I remember the torch being passed very clearly.
Back in the days when record charts actually meant something, there was a BBC programme featuring the latest charts on Thursday nights, called Top of the Pops. This had always been the domain of my older sisters through their teenage years, in fact, it was pretty much required viewing for teenagers in the sixties and seventies. But up to then, it was of little interest to me.
But on this particular evening, everything changed. Instead of the bands of the day, obviously miming and winking at the camera while the girls in the audience danced around them - there was a man wearing smeared make-up on his eyes, brandishing a sword at a dancing girl in the audience who had strayed within his reach. He snarled an immediately accessible lyric called School’s Out - what a message for a 12 year old. School was indeed out for that summer of 1972.
Previously "safe" - now Top of the Pops was MY domain.
Sisters and parents were righteously outraged & horrified. "He was going too far" replaced the usual "look at the length of his hair".
You know that moment in a cartoon where a light bulb pops up above someone’s head? That’s what happened. I was transfixed. Someone had the idea of fusing rock music with horror movie imagery. I was getting into horror movies at that point and cautiously feeling my way along in the dark. Someone out there got it and sang about it.Music had just become interesting to me.
Several long playing records, VHS tapes and cassette tapes later, (yes, I’m old - deal with it) everything was upgraded to DVD and CD, he got older, I got older, but the complete fan adulation with a guy called Alice has not only remained, but has actually got even stronger. My kids have been raised on his music, several of my writer friends are hard-core fans. The two year debate between Suzi Lorraine and myself about the eighties "Dada" album continues to this day - and will do so into the future. The first time I ever took the family to a live concert was Alice’s Psycho Drama tour of 2007. (The second time was Alice’s Theatre of Death in 2009). If he releases a new CD and it’s not here being played on a continual loop on the day of release - something has gone seriously wrong.
I’d been a little disappointed that Alice Cooper had a themed haunted house attraction at the Universal theme parks this year and of course, being stuck in the UK there was just no way to go and check it out. But what’s better than a Cooper haunted house? Spending what is traditionally known as Devil’s Night ( the night before Halloween) in the company of the maniac himself. THAT’s what! So it was only to be expected that when Cooper announced that he was bringing his Halloween Night of Fear show to the O2 Apollo in Manchester, Steve and I would be there. Once again, the ornate, art deco interiors would host Rock’s original bogeyman. And he had some friends with him.
The opening act were the legendary New York Dolls, An act I’d heard of several times over the years, but couldn’t actually tell you what they sang. As they launched into an hour long set, I was surprised how many of their songs I was familiar with - I just didn’t know that they were sung by the Dolls. Of the opening acts I’ve seen over the years, I have to say that apart from Motorhead, the New York Dolls were the best I’ve seen. Mostly they’re there to warm up the audience and get forgotten as soon as they leave the stage, but there was something about them that made me want to hear some more - so further investigation is called for.
Something that struck me was how little time was wasted between acts. The Cooper curtain went up and within about 15 minutes we were listening to the velvet tones of Vincent Price’s
opening narration from The Black Widow from 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare album. If you’re going to open a horror themed rock show, is there a better, more recognisable voice? (And for all disgruntled Michael Jackson fans, I’d just point out that Price appeared with Cooper a full nine years before Thriller.)
Down comes the curtain and Alice Cooper is on his high staired platform wearing his arachnid jacket (we had previously seen this when he performed Vengeance is Mine on the last tour) - appropriately enough singing the Black Widow as sparks blast out of his gloved hands. This is the first time we’ve seen him actually sing this - it’s usually a musical interlude for a costume change, but tonight was going to be full of surprises and this was just the start as Alice’s tortured soul took a nightmarish journey through some of his greatest songs.
