Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Tue 11 Feb, 2020.
Alice Cooper is the architect of theatrical rock; the costumes, the theatrics, the bombast. Without him there would never have been KISS, Slipknot or a million other bands. Alice Cooper is 72 years old and is out there kicking every other bands butt with a show for billion dollar babies of all ages. On a Tuesday night in the City of Churches, you would be hard to find such a killer rock’n’roll show.
Speaking of legends first up tonight we have MC50, the current touring version of the legendary MC5, original guitar player Wayne Kramer leads an all-star band featuring Kim Thayil from Soundgarden, bassist Billy Gould from Faith No More, Brendan Canty (Fugazi) on drums and Marcus Durant (Zen Guerilla) on vocals. They burst out of Detroit in the late ‘60s; they were counter culture both politically and musically. Their music was heavy, loud and ferocious but also had a kind of Mitch Ryder groove. Part garage rock, part psychedelic and part blues rock nobody had seen anything quite like them before and inspired heavy metal, punk, and grunge bands in equal measure.
MC50 are such an important and influential act, so it was a bit heartbreaking see their incendiary set under appreciated by this audience. I suspect a good portion of them were unfamiliar with Coopers’ roots in this sound. Starting with the immortal Ramblin Rose and Soundgarden, bassist Billy Gould from Faith No More, Brendan Canty (Fugazi) on drums and Marcus Durant (Zen Guerilla) Kramer’s all-star band smashed through a forty minute set of sonic hand grenades and left (some) of us longing for more.
Warranbul’s Airbourne couldn’t be more Oz Rock if they were playing beer can-shaped guitars while covered in Vegemite. I like a band that wears its heart on its sleeve, but there is a case to be made that the band should be called ‘The First Four AC/DC Albums’ because they pretty much play from that Bon/Angus play book. Guitar and vocal-wise Joel O’Keefe is like a mash-up of Scott and Young with a vocal style, shirtless hairy chest and crazy guitar antics on and off stage, O’Keefe can’t not be compared to the Australia’s legendary AC/DC. That said, they are fucking great at it; they tear up the joint and win the crowd over with songs like Back In The Game and Runnin’ Wild.
The lights go down and a voice welcomes us to Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle. The curtain drops and yep, that is a castle alright. With a tower and ramps adorned with skulls and swords. It proves a terrific playground for the band and Mr Cooper himself for the next two hours. Ripping into the entire band is running around the stage, with rock star attitude and poses galore. Alice appears with a top hat and cane stalking the stage with menace.
While the set has plenty of hits tonight it is also a deep dive into the rarities for the die-hards. Raped and Freezin’ from Billion Dollar Babies, My Stars from Schools Out (1972) two songs from his 1987 record Constrictor (He’s Back and Teenage Frankenstein). Roses on White Lace from Raise Your Fist and Yell is a song he hadn’t played for thirty years until this tour started last year. Mostly though this audience is here for the stuff they know well and Mr Cooper serves up plate after plate of pure gold. No More Mr Nice Guy, Bed Of Nails, Poison, older gems like I’m Eighteen, Under My Wheels and live staples Dead Babies and I Love The Dead.
His band is incredible, rock solid rockers Ryan Roxie (guitar) and Tommy Henriksen (guitar) and the unbeatable rhythm section of Chuck Garric on bass and Glen Sobel on drums. Then there is lead guitarist Nita Strauss who is a show all on her own; high kicking, leaping, twirling, flicking her long blonde hair around and shredding like a demon. The whole band is dressed to kick ass. There are a lot of solos! And it wouldn’t be an Alice show without a giant baby, an eight foot tall Franken-Alice, Jason Voorhees wielding a machete, ghouls and ghosts. The airtight musicianship is married perfectly to the show’s theatrics – it’s like a Hammer Horror musical with Alice launching glitter bombs from a Gothic catapult, having his head decapitated in a guillotine, using knives and swords and various dodgy looking characters doing various dodgy things for our amusement.
It can be difficult to keep everybody happy with an artist who has FIVE decades of career to attend to. Some were disappointed that ballads like Only Women Bleed and How You Gonna See Me Now? were left out. Personally I’d love more of the material from (relatively) recent albums like Dragontown, Along Came A Spider and Paranormal. My dream Alice gig would be all of Welcome To My Nightmare / intermission / everything else, but Nightmare is 45 years old now and I don’t think that is ever going to happen.
There was a clump of WTMN songs tonight and a huge rush of excitement went through the crowd when they started Devil’s Food and Black Widow, they sounded fantastic but there was no Alice just the band blistering with instrumental perfection. He did do the eternally creepy Steven though which was boss! After an enthusiastic Escape he ended the set with Teenage Frankenstein (having opened with Feed My Frankenstein which was a neat bookend of songs).
Returning to the stage the band starts riffing on AC/DC’s TNT, which slips seamlessly into the 1975 hit The Department Of Youth with Cooper wearing a Port Power jersey and top hat. Four-and-a-half decades later it is still every molecule a rock‘n’roll anthem. How could he top that? With the equally anthemic School’s Out. Huge balloons are brought out and bounced out over the audience and when they get close to Alice he bursts them with a sword or a knife exploding confetti over everything and everybody. During this Alice says ‘This is the part of the show when Alice Cooper talks to you’, before introducing his band. It is the only ‘chat’ all night.
A deliriously good end to proceedings.
These days Alice Cooper is a 72-year-old, clean living, golf playing, mini-league baseball coaching, born again Christian and Sunday School teacher. People still call him The Prince Of Darkness, and for two hours tonight he was just that – and STILL kick your ass harder, better and with more razzle ‘n’ dazzle and fun than many bands a third of his age.
May the Nightmare end.
Images courtesy of Ian Bell