Bob Lee contributed to this post.
Whenever Alice Cooper comes around with a new tour, like this summer’s “A Paranormal Evening with Alice Cooper,” you never know what kind of stage show he might have dreamed up. His 2000 Brutal Planet Tour opened with a gigantic Alice Cooper outer space transformer. Seriously. This year’s stage show, although lacking any huge new monsters, is a combination of both new and familiar elements. We were pleased to see the return of the giant Frankenstein monster, and it’s not an Alice Cooper show if he isn’t killed at least once.
As he did last year, he opened the set with “Brutal Planet.” It’s a bit of a change from his usual heart-pumping opener, “Hello Hooray.” Maybe it’s a commentary on the state of the world right now. There was a good mix of classics, like “I’m Eighteen,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” and “Halo of Flies,” along with a number of songs from his later albums. There were only two songs from the current album, Paranormal, “Paranoiac Personality” and “Fallen in Love.” They sound familiar, almost as if they could have been recorded in the 70s, and felt natural played along with his standards.
The first two-thirds of the show didn’t feature monsters, murders or dancers, not even a major costume change. It just goes to show you that all Alice Cooper really needs is a good sound system and a pirate shirt. Of course, nothing is ever that simple with Alice Cooper. Even without the dancers, his frontline musicians were heavily choreographed and often flanked him in a sort of chorus line. Sometimes Alice gestured for Nita Strauss, his lead guitarist, to jump onto various risers like he was a lion tamer.
The Greek had removed the photo pit and added rows of seating right up to the stage. The audience was so close that at one point during “Poison,” Alice reached down and grabbed a woman by her blonde hair. She pumped her arms excitedly in the air afterward, thrilled to be chosen for that honor.
Finally, during “Feed My Frankenstein,” he went all in and changed into a bloody surgeon/mad scientist gown, got electrocuted, and ceded the stage to the big Frankencooper monster. No matter how the Sunset Blvd-styled musicians tried to fight him off with guitar solos, they could not bring the monster down.
The character of Nurse Rozetta was originated by Sheryl Cooper, who danced with Alice until the early 80s. His daughter, Calico, has played the part since she was 18. But now Sheryl is back, and “Dwight Fry” is tormented by not one, but TWO Nurse Rozettas! It’s kind of cool to have his wife back in the role because she can do weirder shit than his daughter, like lick his face.
During “Only Women Bleed,” Calico performed a beautiful broken-doll ballet, which, of course, culminated with Cooper stabbing her to death. He also choked out Sheryl’s Nurse Rozetta, but she came around just in time to force him into the guillotine.
Once he got going with the special effects, he did seem to really make the most of being at an outdoor venue. Fire! Pyrotechnics! Streamers! Fireworks! Smoke! More smoke! Confetti! Giant inflatable balls! Bubbles! Bubbles? Yeah, sure, why not! Bubbles!!!
Opening the show, Ace Frehley, OG Kiss lead guitarist and songwriter, had a strong reception from the first note of “Parasite” through the final chord of “Deuce” forty minutes later. Frehley no longer bothers with makeup or much in the way of theatrics, apart from the smoke-bomb-enhanced Les Paul he’s played since 1974. But a bunch of good musicians swinging their way through a songbook that includes “Cold Gin,” “Shock Me” and “Detroit Rock City” with their signature sloppy guitar solos intact, turns out to be a heck of a good time.
We have been reminded too often in recent years that our rock gods are not immortal. We are fortunate that the 67-year-old Ace Frehley, and Alice Cooper, lapping him at 70, are not enjoying their golden years in rocking chairs laughing about the bad old days. Of course, all of Cooper’s dying and turning into monsters, as well as the guitar solos and drum solos, give the aging rocker a chance to catch his breath backstage. But he still has more energy than most 30 year-olds, and he still rocks the fuck out of an amphitheater. He doesn’t have to work this hard, but he does. And you’ve got to love him for that.