This year's Christmas Pudding, held Saturday night at the Dodge Theatre, featured everything from country singer Marty Mitchell doing a heartfelt acoustic rendition of Stars by Dan Fogelberg to Megadeth's David Ellefson and his new band, F5, pounding out the sort of heavy metal thunder you'd expect. Whiskey Falls did a spot-on rendition of Seven Bridges Road.
Stand-up comic Craig Gass did an even more spot-on rendition of Christopher Walken telling children's jokes. And Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch gave Sentimental Lady a cocktail jazz makeover before Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers joined him to rock out his other big solo hit, Ebony Eyes, and a rollicking version of Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls of Fire.
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That's pretty much par for the course at one of Cooper's yuletide bashes - an almost surreal blend of practically everything under the sun (except hip-hop and pan flutes).
The man of the hour made his first appearance at the mike sitting in for Jim Morrison on Roadhouse Blues and Riders on the Storm with Robby Krieger of the Doors on lead guitar and reality star Les "Survivorman" Stroud on blues harp. Krieger's guitar wasn't working at first but once the stagehands got it sorted out, he was pretty amazing, especially during a call-and-response with Survivorman. And Cooper sounded great on vocals, if noticeably more subdued than he is on his own songs. "In 1968," he recalled, "I had moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles and we didn't have any friends there until we met these guys the Doors."
Cooper's own set capped the night with what he said would be his biggest hits but in reality seemed more like several of his biggest hits and other songs he figured everybody knew by now. Forgoing props, he let the music do the talking and it served him well, from the opening riff of No More Mr. Nice Guy through Under My Wheels and a version of I'm Eighteen that had to leave a lot of people wondering how the man can scream those high notes after all these years of screaming high notes.
Alice really hit his frontman stride on the "We go dancing nightly in the attic part of Billion Dollar Babies, then confessed "I haven't gone this long on stage without killing something in a really long time." Only Women Bleed made the most of his underrated talent for nailing the essence of a heartfelt ballad (You and Me, I Never Cry, etc.).
Then it was back into rock mode for the Killer classic Be My Lover, the darkly comic post-Nirvana abandon of Lost in America (on which he was joined by the co-writer, local guitarist Danny Wexler) and Elected. Before Elected, Alice noted, "Even though we know this has already happened and we know it's not topical, this was John Lennon's favorite."
Elected was probably Alice's most inspired moment on of the night on vocals. He really sold the line "I propose the formation of a new party - the WILD party!!!" and ended with "I don't know why you would vote for anybody else. I'm your boy."
He wouldn't really want the job, though, so you know. As he told the crowd when that was over, "Whatever you do, don't vote for me, please. I can't take the pay cut."
Alice saved his biggest hits for last - the unexpected comeback (Poison) and the one that kids will still be singing 50 years from now (School's Out). Cooper's greatest hit became the all-star jam at this year's Pudding, a stage full of guys taking solos as the band cranked out that timeless riff behind them in a shower of confetti.
Then, they ended with one final taste of Ride on Down, a Christmas Pudding theme song written by the singer's son's band, Runaway Phoenix (whose own set worked the hard-rock side of power-pop with Dashiel Cooper recalling the raspier side of Superdrag on vocals).
While Alice's set was the feel-good highlight everyone anticipated, Welch's was the revelation (one that went beyond how impossibly skinny the man remains).
Other highlights of the night included Stroud's own Cooper tribute (Generation Landslide), Gass' imitation of a loser trying to pick up girls by imitating Adam Sandler and the Peacemakers rocking Banditos again as though they hadn't played it 7 billion times before with some truly inspired raunch and roll guitar, as always, from the great Steve Larson.
Alice Cooper performs during his 8th annual Christmas Pudding at Dodge Theatre Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008 in Phoenix.