Alice Cooper's Theatre of Death Tour – Sydney Entertainment Centre 24/08/09
By: Mr Intolerance on August 25, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Alice!Alice Cooper is the undisputed godfather of horror-rock/death-rock/glam-rock/shock-rock, or whatever other appelation you want to give the kind of hard rock that mixes big riffs, sing-along choruses, a violent theatrical stage show with some vague form of narrative or concept, and a sense of the grotesque. During the early 1970s the original Alice Cooper band (and it was a band, rather than a vocalist with a random assortment of session musos and professional songwriters) revelled in notoriety and excess, producing ever more outrageous stage shows which always culminated in the eponymous singer being executed to pay for his on-stage sins and debauchery, whether by hanging, electrocution or beheading.

Of course time, the vagaries of fame, a revolving-door policy for band members, and Cooper's much-discussed alcoholism took their toll on the quality of Cooper product, and the taut garage-punk/hard-rock of the Alice Cooper band's best albums (Love It To Death, Killer, School's Out and Billion Dollar Babies) soon dissipated into increasingly bloated and incoherent concept albums (Muscle of Love, Welcome to My Nightmare, Alice Cooper Goes To Hell), AOR radio fodder powered by saccharine ballads (Lace and Whiskey, From the Inside), a briefly successful foray into New Wave/Post Punk (Flush the Fashion), before the laws of diminishing returns kicked in yet again, and after 1983's experimental electronic synth-heavy Dada, the Coop seemed a spent musical force. His public image had descended into little better than a parody of his leering, strutting, sneering stage persona – appearances as a regular on Hollywood Squares, and an unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) guest slot on The Muppet Show had conspired with his increasingly erratic performances (he has quite famously stated he doesn't remember spending a number of weeks in Australia in the late 70s) and embarrassing stage shows (giant multicoured chickens with machine guns, anyone?) to present a shambolic shadow of his former self.

Enter: Constrictor, Alice's 1985 comeback album. Not a classic by any means, but an album that certainly showed our boy clean, sharp and back on track and, most importantly, sticking to the original gameplan (if you've seen the concert The Nightmare Returns, you know what I'm talking about) of trying to shock the bejesus out of his audience with inventive and gory stunts and genuine "how the fuck did they do that" moments. Since that point, the Alice Cooper juggernaut has kept on a-rollin' through an ill-advised bout with hair metal (Trash), a more confusing detour through industrial metal (Brutal Planet) – and given the gig I'm about to review, the question must be asked: can this 61 year old master entertainer still deliver the goods?

The short answer is yes. Thankfully, the rather embarrassing trappings of trying to keep up musically with the Jones's (a la David Bowie or Mick Jagger) have been jettisoned on Alice's latest releases (industrial Alice was especially hard to take), with the recent Along Came A Spider showing a return to if not exactly the Coop's roots, at least a more stripped back approach – even down to the notion of being a concept album about a serial killer (riffed on pretty hard in sections, if not all of, Welcome To My Nightmare, Killer and Raise Your Fist and YELL, among others). To me, Alice Cooper is not metal – and when he tries to shoehorn himself into that kind of sometimes limiting sound, the results are usually bland and soulless stadium fodder (as on Hey Stoopid) that doesn't show what he can do when simply playing rock, backed by good, inventive musos who attack the music with feel rather than technique.

The Theatre of Death tour was really only a matter of time, and I'm glad I got to see it. I have no idea whether or not the man is going to continue touring – given his age and the abuse his body took in the 70s, he's remarkably spry and energetic – but if he does, then he's really going to have to pull out all the stops to top this Grand Guignol tour-de-force. I've seen Alice Cooper live before, and that experience as well as each of the live videos I've been able to source (the late 70s ones I'm trying to block from my mind) shows a real awareness of performance – so a bit of a spectacle is what I would expect. Of course, there are spectacles and there are spectacles (a sexy nurse showering the audience with sparks from the crotch-plate she's angle-grinding? It got my attention...) – but this one certainly packs a wallop, let me tell you. The Coop has brought back a number of older stunts and gags from previous shows to really show the younger elements of the audience (of which there were gratifyingly a surprisingly large number – almost equal to the greying, grizzled old school fans – and there were a whole bunch of parent/child combos present, let me tell you; now that is responsible parenting) what it was they missed out on in the 70s and the 80s.

