ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 16, 1999
By Steve Newton
In a recent interview with the Straight, Alice Cooper claimed that the set list for his current tour “includes all of the hits”, but time constraints rarely allow a performer—especially one who’s been around for nearly 30 years—to live up to that claim. Still, even though Cooper chose to skip such ’70s classics as “Dead Babies”, “Ballad of Dwight Fry”, and his long-time concert opener, “Hello Hooray”, his show at the Orpheum last Saturday (September 11) did boast a choice selection of tunes from his immense catalogue. And he was backed by a highly skilled and hugely energetic young band. Top that off with the fact that Cooper sang as well as he ever has, and it made for a dream come true for devotees of the original King of Nasty Rock.
Cooper didn’t make us wait long for a trip back to the time when School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies were among the first entries in many a 13-year-old’s scant LP collection. After a poorly chosen opening number that I didn’t even recognize, the unforgettable drum intro to “Billion Dollar Babies” was unleashed, and Cooper took to teasing the fans up front with fake bills, which he elegantly doled out from the tip of a rapier.
On “Be My Lover”, he was draped with a live boa constrictor that looked about eight feet long, and that slowly slithered its way around Cooper’s thin frame while his manic band riffed out around him. On the antidental “Achin’ to Get Me”, he shattered an oversized lollipop against his microphone stand, the sugary shards raining down on the faithful; and for the necrophilic “Cold Ethyl”, he tossed a mannequin around by the hair.
Such simple antics might seem tame in comparison to what today’s shock-rockers pull off, but when delivered via Cooper’s intensely demented persona, they’re undeniably effective bits of twisted burlesque.
Throughout the 90-minute show Cooper was a model of ghoulish charisma, needing only to flick a black-gloved wrist here or blink a mascaraed eye there to speak volumes. The 51-year-old rocker even pulled off a couple of magic tricks. At one point, he made a red scarf turn into a black cane; at another, he escaped from a sarcophagus and reappeared as one of the circus clowns that continually hounded the group on-stage. Cooper’s theatrics and tricks never overshadowed his old songs, though, which are still better than 90 percent of what you hear on the radio these days. The musical onslaught peaked with a thrilling version of “Halo of Flies”, the eight-minute-plus guitar-rock opus from 1971’s Killer album.
Cooper’s two-song encore included another ’71 barnburner, “Under My Wheels”, plus Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, so it was half great. Not that “Saturday” isn’t a decent rocker, but it just sounded too middle-of-the-road to top off Cooper’s raunchy repertoire. I was hoping to hear “Elected” or “Desperado”, not some overplayed boogie workout.
The shiny silver-lamé coat Cooper wore during the encore almost made up for his brief detour into Top 40, though, and when he yanked it off to reveal a black T-shirt with the name ALICE SPICE emblazoned in white block letters, all was forgiven.