Halloween is just around the corner and it felt fitting that last night I was sitting in a packed Trust Arena, surrounded by a sea of face paint and black-clad rock fans, eagerly awaiting the arrival of King of theatrical shock-rock Alice Cooper.
While I am familiar with the ever-expanding catalogue that Cooper has built in his 50 or so years as the MC of the macabre, I’d never actually been to his show before and had little idea of what to expect. What I witnessed absolutely blew me away – an Alice Cooper show is far more than a mere rock concert – it’s an intricately assembled masterclass in theatricality and a lesson to modern acts on how to truly command a stage.
But before we could get to Alice Cooper we were treated by another rock powerhouse, former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley. Performing a range of songs the KISS catalogue and a few covers thrown in for good measure, Frehley treated the crowd to an hours’ worth of crunching rock classics like ‘Parasite’, ‘Love Gun’, and ‘Detroit Rock City’. Even though the floor section was all seats, an experience that will never quite sit well with me at a rock concert, there was an impressive range of people standing up and rocking out to Frehley, who in turn threatened to blow the roof off the Arena.
After Frehley left the stage I fought through the impressively sized crowd to get a couple beers and only just returned to my seat (not that anyone in the Arena was ever sitting) in time to witness the beginning of the insanity that was to follow.
A dark curtain painted with an appropriately freakish face, adorned with spider eyes hides the stage from the expectant audience. A mixture of bemused and curious, I was suddenly pulled away from scrolling through Snapchat by a loud cheer that greeted the eyes on the curtain dramatically lighting up. A voice explained that, “You have been chosen to spend the night with Alice Cooper”, and with that we were off.
Kicking off with “Brutal Planet” I was immediately blown away by how easily Cooper commanded the stage. Standing out in front of his impressively sized band (more on that later), he brandished a cane, swirling it with an ease that only comes with countless rehearsals and performances.
The intensity of the band was mind-blowing. His band comprised a talented line-up of drummer Glen Sobel, bassist Chuck Garric, and the three-guitar army consisting of Ryan Roxie, Tommy Henriksen, and the captivating Nita Strauss. Each guitarist is an accomplished player – Roxy bringing a classic old school sound, Strauss a more contemporary and heavier tone, and Henriksen ably filling out the spaces with a rich tone.
Throughout the night each of the guitarists was given time in the limelight, and grasped it accordingly, leaving their mark on the songs with captivating solos. Roxie shone throughout the night, but particularly on the fantastic “I’m Eighteen”, while Strauss had me transfixed with her scintillating shredding between “Woman of Mass Distraction” and “Poison”. Even Sobel and Garric got in on the act with a nice drum/bass solo thrown into “Halo of Flies”.
What really struck me was, and I hope that this isn’t lost on you readers, I came expecting dramatics and theatrics – Cooper is the king of theatrical rock and brought many of his trademark moves – the guillotine, the giant Frankenstein, a freaky nurse, a few skeletal ghouls – and while the crowd went nuts during those moments I barely even noticed them due to how connected I was to what the band was putting out and how well Cooper delivered his songs.
Cooper really delivered those songs. His voice sounded fantastic throughout, his trademark growl was as good as ever – particularly on classics like “Under My Wheels”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, and “Poison”. And while I could personally take or leave the theatrics I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them in an Alice Cooper review so here we go.
I would not be the first person to write that Alice Cooper’s shows are the definition of morbid rock n roll theatre. His love of horror manifested itself in a night of elaborate theatrics that featured everything from his electrocution and transformation into a giant 12-foot monster during “Feed My Frankenstein”, his dramatic beheading during “I Love the Dead”, his elaborate escape from a straitjacket on the wonderful “Ballad of Dwight Fry”, and the euphoric conclusion of “School’s Out” which saw the crowd covered in gigantic balloons, streamers, pyrotechnics, and confetti.
It was a lot to take in and I found myself fanatically scanning the stage throughout the night in a losing attempt to soak in everything Alice and his band were throwing at us. It was euphoric, it was exhausting, it was pure – unadulterated – rock and roll. What a night!