Alice Cooper at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 9 November 2017
The unself-conscious spectacle of theatrical rock shows isn’t something any self-respecting contemporary band has much time for these days. When it appears at gigs it’s courtesy of aging legacy acts using it as dressing as they roll of the greatest hits for the long-time fans.
Even those who go for it do so with reserve – with a knowing nod to the fact that this isn’t really cool anymore. Except, that is, for the inventor of shock rock, the guy responsible for utilising cheesy horror movie imagery in his stage shows to such an extent that it became the default look of heavy metal. There’s no ironic detachment here, he – pushing 70 – still goes all in.
And tonight, playing the part of Alice Cooper, is Alice Cooper – the larger than life stage persona to gleefully hack all other larger than life stage personas to bits.
His infernal stage is dressed with a shock horror imagery – sigils of demonic eyes graffitied across the amps, bald-head dolls lashed to the drum riser, a 6-foot jack-in-the-box at the back of the stage from which an inhuman creature emerges between songs to provide cooper with a costume change. Cooper himself dominates this set like a ringleader from hell, looking ancient and withered but somehow incredibly full of life, delivering one anthemic number after another in his high nasal yell of a voice.
The early part of the show is typical classic rock fodder. Backed by three guitarists (who also provide resounding singalong backing vocals on all of the choruses) Alice and band prowl across the stage with oodles of pure rock attitude.
You don’t need to be Jimi Hendrix to play your average Alice Cooper song, but the current touring band add a level of technical intricacy that keeps the music itself on par with the theatrics of the set. Of particular note is guitarist Nita Strauss, a recent addition to the touring line-up and a proper wizard of heavy metal axework, as showcased by her own elongated solo that serves as an interlude to the show’s two distinct parts.
Part one rolls out classic rock blasts from the past like No More Mister Nice Guy, Billion Dollar Babies in fairly standard – albeit perfectly executed – classic rock mode. But this is all just warmup for what’s to come.
Part two opens up with the massive and absurdly sexy Poison, and follows this with song after song that attempt to outdo the last in terms of exaggerated performance and ever more intricate onstage antics.
When Alice emerges dressed in blood spattered surgical smock, he practically has the audience chanting for Feed My Frankenstein before a single note is played. The song culminates with Cooper lashed to a slab and jolted with electricity before he vanishes in a plume of dry ice. There’s a little solo, and then an enormous creature like something out of Macnas parade emerges in Copper’s place and stalks the stage for the duration of the final demented verse.
Every song has a gimmick. Alice delivers The Ballad of Dwight Fry on his knees at the front of the stage while wrapped in a straightjacket, before getting dragged away by hulking frightmasked figures who strap Alice into the stock of an enormous guillotine.
The band plays on relentlessly, before letting the music dip for a beat as the demonic stagehands coax the audience into calling for the singer’s execution.
The blade falls, and Alice’s head vanishes. There are screams. And then silence.
One of the monstrous stagehands picks a severed head from the guillotine’s basket and holds it aloft before the crowd.
More screams, but with applause mixed in like some feat of magic has just been performed.
We don’t have to wait long for the singer’s resurrection. Alice parades back onstage for the next song clutching his own severed head. The rousing rock ballad I Love the Dead and proto-punk I’m Eighteen round out the main set – followed by a glorious encore of School’s Out that culminates in streamers and confetti exploding from the rafters.
Shock rock isn’t exactly the most shocking thing around these days. The parents are here rocking along rather than picketing outside. That scarcely matters. The horror show stage setup and mawkish sado-masochism has all the giddy thrill of sneaking into an 18s movie your parents forbid your to see. Alice Cooper is just as Alice Cooper as ever. And his show is stupidly bloody good.