsel, glitter and balloons, one can’t help but wonder if it really is out completely, or if there are more lessons to follow. Having not been privy to the same level of healthcare and good living over the ensuing decades, the others, though the same age, are undoubtedly less sprightly than their effervescent leader: on the other hand, their obscurity has spared them his well-documented slide into addiction between 74 and 84, so I reckon we have a tie. A tie which, if handled with the right amount of sensitivity (not to mention a proper understanding of the music, first two albums and early Spiders/Earwigs singles included) could result in possibly the greatest tour of 2018 and the best reunion since the Dolls.
Right now, this is all they’re doing- but we’ve heard that said a dozen times before too, and besides, with his mates dropping dead left right and centre (as recognised in the ‘tribute medley’ aired at Stone Free 2016) Alice is shrewd enough to realise it’s either now or never. After all, dead babies can’t take things off of shelves…and dead rock stars, despite what Gail Zappa may think, can’t play gigs. “This is for Glen Buxton!!!” yells The Coop as he and his cronies exeunt stage left, reading our minds like the wickedest of magicians: evil little boys and girls everywhere, watch this space.