by Stephen Koch
He’s still got it, and his message may be as relevant as it’s been since ‘73. Anyone who’s been in the business for a half-century could be called a nostalgia act, but Alice Cooper kept the old band hits only to the required minimum Wednesday night (“Under My Wheels,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Eighteen,” “School’s Out,” “Billion Dollar Babies”).
He and a five-piece band (three guitars, all with shred set to 11 — including one Tommy Henriksen, who Alice alleged is from Little Rock. True? Call home, Tommy!) played to a near full house at Robinson Center Performance Hall, its new renovations seemingly ripe for the spectacle of this iteration of the Alice Cooper Show, Shocking America’s Parents Since the Seventies™. He brought it all: the pyro, the confetti, the streamers, the fog machine, even a bubble machine, employed during “School’s Out.” The onstage focal point was Alice’s toy chest, painted a demented pepto-pink. From this visual representation of Alice’s sick mind emanated new wardrobe choices, his snake, of course, and a scabbard filled with Alice cash which his shook over his subjects during “Billion Dollar Babies” to make it rain like a pirate might. (Next song, he argued by pantomime that he was broke, sitcom dad-style.)
Cold Ethyl, from Alice’s titular tune, also emerged from his toy chest; a life-sized rag doll gone heroin goth for Alice to drag around onstage to the hoots of the crowd. Here would be the time to insert concern over the imagery, as so many have over the decades. But, fear not, for in Alice’s world, the guilty must pay for their crimes. And Alice was guilty even before a real-life Ethyl emerged from the toy box to pirouette during “Only Women Bleed,” her broken chains swinging. It was during this song that the 69-year old Alice finally sat down for a minute - appropriately, on a Grouch-worthy trash can - and the first time the relentless crunch of the triple-guitar assault slowed enough to remind us of the breadth of songcraft that Alice, one of the true innovators of American popular music, has given us.
He’s in the victory lap phase of his career, a living musical pioneer up there with a Willie Nelson or a Paul McCartney. But Alice has never allowed us to take him as seriously as, say, Prince or Bowie, because Alice has never taken himself seriously. How can someone who is zapped to become a gargantuan Frankenstein’s monster, is straight-jacketed and locked up, and guillotined onstage be taken seriously? Alice is a cautionary tale, someone who dies for his (our?) sins, night after night, only to then rise from the dead in a gold suit, “Eighteen” again.
“Elected,” Alice’s Nixonian victory song, wasn’t on the Little Rock set list, but “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Alice” t-shirts were available at the merch table. Lustily cheering on the execution of so-called sickos in Trumperica? There’s a little Alice in all of us.