The Nightmare Returns: 35 Years Later…

by Bobby Rock

"The Nightmare Returns" was the name of Alice Cooper’s 1986 “comeback tour,” which commenced 35 years ago to this day. Vinnie Vincent Invasion was selected to open for Alice on the first leg of this thing, and man, was it ever an experience for my 23-year old self. Here’s a bit of insight into what it was like to open for Alice on one of the biggest shows of the tour. From The Boy Is Gonna Rock. We pick it up from a point in the story where I was detailing the inexplicable amount of distraction, chaos, and inefficiency in our rehearsal time, just prior to hitting the road:

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The sad lack of actual band practice became VVI rehearsal culture. And a week or two later, as the gear was finally loaded into the truck and we all piled into our tour bus out there on Santa Monica Boulevard before driving that bitch all the way to our first gig in Lansing, Michigan, something incredible occurred to me:
we had never managed to make it through the entire thirty-five to forty-minute set, start to finish, without stopping—not once! We even dropped into an empty Royal Oak theater near Detroit the night before the tour opening to set up all of our gear and take a dry run through the show. And still we weren’t able to make it all the way through the set without having to stop for some reason or another. Unbelievable.

Showtime on the
Alice Cooper Tour

Our first two shows on Alice’s
The Nightmare Returns tour were a bit on the loose side, which was to be expected. But shows three and four had to be spot-on bangin’. We would be playing in Alice’s hometown, on October 30 and 31, at the infamous Joe Louis Arena. Yes, Halloween. In Detroit. With Alice! This was epic shit I will never forget. And it was especially kismet for me, given the fact that at twelve years old, on Halloween night, I took off my shirt, put on a black wig and face makeup, draped a six-foot rubber snake around my neck, then paraded around my neighborhood as Alice Cooper. That’s for real. (A photo of this exists somewhere in the world, but I’ve yet to find it.)

On the night of the show, as we were making that long walk down the chilly concrete corridor from the dressing room to the stage, the vibe in the arena was overwhelmingly electric. You could feel it—something wild, violent, and supernaturally thick in the air. And I remember actually being concerned for how Alice’s hardcore tribe of 20,000 hellraisers was going to take all of the pretty-boy shit we were about to hit the stage with: our dual pyramid walls of pink amps and cabinets; Vinnie’s pink guitar and girly accessories; and all of our sparkly glam clothing, drag queen makeup, and Aqua-Netted manes of hair. God help us.

But as we arrived at our holding place a few feet from the stage stairs and the house lights went out—boom! The place erupted, and I could feel my pulse pounding out of my neck. And in the frozen moment or two that we had to take it all in before heading up the stairs to do our set, I distinctly remember a single image flashing through my mind: me, thirteen years prior, studying those rad photos on Alice’s
Killer album, knowing on an absolute bone-marrow level that I was somehow destined to be a part of this madness called hard rock. Knowing it. And now, as we followed the glow of the flashlight beam up the stairs toward that massive, steel-framed stage, I would savor the stinging elation of the “impossible dream” actualized... if only for a moment.

Now it was time to deliver.

A typical newspaper ad from this tour...

We walked onto that darkened stage and could hear the swell of yells and whistles ripple through the audience as they spotted our shadows getting into position. I took a seat behind my drums and surveyed the colossal, blue-black expanse of the venue, with pin-light specs of cigarette lighters, sprinkled about the floor and balconies, like stars. I drew in a final deep breath through my nose—filling my lungs with the classic arena stench of weed, stale beer, and hot dogs—and then, I four-counted Mr. Vincent into the opening guitar intro of “Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” which sliced through the air like a fighter jet engine. The stage exploded with light to an even more frantic eruption from the masses.

As I launched into my opening groove, I could feel the heat of those lights hit my skin, and I pounded my drums with violent intention: headbanging on the downbeats, torso rocking back and forth, and arms in constant motion, like a boxer. I could feel my kick and snare locked in with Dana’s bass line, as Mark’s high-pitched wails cut into my eardrums from a stack of monitor cabinets that had more collective power than entire PA systems I used to play through. A quick glance of the first twenty rows revealed an almost choreographed assemblage of pumping fists and “devil horn” fingers, rising and falling in metronomic unison with the groove. All was well.

And the Boyz rocked it pretty good in Detroit.

PS. Here’s related Halloween treat for you: a pic taken from a couple months later, backstage on the Iron Maiden tour. It’s Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and I, with two super cool VVI fans who had a baking business where they made these elaborate, macabre desserts, this one a severed head cake! It had divinity fudge skin, with Gummy Worms woven in and out of it. Very edible, I recall, but so sweet that a single slice of this bitch would put you in a sugar coma for several hours! But that didn’t stop me...