Alice Cooper's Christmas Pudding, in its purest form, is like a psychedelic journey through the Looking-Glass with "not that Alice."
Imagine walking through the park and reminiscing with a guy from Little River Band as he leads a Nashville cover band in such easy-listening hits as "Lonesome Loser," "Reminiscing" and "The Night Owls."
Now, imagine blinking once — or maybe twice if you're, like, really into blinking — and Rob Zombie has swaggered onstage to lead those same musicians in "We're an American Band," a Grand Funk anthem from the year that also gave us "Billion Dollar Babies."
I mean, WT the actual F?
The fact that Zombie was soon joined by Calico Cooper, the man of the hour's daughter, and a small group of schoolchildren banging their heads through a spirited cover of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" was just icing on the weirdest cake I've had since last year's Christmas Pudding.
And I know it isn't technically a cake. Take it up with the foodies and/or Mark Tarbell, the Phoenix chef and restaurateur who, in keeping with this holiday tradition, provided the actual Christmas pudding.
Which was very tasty.
All I'm saying is that this year's Pudding definitely lived up to the expectations Cooper places on the annual event now in its 20th year of raising funds for Alice Cooper's Solid Rock Teen Centers.
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'A show where you don't have any idea what's gonna happen next'
As the singer once told The Arizona Republic, "I love the idea of a show where you don't have any idea what's gonna happen next."
Last year, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray did everything he could to guarantee that even he had no idea what was gonna happen next.
It may have been his finest hour.
I was this close to getting his name tattooed across my ... well, you know.
But getting back to this year, Sammy Hagar was supposed to be the wild card. He can get a little kooky, as he proved conclusively the last time he did Pudding. But he got the flu and had to pull out on the morning of the big event.
That's how Wayne Nelson, the guy from Little River Band, found himself joining a lineup that also featured the Romantics' Wally Palmar, Gin Blossoms, the winners of the annual Alice Cooper Proof Is in the Pudding Contest, the Solid Gold Dancers and comedian Jim Breuer, with Sixwire backing up most of the singers and doing a medley of several dozen classic-rock guitar riffs.
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How was Alice Cooper's set at Christmas Pudding 2022?
Cooper headlined, as he always does, for reasons that could hardly be more obvious.
He was joined by the members of Sixwire, the Nashville cover band he brings in every year to back his famous friends who volunteer their time and energy, and Chuck Garric, his touring bassist.
Garric is a force of nature. Cooper transcends nature. Sixwire learned three Little River Band songs the same day they backed up Rob Zombie on "Dragula."
Cooper put the focus squarely on the classics that earned him a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Be My Lover," "Under My Wheels" and "School's Out."
If you're thinking "There are other songs that also put him in the Hall of Fame," you are correct. But it's a short set.
Cooper also dusted off his '80s comeback single, "Poison," and "Fallen in Love" from 2017's "Paranormal," a song that's fast emerging as a modern Cooper staple — if primarily because he seems to like the opportunity to indulge his inner Keith Relf on harmonica.
And to be clear, the man can play a mean harmonica.
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I like the Yardbirds. I like Alice Cooper better. I love Alice Cooper when he wants to be the Yardbirds.
Cooper sounded great, as always, bringing the night to a raucous conclusion with an all-star jam on the Chuck Berry holiday gem "Run Rudolph Run." That yuletide cover wasn't nearly as chaotic as it's been in Puddings past, where soundmen wept like children (or Tammy Faye Bakker) as they struggled to determine who was soloing for that next seven seconds.
It wasn't a long set, but it was the longest set of the entire concert. Maybe seven songs, including that Chuck Berry cover?
It seems worth noting that the riff to "School's Out" sounded more like "Tush" by ZZ Top at first, which I may never understand. But once the vocals kicked in, I was safely on the school bus blasting "School's Out" on my Panasonic boombox on the long drive home from St. Theresa's (Munhall, Pennsylvania).
He could easily have played another hour for that crowd, but that's not where his head is when he puts this thing together. He and his wife, Sheryl Cooper, are really into the idea of staging a modern variety show with dancers and comedians. And they've pretty much mastered the art of doing that.
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Christmas Pudding 2022 highlights, from Rob Zombie to the Romantics
The concert started, as it often does, with a performance by Solid Rock's Bucket Brigade, a group of Teen Center regulars playing percussion on buckets. This year, they were joined by the Solid Rock Band and a vocalist on Queen's "We Will Rock You" and the Ramones' iconic "Blitzkrieg Bop."
The Solid Rock Dance Company, young dancers under the direction of the Solid Rock Teen Centers' Hodgie Jo, danced to the music of the Big Band era, including a finger-popping "School's Out."
Then, the winners of the Proof Is in the Pudding Contest, a competition for ages 12-20, had a chance to show you how they won.
This was the first year dancers could compete, and the Fierce and Fabulous left no doubt as to how they managed to prevail as they danced to Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" in Janet-worthy matching outfits.
They were great.
The solo winner Eleeza turned in a stunning display of vocal prowess while the winning group the Darn Kids (whose name was made more family-centric for the purpose of this competition) swaggered their way through a crowd-pleasing set of blues-indebted rock of the sort it would be easy to imagine Paul Rodgers enjoying.
There were a lot of really good performances, from Wally Palmar working the crowd like the seasoned pro he is on a raucous rendition of "That's What I Like About You" — if you can write a better song, I'd love to hear it (but you didn't, so don't) — to Zombie dressing down and turning even further down for a set that felt like it was meeting Pudding people halfway compared to his speaker-demolishing sturm und drang at Comerica Theatre in the early 2010s.
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Gin Blossoms an early highlight of the night
But if I had to pick an MVP of everything that happened before Alice Cooper took the stage?
Those dependable Gin Blossoms — the local rockers whose quadruple-platinum breakthrough briefly had the suits in Major Label Land convinced this town could be the next Seattle — did the Valley proud (again) with a brief-but-glorious revival of their greatest hits, including the big ones and "Allison Road."
Bill Leen, their bassist, even dressed for the occasion in a T-shirt that featured the cover of "Love It to Death."
I know they do it all the time. But in the same way I will always get a kick out of Ray Davies starting "Lola" then abruptly stopping and saying “So, uh, so, because … we’re not gonna play that one tonight,” I swear I’ll never tire of Robin Wilson saying, “We are here tonight to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And we’re all out of bubblegum.”
Yes, you are. And that's OK, because the kicking of the other stuff is really quite spectacular. God bless them, one and all.
It still comes down to Alice in the long run, though. It's his night, as the name of the concert suggests. And there's no reason to believe he won't be just as entertaining as the host of "the 30th annual Christmas Pudding" in 2032.
Danny Zelisko, the concert’s promoter, shared a post on social media saying the concert raised more than $1 million for the first time in its history.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Alice Cooper's Christmas Pudding 2022 with Rob Zombie, Gin Blossoms