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Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding has been a yearly affair in Phoenix for 17 years. Sheryl Cooper reminisced as she remembered it being conceived in the Cooper’s kitchen 20 years ago, “We always have and continue to have a love for teenagers.“ The annual event is a charity function that funds The Solid Rock Teen Center. The mission is to get teens off the streets and to teach them the arts.

The Solid Rock Teen Center teaches the teen how to play an instrument, dance, paint or whatever their interest in the arts might be. The center is cost-free for the participant. It diverts the teen from dealing or using drugs or any of the other negative elements in the neighborhood. Many of the teens move on to professional careers in the arts.

The Christmas Pudding funds the operation of the teen center with the event. In addition to selling tickets to the show, there are auctions throughout the evening of memorabilia usually autographed art, show clothes or photos of the entertainers performing for the night. The items garnered anywhere from $5000 to $31,000 each. The $31,000 item was a guitar autographed by Johnny Depp. AXS lost count of the tally for the evening.

 The Solid Rock Teen Center started the entertainment of the evening with performances by acts connected to the center, from the Bucket Brigade to the Solid Rock Dancers (with special guests Footklan) and the winners of the Alice Cooper Proof is in the Pudding.

The big name entertainers for the event are different and can range from KISS, Joan Jett to Jonny Lang. All donate their time for the event. Cooper has been in the business for a long time and he has a thick Rolodex from which he can draw the talent. AXS was there for the festivities and here is what we experienced

1) The headliner, The Hollywood Vampires, is amazing

The Hollywood Vampires consists of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. However, two days before show time, it was announced that Perry could not attend due to doctors’ orders. There was always a chance of that happening after Perry’s backstage collapse at Madison Square Garden in November.

No worries since the show went on without a hitch. All eyes were on Depp as he played guitar and moved around the circular stage. The guitar he played happened to be the guitar ‘auctioned off’ before the set. He moved and looked much like a rock star. Depp sang lead on David Bowie’s “Heroes” and did an admirable job.

There is no doubt that this is Cooper’s band though. He gave the fans the swagger and attitude that we have come to expect throughout the years. There was a blend of new music and cover songs. The set was a raucous and rocking  starting out with “I Want My Now,” “Raise the Dead,” and “As Bad As I Am.”

New music included “The Boogieman Surprise,” “My Dead Drunk Friends,” and “Welcome to Bushwhackers.”

Cooper even played harmonica on AC/DC’s “The Jack.” They closed with “School’s Out.”

For a complete set list, click here.

2) Contest winners from the ‘Proof is in the Pudding’

Cooper started a music contest each year for the Rock Solid Center. The winners get a chance to perform at the Alice Cooper Christmas Pudding. The very first winner was Jordin Sparks before she appeared on American Idol. This year’s winning solo artist was Conrad Varela and the winning band was Undecided Youth.

Varela shredded like a seasoned pro as he moved across the stage. He played a Christmas medley of “Adeste Fideles” and “Winter Wonderland.” The youth was born to play guitar and he had standing ovations from the crowd.

‘Undecided Youth’ was fronted by 16-year old Summer Welch. She has the flash and stage presence of Florence Welch. The band rocks hard with a powerful lead guitarist as well. They already have an EP released, Undecided Youth. Both artists were a great way to kick things off and will have a great future in rock.

3) Sebastian Bach vies for showman of the night

Skid Row has not been the same since the former frontman left the band. Bach is one of the most stunning showmen out there. He is constantly animated. His set was adorned with songs taken from Skid Row’s self-titled album.

Vocally, Bach is still able to hit the high notes of his youth. Visually, he is still very appealing and somewhat youthful at the age of 50. He has taken off a few pounds since we saw him three years ago. This was a fun, exciting set for all.

4) Gretchen Wilson does her best Ann Wilson

The “Redneck Woman” superstar has added to the lineup just a few weeks ago. In 2017, she released the album Ready to Get Rowdy. Even though she has not seen the success since her first two releases, she has maintained her fiery stage presence.

She opened her set with a spirited "Here for the Party," then asked, "Do we have any rednecks in the house tonight?” She followed with her biggest hit. However, she served up her best at the end of the set with her cover of Heart's "Barracuda." 

5) There’s always some surprises during the ‘Pudding’ show

The finale of the night was an all-star rendition of Chuck Berry's "Run, Rudolph, Run" that is a ‘Pudding’ tradition. Two surprise guests came out. Many fans were disappointed that Nita Strauss had a show that same night in Scottsdale. However, after her band finished their gig, she headed for the Celebrity Theatre to make an appearance.

Orianthi, Cooper’s former band guitarist, also showed up for the finale. Both women are major guitar shredders and put the five-hour extravaganza over the top.

There were many more than five highlights for this year’s Christmas Pudding. Larry the Cable Guy was present throughout the show who not only had his own set but officiated the changeovers between sets and assisted during the auctions. His jokes throughout the night were well received. An example was when he said about performing, “I imagine everyone naked. I’m not nervous. I’m just a pervert.”

Beasto Blanco with Calico Cooper was a rock performance depicting a werewolf wild on stage. Calico seemed to be following in the footsteps of her famous father. Chuck Garric was the front man for the raucous band. The fun set ended with Cooper spraying the crowd with a smoke gun.

Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma gave a great performance of “Burnin’ For You,” “Godzilla” and an extended version of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.” The jam was epic.