Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 27, 2013

Spending an evening with Alice

Charles Romans
The Independent

ASHLAND — It’s not every day that a performer can create his or her own genre, but that’s exactly what Alice Cooper did.

He has been called the godfather of shock rock, been the inspiration for countless rock bands and their sounds, and frequently called a menace to society. But no one has ever called him boring.

Adjectives like macabre, sinister and malevolent have been used to describe the man and his music for more than 40 years, and rather than detract from his appeal it has fueled it. People, it seems, can’t get enough of bad boys, and Cooper, aka Vincent Furnier, continues to show how it is done.

Cooper exploded onto the stage in a shower of pyrotechnics at Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena on Wednesay to the roar of appreciative fans. Many of those fans were in costume inspired by Cooper’s unique style of theatrical madness — blackened eyes, leather, and Victorian/punk headwear were in evidence along with chains and fake blood.

As Cooper himself said, every night for him was Halloween, and his fans take that as a cue to go above, beyond, and over the top. But none managed to top the performer’s own theatrical flair for the bizarre and the macabre.

Cooper’s shows typically have some theme or method to their madness. The show at Big Sandy was part of his “Wake the Dead Tour,” and featured Cooper being beheaded by a giant guillotine then wheeled away to a graveyard. Cooper then, very much alive, performed songs in tribute to Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon.

In short, the concert was a stage play set in a horror movie, wrapped in a nightmare, with a soundtrack that served up some of the most iconic rock songs of the past four decades.

“Eighteen,” “No More Mister Nice Guy,” “Under My Wheels,” and “School’s Out” were just a few of the songs performed by Cooper and his band in a 90-minute show that maintained a consistent high energy. There were no pauses, no moments that weren’t filled with music, and Cooper himself paused only long enough to change costumes. Actors and props appeared, backdrops changed and the lightshow shifted with the mood of the musical story as Cooper went insane, was medicated by a psychotic nurse and executed.

At one point during the song “Feed My Frankenstein,” Cooper disappeared and was replaced by a giant Frankenstein’s monster onstage. And at another point in the show, Cooper brought out his signature stage prop, a huge, live boa constrictor.

Today in the age of YouTube and the Internet, when musicians are known as much by the videos for their music as for the music itself, there is always the need to outdo what has been done before both on film and the stage.

Musicians are expected to perform and are rewarded for it — and they have Alice Cooper to thank for that as well. In the day when musicians typically just played music, Cooper performed.

While other groups rocked, Cooper rocked with a theatrical flair long before music videos were even heard of.  And, arguably, he still does it best.

Cooper obviously enjoys what he does while not taking it too seriously. The music itself, whether he is singing about a woman being poison or feeding Frankenstein, is devoid of any pretense. It is, as they say, what it is. And the range of subjects in his songs, from domestic violence (“Only Women Bleed”) to coming of age (“Eighteen”) is impressive Bob Dylan even said in a 1978 Rolling Stone interview that he thought Alice Cooper was an overlooked songwriter. But Cooper prefers the outlandish, the shock, and the entertainment value, parodying everything, including himself, frequently.

Part of the appeal may be as simple as that — he gets his own joke. And whether it is hard rock that helped begin heavy metal as a genre, ballads, or music that is uniquely Alice Cooper, he continues to perform at 65 years of age because he simply loves what he does.

And, he will probably continue to do so as long as people want or need to be shocked.

CHARLES ROMANS is a free-lance writer who lives in Greenup County.