Speaking of greatest songs, Brutal Planet is next and this is where the Cooper band’s latest acquisition really kicks into life. Alice changes his band pretty often, and we have practically an all new lineup for this tour. Traditionally, they’ve been an all male line-up, but that’s changed. Long standing band member Damon Johnson’s spot has been taken up by Australian guitarist Orianthi Panagaris - and she fits right in. The spotlight is firmly on her as she delivers the heavy metal opening riff to Brutal Planet, a song I’ve wanted to see performed live since watching the concert DVD Brutally Live - and one I don’t think he’s performed since that tour, over a decade ago. Orianthi also provided a visual counterpoint to the rest of the band who follow Cooper’s demented lead and look like a bunch of homicidal psychopaths. Orianthi’s the complete opposite to all that, providing not only a valuable addition to the surreal visuals in a "beauty and the beasts" type of vibe, but she’s also one hell of a guitarist and plays like a demon.
As soon as Brutal Planet is done, Alice reaches for his crutch and that can only mean one thing - I’m Eighteen. A teen angst song that I remember listening to endlessly when I was eighteen, that Steve listened to when HE was eighteen and here we both are. He’s 20, I’m 51 and we’re listening to a 63 year old Alice blast it out all these years later. It never gets old!
Speaking of never getting old - I think that Alice has improved over the years. His lean, gaunt and haggard appearance these days give him a Bette Davis "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" air. Coupled with the way his voice has naturally changed in the forty plus years he’s been in the business he looks more threatening and downright demented now than he did in the beginning of his career. And it all works perfectly for him. He is in every way rock’s number one bad guy. Or, as he puts it - rock’s Captain Hook amid all the Peter Pan wanabees.
The next three songs are standards - Under My Wheels, Billion Dollar Babies and my all time favourite, No More Mister Nice Guy. These are played in every concert, and we’d feel cheated if we didn’t hear them, but as soon as they’re done - it’s time to drag something from the crypt that I certainly haven’t seen him perform live before.
Teen angst and teen suicide have been fodder for long and depressing songs for as long as I can remember. Ask an Goth or Emo, they lap up the wrist slitting glumness. When such depressing anthems were the morbid minority’s music of choice, Cooper decided to join in with his own take. Naturally, he couldn’t elicit the sympathy or bleakness that was the norm in this sub genre, so, with characteristic sneer and swagger, Alice’s offering was a wake-up call to the manic depressive youths, entitled Hey Stoopid. It’s an upbeat song that basically tells the afflicted to get their act together and stop being...well, stupid. As the song goes:
Well I know you’ve seein’ red
Don’t put a pistol to your head
Sometimes your answer’s heaven sent
Your way is so damn permanent.
Live, this song is a raucous sing along and the ecstatic crowd is more than happy to join in. (Apparently not many gloom merchants in the capacity filled auditorium that night.) Then another classic standard, Is It My Body - with the added attraction of Cooper singing the song within the coils of a very, VERY large Boa Constrictor which is wrapped around him. That damn thing was so thick and heavy looking, it seemed to have already swallowed a goat before coming on stage.
This was another first for us. Although the snake is a traditional part of a Cooper show, he tends not to use it outside the USA because he has to hire an unfamiliar snake for the evening just for the show. Snakes can be unpredictable if they don’t know and like their handlers. There’s a story that one of these snakes just didn’t care much for Alice and spent the entire evening nipping and trying bite him. This wasn’t the case with Davi, the snake we saw which has been used throughout this week’s shows. He was quite content to lap up the attention. (Orianthi though seemed to be keeping a respectful distance)
Onward and upward to Halo of Flies from the Killer album, one of the longer pieces of the evening’s performance which gave us the evening’s drum solo. Believe me when I tell you that overall, this is the loudest I’ve ever heard Cooper and the band play louder than I heard them at this gig. I felt every thump of that bass drum deep inside my bones. If my hearing gets any more damaged than it already is, then hell - it’s gone in a good cause.
Following the instrumental, Coop takes to the stage after a quick costume change, now wearing a black jacket with "New Song" in big white lettering on the back. Cue the only song from the latest album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, the menacing I’ll Bite Your Face Off, which is one of many highlights from a strong album. It has a definite Rolling Stones feel to it. It’s testament to his longevity that songs like this keep coming, album after album, year after year, decade after decade.
Then, from the present, it’s back to 1974 with the title track from the Muscle of Love album of that year, another one I hadn’t seen him perform before.
