Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alice Cooper - June 13, 2012 - Fraze Pavilion, Kettering, Ohio

As I walked out of the Fraze Pavilion just after 11:00 PM Wednesday night following Alice Cooper's performance, I was eavesdropping on fellow concertgoers' comments. One exchange struck me as funny as a man asked his companion, "How did you like it?"

"It was OK," she replied, "but I'm sad he didn't do anything crazy."

Let's see:
  • Alice opened the show on a twelve-foot high podium, waving eight limbs, two of which spouted pyrotechnics;
  • He crooned an entire number with a live constrictor around his neck;
  • He slow danced (and more) with a life-size female doll representing admiration for both bleeding women and necrohpilic lust;
  • He built and brought to life a ten-foot-tall singing Frankenstein's monster;
  • Dressed as a militant fascist, Alice impaled an annoying photographer with a metal spike;
  • He was then beheaded via guillotine for his crimes;
  • He was resurrected, head and all, and closed the show clad in silver rhinestones, waving an American flag and sword, imploring the audience to elect him as Obama and Romney lookalikes pummeled one another onstage.
The funniest thing, though, is that she was kind of right.

Alice Cooper's No More Mr. Nice Guy stop in Dayton was the most recent in a string of many Cooper concerts I have attended over the years and I have to say that it was, by far, the least theatrical - and most musical - show I have seen by the man. Shows like those supporting the Brutal Planet album relied too much on elaborate puppetry, whereas the recent Theatre of Death performances pulled out all the stops and revisited every violent gag in Alice's repertoire and others, such as the Dirty Diamonds tour, balanced somewhere perfectly in between. Common among all of these - and across Alice Cooper's entire history, really - has been that the man always fronts an ace band. For No More Mr. Nice Guy he may have found his finest support yet and, despite at least a half-dozen documented "stunts," last night's show largely let the music do the talking.

The show opened with a sinister "The Black Widow," laying a loud and powerful foundation and then got immediately heavier with the surprise of "Brutal Planet," a fantastic number from Alice's recent heavier metal years. Longtime Cooper bassist Chuck Garric, a true live phenomenon with a persona and presence that both complements and competes with Cooper's, immediately established his dominance here, thumping out massive notes that managed to distinguish themselves from the three - count 'em, three - guitars also onstage. It was also during this number that I felt Cooper displayed a little weakness, vocally, that came across as an occasional hoarseness or lack of power sporadically throughout the show.

A solid block of all-time early-era audience favorites followed with stellar performances of "I'm Eighteen," "Under My Wheels," "Billion Dollar Babies" and, of course, "No More Mr. Nice Guy," whipping the audience into a full-on electric frenzy before dropping a bomb (of the best possible variety) with "Hey Stoopid." This was, for me, the high point of the set, as Hey Stoopid represented the apex of my initial Cooper fandom way back when I was introduced to the man not by his early classics but instead by his early straight-metallic efforts such as Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell. Cooper's setlists always draw heavily from '71-'75 and understandably so but, for the longtime fan who enjoys the entire catalogue, it is difficult to see the '80s and '90s - really the entire bulk of Cooper solo - largely neglected. Hey Stoopid, still a spectacular record waylaid somewhat by the grunge wave, is one that hasn't gotten much attention on recent Cooper tours and this was the best of all possible surprises for me. To top it off, the performance was perfect. The addition of "Hurricane Years," "Little by Little" and "Wind-Up Toy" and Trash's title track would be worthy variations with the material if the man and the band wanted to mix it up a bit.

"Is It My Body" came next instead and found Alice in snake-handling mode, performing with a large constrictor wrapped around his neck and shoulders and he started off a flawless "Halo of Flies" conducting his orchestra of three guitars who recreated the powerful layered progressive sounds of the original. Better than a drum solo, we were all treated to a rhythm section duet as drum and bass thundered through several minutes alone while the rest of the band took a break mid-set. Alice returned to one of only two numbers from the lackluster Welcome 2 My Nightmare, "I'll Bite Your Face Off," performed wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words "New Song," as if to somehow beg patience and rightly so. A mediocre, late-era filler-quality song at best, this number fails to impress and I imagine it will drop off setlists forever once Alice adds another album to the catalogue. An extended solo from Orianthi set her apart from the guitar gang onstage and led straight into another pleasant surprise, the oft-neglected "Muscle of Love," dusted off as though the last forty years had not passed at all. Another Orianthi solo more or less sealed her spot as the dominant guitarist and, while I truly do miss Damon Johnson (now a permanent fixture in Thin Lizzy), I do have to say I really enjoy this current axe crew, rounded out by Tommy Henriksen and Ryan Roxie.

