Nobody Likes Us – Alice Cooper (Easy Action)
Let's not get into discussions about how many times this notable, nay historic, 1969 Toronto gig from the nascent Alice Cooper band has been released.Ladies and germs, this is the definitive, speed-corrected version, with correct song titles, spunky pink artwork and a second gig from San Francisco appended, for good measure. Plus, a couple of feathers inserted, if you're lucky.
Toronto 1969 was the notorious Chicken Show where Alice (the man, not the band) threw a live bird into the crowd only to have it tossed back at him...in pieces. Leaving aside the animal rights aspects of this on both sides - being out of your mind on booze is no excuse for throwing a flightless fowl into a crowd of excitable Hoser stoners – you might wonder what the fuss was all about, musically speaking.
It is true that Alice Cooper was the most despised band in L.A. at this stage; soaking in the discordant skronk, seemingly random rhythmic shifts and walls of feedback, it's often easy to hear why.
A bunch of Arizona tumbleweeds who'd blown into Tinsel Town seeking fame, the Coop Crew had taken on an accidental manager, become mixed up with Frank Zappa and were churning out the sort of barely competent garage freak-outs that made their musical mentor's Mothers of Invention sound relatively mainstream. One thing Alice (the band) didn't have much of was a repertoire of fully realised songs.
This recording is historic because it's of its time. The band was promoting the terminally weird "Pretties For You" and you couldn't understate the notoriety created by a little chicken dismemberment – especially when the press mis-reported the whole thing and said Alice had bitten off the chook's head. Zappa was rumoured to have advised his label signing: "Whatever you do, don't correct it." Proof positive that a little greasepaint – or Skippy peanut butter in Iggy's case- could go a long way.
The obvious weakness of live recordings of art-rock freaks is that you can't begin to appreciate the visuals. Cooper hadn't yet brought in his highly choreographed stage schtick so the outrage was arguably mostly subliminal. To work out where Alice Cooper were coming from, you really had to be there (or at least catch them on TV.) An examination of the footage from the Cincinnati Pop Festival proves as much.
None of this is to say "Nobody Likes Us" isn't worth your hard-earned. Me, I still get a kick out of the album that followed ("Easy Action") and this gig was a pointer towards that and the quantum leap that was "Love It To Death". Just don't make the mistake of thinking "Nobody Likes Us" resembles the West Coast singer-songwriter introspection, Grateful Dead country rock acid meanderings or Doorisan uber psychodramatics that were prevalent at the time. This is and was ugly music for people who drink or drank too much.
You get lots of feedback from guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce (the latter hasn't been erased from this piece of history - unlike in the recent "Super Dooper Alice Cooper" documentary.) At times, their squall resembles Neil Young's "Arc" pastiche of white noise, falling like snow over the whole recording.
There's proof that Neal Smith's drumming was integral to all that would follow and that he and bassist Dennis Dunaway were the key to Alice Cooper gelling as a band. Alice himself seems to have spent more than half the gig well out of reach of the microphone but what vocals he delivers are clear and strong.
If the band were confused musically you can hear a smattering of "real" songs the kernels of a few to come, "Halo of Flies" the one most prominently in development.
The San Francisco gig is sonically a little worn but thematically in synch with the Toronto one. It puts a lie to suggestions that Alice Cooper couldn't sound like the same band from show to show. Again, there's a failing in that you can't see what's happening, but if you're a fan of the original band at this stage of their life you knew what to expect from a recording.
Packaged with the usual Easy Action approach to excellence (props to art guy Les Clark), this is one for the faithful.