The temp slowed for a stunning guitar solo from Orianthi that dispelled any notion that the lady is mere eye candy. She’s as skilled a player as any I’ve seen. (She should be, she has, after all jammed with the likes of Carlos Santana). Her solo leads into a rendition of the ever popular ballad Only Women Bleed. (Don’t you love the misleading titles he gives his songs? This one, for the uninitiated, is about domestic abuse).
At this point, the crowd started chanting for Calico, Cooper’s daughter who often appears as part of the show in the role of a nurse or executioner or indeed, his murder victim for Only Women Bleed. Sadly though, Calico wasn’t in attendance.
Then - here we go again. Cooper’s autobiography clearly states that he has no intention of ever performing Cold Ethyl live being that he feels the song, extolling the virtues of necrophilia. This is the third straight time we’ve seen it performed ("She’s cool in bed, she oughta be, cuz Ethyl’s dead"). Poor Ethyl suffered at the show though. Spanked, thrown around and kicked - oh and Alice’s weird tango dance. (Another note to the uninitiated, Ethyl is a prop dummy). At the end of that song, with Ethyl in a crumpled heap, Alice calls for Igor, his assistant to help him don his blood splattered surgeon’s gown and red gloves. Nobody plays a mad scientist better than he does.
Feed My Frankenstein is performed like a crazy Universal monster movie with the creation of Alice’s monster as he maniacally works a control panel with smoke and sparks adding to the illusion. A lumbering 20 foot high monster makes its way to the front of the stage, lumbering, to do a little dance. Obviously, this is a Halloween party with the grand master of shock rock in full hosting mode.
We don’t have time for a breather, as the next song is a gem from 1980. The album was Flush the Fashion, and the song is (We’re all) Clones. Originally, the video to this had a skeletally thin (and drinking himself to death before a timely intervention) Alice wearing a beret and boiler suit in full-on techo Gary Numan mode. Again, this is one of those fan favourites that seemed to have been lost in time as far as a live gig was concerned. Resurrected, Clones is a big production number with its chilling anti-conformist message as strong and potent as ever, moreso maybe in the current climate. The seriousness of the underlying message doesn’t stop Cooper having some fun, though. Both he and one of his guitarists move robotically as they’re joined on stage by three identically dressed clones, one of whom seems perpetually confused.
Poison’s up next. And yes, we did raise our hands.
If there’s a song on Brutal Planet that I enjoy even more than the title track, it’s Wicked Young Man, written in the wake of the Columbine shooting. It strips away all the excuses for what happened and basically addresses the stark fact that some people are just born homicidal. It’s not the films, music or games - they’ve just got a head full of bad wiring.
For this song, Cooper goose steps along the front of the stage, wearing a Gestapo type hat. Up to this point, there has been a paparazzi making a nuisance of himself on stage, and this is where he meets his grisly end, impaled at the end of a spiked microphone stand for his trouble.
It’s not an Alice Cooper song without an execution, and Alice has to pay for his crime, to the strains of Killer, out comes Madame la Guillotine and Alice is put to death, beheaded - again.
You can’t keep a good man down, and as the audience sings along to I Love The Dead, Alice storms back on stage to the ringing of a school bell and a pulse pounding crowd participation blast of School’s Out. This song ALWAYS gets to me - remember, this is where I came in, 39 years ago. Adding to it is the fact that it seques to Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall which the crowd LOVES. Hearing a couple of thousand people sing along just sent shivers down my spine. Ballons, confetti and streamers just add to the filled auditorium’s good times atmosphere.
Elected is the encore, and after band introductions finishing with "and playing the role of Alice Cooper tonight....ME" the show is over.
The audience leaves fully satisfied. Maybe a little deaf. But having had their money’s worth out of a frantic hour and 35 minute performance from the grand master himself.
Personally, I thought Cooper’s performance was easily as good as I’ve ever seen him. He was louder and just a little crazier than I’ve seen him before. He had stripped some of the usual routines and songs out of the show - there was no straitjacket, no Nurse Rozetta or asylum, but these elements were replaced by other songs which made the whole show fresh and new.
It’s no exaggeration when I say that Alice Cooper has more stage charisma in his little finger than practically anybody else in the industry, and yes, he’s STILL got it. I look forward seeing your next tour, Mr Cooper.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.