At 68 years old, Alice Cooper has spent almost 50 years of his life stomping around the planet, getting his head cut off with a guillotine, and conjuring campy horror nasties that would fit as set pieces on Herbert West, Re-Animator VI.
With this in mind, I found it equally fitting that the first song playing when I got to the Atlanta Symphony Hall to see the legend in action was “Long Way To Go.”
“Yeah we got a long we way to go;
We all go a long way to go.”
This was fitting for a couple of reasons: First, the song was released on Alice Cooper’s breakout album, Love It To Death, in 1971, when they transitioned from their trippy, acid rock Pretties For You and Easy Action to the horror-laden shock-rock that essentially transformed the future of the entire heavy metal genre. The man’s going strong 46 years later. Most of us can’t maintain a New Year’s goal for 30 days.
I was reluctant to go to this show. Hearing the venue had assigned seating – with, you know, actual places to sit, which is hugely different from my typical concert experience in the heavy metal universe… which consists of a lot of uncomfortable standing around or leaning against the bar or trying as politely as possible to snake through the crushing mass of sweaty bodies to get closer to the stage.
As a creature of habit, this disturbed me.
But when you see Alice Cooper, you understand why it’s so fitting to be seated for him (even though 99% of the audience was standing anyway).
Because Alice Cooper is more of a rock opera phenomenon than just a band making music, at it’s very core, it is a grand show. More on this in a second. My commentary will be riveting, I promise.
Let’s start with the fact that, at an age where most people are generally playing bingo or fishing, the titular Alice Cooper is still up on stage, under the limelight, painted, wearing his top hat and black coat, and howling out his love songs to camp-horror and general rascality.
You gotta have respect for someone who goes and plays golf professionally then smears himself with fake blood and sings about getting raunchy with dead women (One thing / No Lie / Ethyl’s frigid as an eskimo pie / She’s cool in bed / Well she oughta be cause Ethyl’s dead).
Eat your heart out, Cannibal Corpse.
When you see Alice Cooper, there’s a lot to unwrap. The history of the man, the band, the music, and… the show.
It wasn’t until “Woman Of Mass Distraction” kicked on that I’d say things got really interesting and modern-era Cooper came into play. It’s also when I noticed the insanely talented shred-work of ax-wielding Nita Strauss. This woman is a genuine rock star. I can think of two or three times I saw a musician who looked so authentically happy about standing up there, under those gigantic lightbulbs, sweating, being stared at by thousands of eyes (and playing for three hours or so).
The solo she unleashed at the end of “Mass Distraction” felt incredibly appropriate. Kudos to her. She was a joy to watch up there.
Now, at this point is when the theatrics got turned up to 11.
‘Feed My Frankenstein’ kicked on, with Alice regally marching out in an ocean of fog in a ‘blood’ stained Howie lab coat. This was followed by him being strapped to an electrocution table and small Alice being replaced by this…
A 9 foot or so singing, animatronic Frankenstein.
This is, in essence, the heart of the Alice Cooper show.
The wild. The over-the-top and elaborate.
From the drum solo during ‘House of Flies’ to the corpse looking dummy Alice carries around and periodically plays tongue hockey with during ‘Cold Ethyl,’ to the black, moody lighting of the set while a pink clad ballerina dances in burlesque during ‘Only Women Bleed.’
This was a particularly beautiful moment. And a great example of the velvet cord that runs through the entire Alice Cooper set – an almost gradual descent from the simple, hard rock tones of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” to the drug and alcohol fueled wildness of “Guilty.”
Then there’s the defining Alice Cooper song – and moment.
When the burlesque ballerina – now dressed as Gothic Nurse Ratchet – has Alice restrained and slipped into a straitjacket before going into “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.” Cooper deserves a lot of praise for this. We’re talking about a song released before a fair number of people reading this were likely even born, and Cooper performs it with all the same heart, frustration, seething vitality, and desperation of a young man.
I wrote this is my notes:
‘Dwight Fry’s sad saga culminates with being decapitated via guillotine by a jubilant murder-doll nurse, who then lets one of her henchmen parade around with a very detailed replica of his severed head.’
Next was a humorous, but sobering little segment about Alice Cooper’s continued survival and evasion of death – something fewer and fewer legends can claim to these days.
Cooper tips his hat to the giants with a tribute for four of the colossuses of the rock and metal world – Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Lemmy Kilmister. On the last one, Chuck Garric – Cooper’s long time bandmate, former Dio bassist, and all around hard rock badass – deserves a major applause.
As soon as his mouth opened to bark out the vocals for “Ace of Spades,” I thought Lemmy had come back from the dead. Easily one of the most impressive moments of the night, for me, as someone who cut his teeth listening to Motorhead.
The last few songs – “School’s Out,” the career defining “Eighteen” that propelled Alice Cooper to rock legend status, and the encore, “Elected,” which added two fighting/almost fornicating zombified dummies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to the mix… well, they were just fantastic.
But during the end of the set I started realizing the real, impressive power of the show. It’s the fact Alice Cooper doesn’t have everything he used to have – I don’t think anyone would argue his voice has the power from even some of his later albums. He certainly can’t leap around on stage and go as wild as he would have in his youth. What he is now, however, is a maestro. He is the ringmaster in a very strange, sometimes hilarious, sometimes “all too human” carnival. Watching Alice Cooper perform is an exhibition in the bizarre, the campy, and the sad.
The Alice Cooper Carnival is not the same show I’m sure it was years ago. But it’s an enthusiastic show; it’s one of those trademarks of the giants from this genre. Lemmy played until the day he died and pushed his health to the edge to be there for his fans.
I saw Alice Cooper not taking any breaks, not phoning in his performance, and pouring real love for his fans and legacy of music into his show.
When I was mounting back up on my bike to head home, I thought (loosely) of a poem from Wordsworth called The Solitary Reaper:
“I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.”
Point being, Cooper rocked Atlanta again for a few hours. If he deigns to do so again, lie, cheat, and steal to see him.
You won’t regret it. Or you suck.