"Only Women Bleed," followed and, frankly, I have never liked this number. While there were plenty of cellphone screens aloft (and a few holdout lighters), plenty more folks seemed to feel the same and took one last trip to the beer stands and restrooms. Alice retrieved his Cold Ethyl doll mid-song, serenading her sweetly and it was no surprise to hear "Cold Ethyl," always a fun song, up next. Glen Sobel gave the cowbell no mercy and reinvigorated the audience in time for another Hey Stoopid classic, "Feed My Frankenstein." A great, big, dumb rocker, it was only appropriate that a great, big, dumb monster Alice puppet was given life mid-song, rampaging all over the stage and mouthing the lyric.

"Caffeine" from Welcome 2 My Nightmare sounded OK but fell flat with the audience and I heard snickers around me as, really, there's not much menace communicated via a song about a dietary stimulant. "Poison," a live staple since its original release, seemed to excite everyone but, frankly, this is never a number I enjoy live. Listening to the studio hit, the backing vocals dominate the melody. In a live setting, Alice's amplified lead is simply too often off-key, immediately dating the song (and the singer) as a product of an over-produced radio-hit era. "Wicked Young Man," another great track from Brutal Planet followed and felt both underperformed and under-enjoyed by the audience. The number seemed included just as a vehicle for Alice to perform his impalement routine, this time directed toward a "photographer" who would pop up every few numbers and visibly annoy the band and, of course, whenever Alice kills someone, he has to be beheaded.

Whether on TV or live, I have seen Alice beheaded dozens and dozens of times since childhood and, admittedly, I never tire of it. It's a powerful and morbidly fun experience and, despite knowing how the trick works, it still looks real to me (being someone who has never witnessed an actual beheading, of course). Everyone sings along with "I Love the Dead" as the guillotine is rolled away and the stage is set for Alice's imminent resurrection, just in time for a blistering "School's Out." Another perennial entry at every Cooper show I have ever witnessed, it still delivers. This time Alice added a new spin, seamlessly interpolating the chorus from Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" and, I'll be honest, when the audience roars "Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!" goosebumps ran up my arms. The band exited with Alice triumphant and, of course, the audience cheered for the obligatory encore, a solitary "Elected."

"Elected" is often an Alice Cooper closer and has never been a favorite of mine. That said, he always delivers with such bombast that it's hard not to enjoy. Cannons of streamers, confetti, rhinestone top hat and tails as well as Presidential candidate lookalikes wrestling with one another combined for such a spectacle that I could not help but grin at this fantastic 64-year-old entertainer delivering as though he truly was still 18.

Still, he could have killed at least one chicken...

June 13, 2012 Setlist:
  1. The Black Widow (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
  2. Brutal Planet (Brutal Planet, 2000)
  3. I'm Eighteen (Love it to Death, 1971)
  4. Under My Wheels (Killer, 1971)
  5. Billion Dollar Babies (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)
  6. No More Mr. Nice Guy (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)
  7. Hey Stoopid (Hey Stoopid, 1991)
  8. Is It My Body (Love it to Death, 1971)
  9. Halo of Flies (Killer, 1971)
  10. I'll Bite Your Face Off (Welcome 2 My Nightmare, 2011)
  11. Muscle of Love (Muscle of Love, 1973)
  12. Only Women Bleed (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
  13. Cold Ethyl (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
  14. Feed My Frankenstein (Hey Stoopid, 1991)
  15. Caffeine (Welcome 2 My Nightmare, 2011) 
  16. Poison (Trash, 1989)
  17. Wicked Young Man (Brutal Planet, 2000)
  18. I Love the Dead (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)
  19. School's Out (School's Out, 1972)
  20. Elected (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

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