Alice Cooper started as a band that featured Vincent Furnier (vocals), Glen Buxton & Michael Bruce (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). The group’s early performances are some of the first examples of overtly theatrical rock, designed to shock and excite young audiences of the 70s. Because of their antics and stage sets that included guillotine, live snakes, baby dolls, fake blood, spiders and an electric chair, the group gained prominence and was banned more than once in multiple countries. In 1974 after 7 albums and countless concert dates, the group took a hiatus. Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career. We just caught his latest band in concert in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater, fittingly near Halloween, on October 28, 2016.
Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. Of their place in history, Cooper sums it up best in a documentary interview: “From the very inception of Alice Cooper [the idea] was, there are so many rock heroes, we need a rock villain. I want to be the rock villain. I want to be the personified Captain Hook of rock. I don’t want to be Peter Pan. But I wanted Alice to also … have a sense of humor. I enjoyed playing the heavy… a bizarre vaudevillian character.”
This all remains true today, as Cooper completes a long 2016 tour with his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. The best visuals included costumes like the Harley Quinn-styled ballerina and the huge “FrankenAlice” monster, which rages about the stage after being shocked to life during “Feed My Frankenstein.” Other bits included the long running gag where Alice is decapitated via guillotine, and the scene featuring the limp doll he caresses during “Cold Ethyl.” This, along with excellent stage lighting, pyrotechnics, and even bubbles (bubbles?) created a visual feast for the enthusiastic crowd.
Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. Near the end of the main set, Cooper paid unexpected and fitting homage to three fallen rock stars, Keith Moon, David Bowie, and Lemmy of Motörhead. Other than that the set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.”
With many number one hits, multiple awards and a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper hit his marks once again, continuing a long and successful career as rock’s oft lighthearted prince of darkness.
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The band included:
Tommy Henricksen, Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss (guitars)
Chuck Garric (bass)
Glen Sobel (drums)
For those interested in more on Alice Cooper, the band, and the man, consider picking up the brilliant documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) which is every bit as artfully presented as his unique stage shows. It provides deep insight into the madness that created the Alice Cooper character, a persona that almost killed the man.