I guess that the lazy shorthand for this tour would be to label it a "Greatest Hits" package, but honestly, the band themselves aren't approaching it like that. Sure it's, for the better part, a collection of crowd-pleasers along with a small smattering of post 70s toons (4 out of 27, if you're interested), and yes, it does span a large chunk of Alice's earlier career, particularly focussing on the 1970s, unfortunately including a few lesser tracks, although their inclusion does make sense in terms of the narrative of the show – and instead of the show being a grab bag of murderous set pieces leading to execution, this show does actually have a story. Kinda. Basically, it's divided into 4 different sections, each building to Alice being killed – that's right, not just one execution at the end of the show, here we get four, count 'em FOUR executions, one for each stage of the Coop's "life". You wanna know how he gets topped? Go see the show; I'm trying my hardest to keep spoilers to a minimum here. Rest assured, though, the audience surprise was palpable when Alice was led to the gallows just 5 songs into the gig – I mean, he had just impaled a roadie with a mic stand, so I guess there was some justification for it...

The neat thing for me with this gig was the fact that Alice's band actually seemed like a cohesive unit, rather than just a grab bag of session musos roped in for a tour, as in some previous tours – the interplay between the guitarists was proof positive of that alone. Musically, this was one punchy presentation – last time I saw Alice live on stage was in 1990 on the "Alice Cooper Trashes The World" tour, and the older songs (that is, the ones not on the Trash album) were filtered through a rather limp hair metal approach that wasn't really doing tracks like "Billion Dollar Babies" or "Desperado" any justice at all. This band, however, took to the older material like a slasher to a knife, and owned it – some of the more (relatively) obscure tracks like "From the Inside" and "Guilty" were given a well-deserved reinvigoration; and the original sleazy vibe of classics like "Cold Ethyl", "Is It My Body?" and "Be My Lover" was conveyed in spades.

I guess that if you were more of a fan of the newer material than the older, then a) you must be an idiot and b) as such you'd be a little disappointed by the set list. If, like me, you're a fan of the older material then you'd be having a ball. Me, I was on my feet and dancing around like a nutter from the opening notes of "School's Out" - the song which bookended the gig (the opening version was just a couple of the verses, the full version was at the end); and you've got to see the outfit Alice came out in for the encore – holy shit!

It's probably worth mentioning that a few of the songs had been re-worked for this tour - "Devil's Food" now has a second verse, specifically written for this tour. "From the Inside" had a long instrumental passage in the middle so the band could show their musical chops, and also so Alice could get prepped for the next gag. "Black Widow" was played as an instrumental only, which was no real problem for the audience, as it yet again gave the band a chance to strut their pretty impressive stuff.

Quite honestly, I haven't had this much fun at a gig in a very long time. It put a big ol' smile on my face, and even though my ears are still ringing like bells, I loved every single moment of it – although I have to say that I thought that the newer songs stood out a bit, and not in a good way, and the 90s hit single "Poison" (I suppose it was inevitable he'd play it) was pretty damned incongruous when set against the 70s material that dominated the set. The sound quality however was top notch, which was a pleasant surprise as the Entertainment Centre can be a bit of a lottery in that regard.

If you're even a casual fan of Alice Cooper, then you really ought to go and see this show when it comes to town. If you're a keen fan and you don't go, then there's something deeply wrong with you. If you can't be entertained by the myriad delights of the Theatre of Death, seek help immediately – you are not worthy. This show proves exactly why experience outdoes youth everytime. Alice Cooper at the height of his game is a master showman, a consummate performer and a frontman par excellence. Get your bad self down to the Theatre of Death if you want to see the proof of that. Awesomely good fun.

Set List:

    1. School's Out
    2. Department Of Youth
    3. I'm Eighteen
    4. Wicked Young Man
    5. Ballad Of Dwight Frye
    6. Go To Hell
    7. Guilty
    8. Welcome To My Nightmare
    9. Cold Ethyl
    10. Poison
    11. The Awakening
    12. From The Inside
    13. Nurse Rozetta
    14. Is It My Body
    15. Be My Lover
    16. Only Women Bleed
    17. I Never Cry
    18. Black Widow (instrumental)
    19. Vengeance Is Mine
    20. Devil's Food
    21. Dirty Diamonds
    22. Billion Dollar Babies
    23. Killer
    24. I Love The Dead (excerpt)
    25. No More Mr. Nice Guy
    26. Under My Wheels
    27. School's Out
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