About two-thirds of the way into Alice Cooper’s set at the Orpheum on Thursday, a spooky announcer’s voice asked Alice to take a trip back in time to his days on the Sunset Strip in 1969, rabble-rousing with a celebrity crew known as the Hollywood Vampires. As the band dove into a series of cover tunes by Cooper’s dead friends that included “Break On Through”, “Revolution”, “Foxey Lady” and “My Generation”, Cooper’s three-guitar band was augmented by a fourth guitarist, wearing expensive-looking jeans with pre-stressed holes in the knees and a big floppy hat; basically, the douchiest seventies-rocker Halloween costume you could possibly imagine. From the balcony, it was impossible to see who it was under the hat, and his playing when given the occasional solo seemed competent, if not overly inspiring.
“Please tell me they’re not inducting Dave Navarro into the Hollywood Vampires,” my brain pleaded.
Turns out my prayers were answered – it was actually Johnny Depp. Evidently, he, too, is a guitar player. Oh yeah! Remember that band P with Gibby from the Butthole Surfers? I guess Alice is friends with P as the song goes.
I can see why P want to be friends with Alice, he’s still standing tall on top of an empire that has crumbled and rebuilt itself many times, ultimately emerging as one of rock’s most durable figures. Even the Hall Of Fame finally decided to stop being a bunch of old dickheads for a minute and give it up for Coop. Beyond those life-changing, American heavy metal-inventing early records with the original Alice Cooper band, Vince Furnier has proven to be an admirably hard-working entertainer that knows his strengths and how to play to them. Not content to tour to a consistently strong crowd, he’s been one of the most prolific of his generation, continuing to put out new albums at a consistent clip, none of which can really compete with his prime period but all of which have at least a few moments of inspiration.
Thursday’s set was largely comprised of his hand-picked favorites from those latter period albums. The 1986 soundtrack single “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask”) had the guy behind me singing along to it like his personal theme song. Obscure tracks like “House Of Fire” from 1989’s Trash, and the title tracks to Hey Stoopid and Dirty Diamonds mixed with a number of songs from Cooper’s latest work, 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare at the set’s mid-point. Of the pre-1980 songs performed, only “Devil’s Food” stood out as a rarity among the standard list of greatest hits heard at ever Alice show ever given.
Full review and photo gallery after the break.
Having seen him a half-dozen times in the last decade, it’s obvious that Cooper is trying to present a unique show every time. He recognizes that if he’s going to get the same people to come back and see him again, he has to give them something a little different than the show they saw last year, while at the same time recognizing that he’s expected to play a good chunk of his big songs from 1970-75. So yes you’ll surely get get your “Billion Dollar Babies” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Eighteen” and a half a dozen other required numbers, but that leaves about half of the running time wide open. This particular tour seems to be geared toward the people who have seen him before, and who crave deep cuts from the albums that haven’t been played to death.
Cooper always has a team of young hotshots to back him up, and this year’s crew sounded good, making a three-guitar arrangement sound lean and muscular. Lead guitarist Orianthi frequently stepped to center stage with ripping, melodic solos that recalled Steve Hunter’s work with the late-seventies Cooper band. Although Glen Sobel’s drum solo wasn’t useful for much besides a costume change and a mid-set piss break, his playing of the actual songs was pretty great.
The man himself was in good voice, and exhibited an old-fashioned sense of showmanship that’s in short supply these days. He performed the Hollywood Vampires portion of the set as if trying to channel his dead pals, matching Morrison/ Lennon/ Hendrix’s vocal inflections precisely, every “ha” and “listen now!” in “Foxey Lady” reproduced, stuttering through “My Generation” at just the right moments. This guy would KILL at the karaoke bar – I wonder if his restaurant in Phoenix, Cooperstown, has a karaoke setup, and if he ever jumps up there to knock ‘em dead singing old Doors songs. If he doesn’t, he should.
There was more minimal staging than seen in years past. There was a guy in a big monster suit for “Feed My Frankenstein”, some confetti, balloons with confetti in them, a couple guys to pull the straitjacket off him in “Dwight Frye”, and that was about it. No meat-grinding Nurse Rosetta or stroller full of dead babies, no guillotine or electric chair, and come to think of it, I don’t think they killed Alice this time, not even once. The 2003 show in Anaheim had THREE executions! That’s a lot of death taken off the plate.
But maybe they don’t need to keep killing him anymore. While introducing the band during an encore of “School’s Out” (which interpolated a verse and chorus of “Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two)”), the man with the mic announced “and the role of Alice Cooper tonight… was performed by… ME!” It was the end of a hard-hitting set that had taken chances with its set list and restrained its more grotesque possibilities, yet kept much of the audience on its feet for nearly two hours. At this point, we’re okay with Vince Furnier the guy coming right out and telling us this is all a big show, Alice is a charcter and he’s just an actor playing a part in it. Maybe he doesn’t need to stage his own execution every night because he knows that we know that it’s an act. Alice’s head really gets chopped off when the lights come up and the show’s over, when the audience and the band both have to get back to reality. Maybe Furnier’s finally found a way to be comfortable with that.