For the record, "The Big Unit" is the nickname of Randy Johnson, pitcher extraordinaire for the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose Bank One Ballpark is just a bunt or two away from the original Alice Coopers'town in Phoenix. For Denverites who scoped the menu during last week's grand opening of this city's version of the restaurant/sportsbar/music venue, however, that label may have seemed more than a little curious, even borderline disgusting, as a name for a sandwich. Ah, yes, after a long day's work, there's nothing like knocking back a cold one and sinking your teeth into a nice big...unit.
Coopers'town's menu isn't the only place where the Coop in-jokes risk being lost on Mile High crowds. The venue is crammed with posters and paraphernalia collected over the thirty-plus years of Alice Cooper's career, a stretch that's seen him gallivant with Frank Zappa, produce some great albums (see Love It to Death or Killer), and cement a reputation as a friendly ambassador to the Dark Side, about as scary as a matinee screening of Beetlejuice. He has always been less menacing -- and more likable -- than fellow early "shock rockers" such as Ozzy Osbourne. And compared to Marilyn Manson, he seems like, well, a good-natured 53-year-old golfer from Arizona.
In Arizona, the idea of a restaurant/ memorial to Coop -- a Detroit native who's lived in Phoenix since adolescence -- makes sense. Sort of. A little bit more than here, at least. Phoenix is a town that's dangerously low on celebrities: Stevie Nicks never leaves the house, and ever since Charles Barkley left the Suns in 1993, Alice has pretty much had the town to himself. He's loved there. He's like the good china the city breaks out when it wants to impress a visitor. But the Denver area has got stars of its own. Why, there's John Elway and Hunter Thompson and the Ramsey family, Boyd Rice, one or two guys from Earth, Wind & Fire, Jello Biafra and Ron Zappolo! Faced with that cult of personality, you have to wonder if Alice's name alone has the drawing power to entice a legion of LoDo-goers -- many of whom are too young to honestly say they remember the KISS Army and are more likely to view Cooper as the old guy who did a cameo in Wayne's World.
Luckily for the club's investors and staff (the latter group being required to don Alice-style eye makeup, a feature that was removed briefly from the Phoenix restaurant but reinstated after customer complaints), Coopers'town has more going for it than its namesake. The design team did a magnificent job of removing all traces of Dick's Last Resort, the last theme business to occupy the space at 19th Street and Blake. It's a cool, if purposely cheesy, place: The upstairs, for example, exists in a state of perpetual Halloween, complete with flying skeletons, tarnished angels and eternal flames, and is soon to feature a small stage for acoustic and more intimate shows. Meanwhile, the outdoor stage will host live music from mostly local artists almost every day of the week. As club-weary downtown folks know, the area can always use another concert venue; despite the presence of the Soiled Dove and the recently upped musical efforts at the Flying Dog Brewery, this part of town is still associated more with sip- ping and shmoozing than with live music. Coopers'town also has a reputation for snagging some decent touring acts (Ween played a prolonged set there last year) and for keeping cover charges lower than average.
"The original idea goes back to my high school days when there was nowhere to play except for community youth outreach events and parties," Cooper says. "There was never an actual club club that we could play. The goal for us, as far as music goes, is to provide a place for these good little acts -- they don't have to have a manager or a CD out or anything -- to actually get on a stage and maybe be seen by 1,000 people."
Cooper says he's anxious to scope out Denver's local talent during his regular jaunts to town. "I've heard Denver has a good little rock-and-roll scene," he says. "I'm anxious to get to know the bands in my back yard." There's even a loft apartment on top of the venue to accommodate his visits: "If the light's on, you know Alice is in town," he says.
We're not worthy.
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It's unlikely that 16 Horsepower will be one of the good little rock-and-roll bands to frequent the stage at Coopers'town, if only because the band performs in its home city so infrequently. (And also because that combination of elements would just be weird.) Now along comes a Hoarse to make our time away from the powered ones that much less painful. Set for release this Tuesday on Checkered Past Records, Hoarse is an eleven-song compilation of live material culled from performances both at home and abroad: While the bulk of the tuneage was recorded during two March gigs at the Bluebird Theater in 1998, there's also a cut from a gig at the Paris Bataclan later the same year that features French pal Bertrand Cantat. All of the material was captured and mixed by producer Bob Ferbrache, which helps explain its excellent sound quality. The CD is an eclectic mix of Horsepower mojo, both old and new, made all the more ominous by some curious covers: You have never heard Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Risin'" quite like this before, nor Joy Division's "Day of the Lords." Somehow, I suspect this is more what John Fogerty had in mind all the while. Check checkeredpast.com (or local retailers) for ordering information.
And here's to the winners in this year's Westword Music Showcase: the Trainwreckers, Blues; Denver Joe, Country/ Bluegrass; the Cherry Bomb Club, DJ/ Dance/Electronic; Cabaret Diosa, Eclectic; Blister66, Hard Rock/Punk; Yo, Flaco!, Hip-Hop; the Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra, Jazz/Swing; Ryan Tracy Band, Rock/ Pop; Brethren Fast, Roots; Nina Storey, Singer/ Songwriter. It's possible they are all still completing their victory lap around the city.