| Palm Springs Desert Sun
Following Alice Cooper’s performance of his 1971 hit “I’m Eighteen” on Friday night at the Plaza Theatre, the 74-year-old singer told the intergenerational audience “That’s ‘I’m eighteen’, not ‘I’m Eighty'” to applause and laughter.
A mixture of young and old rock ‘n’ roll fans filled the 800 seats of the Plaza Theatre in downtown Palm Springs and enjoyed performances by legendary rock singer Alice Cooper, Bad Company and Free frontman Paul Rodgers, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme and guitarist Orianthi.
Save the Plaza Board Member and former NBC Palm Springs anchor Gino LaMont described the lineup of the concert as “a little different” than what would have been presented in the theater during its heyday.
“I suppose in a lot of ways Alice Cooper is my generation’s version of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin,” LaMont said. “But I’m so impressed with the level of talent that was willing to come together to help raise money to save this amazing place.”
Built in 1936, the historic Plaza Theatre opened with the premiere of the movie “Camille” and hosted screenings and broadcast radio programs featuring celebrities such as Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. It also was home to the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, a dance and musical-review show with performers 55 and older for 22 years before its final curtain call in 2014.
Brandon Henderson of Palm Desert said he had been waiting to see Cooper perform live since childhood and enjoyed the diverse lineup of musicians performing at the concert.
“My dad used to play (Cooper) all the time, so it’s very exciting for me,” Henderson said. “Bringing this venue back is an amazing idea, there’s a lot of nostalgia and potential.”
According to J.R. Roberts, a former Palm Springs city council member who chairs The Palm Springs Plaza Theatre Foundation, proceeds from the concert were more than $200,000.
“I know you are thrilled to be here,” Roberts told the crowd before the concert began. “As our honored guests, you are the golden ticket holders of a once in a lifetime rock ‘n’ roll event.”
Sponsors Jay Nailor and his wife MiShell Modern, owners of the SHAG stores in Palm Springs and Las Vegas, M Modern Gallery and Nailor Wills Publishing, said they were excited to sponsor the event. Nailor also performed a cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” during the concert.
“MiShell and I have always been active preservationists,” Nailor said. “The people involved with Save the Plaza were able to get together so many great music performers to help support it, volunteer their time and it’s incredible.”
Rocking the Plaza
All four performers were backed by the Palm Springs All-Stars featuring Queen keyboardist Spike Edney, Paul McCartney guitarist Brian Ray, former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Melissa Etheridge guitarist Pete Thorn, The Who bassist Jon Button, keyboardist Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis and KISS drummer Eric Singer.
Orianthi, a former member of Cooper’s band, kicked off the concert with a cover of the 1988 U2 and B.B. King collaboration “When Love Comes to Town.” The guitar maven’s sound combining the blues and heavy metal was toned down for a performance of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” but picked up again as she continued on with Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots” and closed with Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child.”
Homme, who grew up in Palm Desert and was the only local native to perform at the show, introduced himself as “the Mayor of Palm Springs” before opening with David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Throughout his 20-minute appearance, Homme made several humorous remarks, pointed out his parents in the crowd, said he grew up listening to local radio station KDES-FM 98.5, where he heard Gerry Rafferty’s song “Right Down the Line” and did an enjoyable cover of the tune. He also performed a duet with Orianthi of the 1966 song “Somethin’ Stupid” made famous by Frank and Nancy Sinatra.
“I remember coming in here and thinking it was a different world and a different time,” Homme said. “Sure, I was seeing ‘Dirty Harry’ when I was 7 years old, yeah I’m traumatized, but look at me know — I’m here with the best people in the world.”
Cooper’s set included his songs “School’s Out,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Under My Wheels” and a cover of The Who’s “My Generation.” At the end of his performance, he told the crowd “Let’s save this theater.”
But it was Bad Company, The Firm and Free frontman Paul Rodgers who received the biggest crowd reception of the night when he walked on stage and all 800 attendees were standing for his opening song, “Can’t Get Enough.” He also performed “Midnight Moonlight,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “All Right Now.”
An online auction of items such as guitars signed by members of the Rock the Plaza all-star lineup, a Beatles vinyl box set personalized by Paul McCartney, Adam Lambert stage memorabilia and more runs through Nov. 15 at events.readysetauction.com
Cary Baker, a Palm Desert resident and retired music publicist who worked at I.R.S. Records and Capitol Records before founding the publicity firm Conqueroo, said it’s the first time he had been inside the theater after 30 years of visiting the city.
“I drove past the theater and was never aware of it. I never saw the (Fabulous Palm Springs Follies) but I always meant to,” Baker said.
Baker said he’s amazed and impressed that so many rock ‘n’ roll artists call the area home but added the concert could have used more local musicians on the lineup.
“I would have loved to have seen Eric Burdon, Terry Reid, Victoria Williams, Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde or some of the people from the high desert too,” Baker said.
‘It’s really special for our city’
Save The Plaza Theatre board member Geoff Kors, who acts as a liaison to the city council for the organization, described the history of the theater and its architecture as incredible. He added it’s important to preserve the theater for local residents and tourists because of its potential to host the State of the City, a speaker series, performances by the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus and other things.
“To bring it back to life as an opportunity to go see great entertainment and also host community events, I think it’s really special for our city,” Kors said.
In early 2020, the Save the Plaza Theatre effort initially raised almost $500,000 in cash and pledge promises toward a goal of $10 million to $12 million for a full restoration. But the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted fundraising efforts, including the “Rock the Plaza” benefit, which was originally scheduled for later that year but was never held.
As the pandemic waned in 2021, Save the Plaza Theatre had just over $160,000 in its coffers. Efforts were back on track later that year after the organization received a $5 million donation from television and theater producer — and Palm Springs resident — David Lee. The organization received an anonymous donation of $2 million in June. The City of Palm Springs is contributing $2 million and the state is providing $2.5 million, but the cost to restore the theater increased by $4 million in July due to inflation.
“We were hoping to be where we are now (financially) before COVID-19,” Kors said. “In less than a year, all this money that’s been raised, that’s incredible. It really speaks to the effort by JR, the other board members and Rock the Plaza, which is so many people working on bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars (to the restoration effort).”
The Plaza Theatre has hosted other benefit events in recent years. The theater hosted its first event in six years in 2019 when Nancy Sinatra, her daughters A.J. Lambert and Amanda Erlinger, actor and singer James Darren and Wrecking Crew member Don Randi took part in a fundraiser to restore the Plaza. In a surprise twist, Sinatra walked out on stage and performed “Bang Bang” as well as her 1966 hit “Boots” for the show’s finale.
Lee, who produced the ’90s sitcom “Frasier,” appeared last March at a similar event with co-producer Peter Casey and cast members David Hyde Pierce and Peri Gilpin.
The Plaza Theatre was established as a Class I Historic Site by the Palm Springs City Council in 1991 and hosted the first Palm Springs International Film Festival under the direction of then-Mayor Sonny Bono.
*A previous version of this article included an incorrect song title for “All Right Now.”
Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bblueskye.
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