Shock Rock May Change, But Alice Cooper Is Eternal

Alice Cooper
Revention Music Center
August 23, 2016

This has been a pretty good year for shock rock. Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson are spending the summer playing amphitheaters. GWAR are working on a new album. Ghost won a Grammy. The Misfits are getting back together. It’s a good time to be in the face-paint-selling business. While all of those acts are amazing in their own way, it’s hard to imagine that any of them can put on a show as strong and entertaining as the one that Alice Cooper is putting on right now. One of rock’s first great boogeymen is still, 47 years after the release of Pretties for You, one of the best.

When we think shock rock, obviously we think horror, but we also associate it, thanks to the last 30 or so years of popular music, with heavy metal and punk. Alice Cooper has the horror to be sure, and live his songs have that heavy edge, but we likely wouldn’t even be talking about him today were it not for the fact that his songs have an incredible sense of melody. They are catchy, at times anthemic, numbers that remind you that just because you go balls to the wall doesn’t mean you don’t owe some debt to The Beatles.

These days his set is pretty well refined for maximum impact, with room for the hits like “Poison” and “School’s Out,” big production pieces like “Feed My Frankenstein” and “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” and a chance for his band to show off in what might be one of the greatest pieces of prog-rock you’ve never heard, “Halo of Flies.” While there were no valleys in the set – seriously, I’m not sure I’ve been this relentlessly entertained by a concert in forever – the highpoints came in two very different forms. The first was an extended tribute to his fallen friends in the world music, which included covers of “Pinball Wizard,” “Ace of Spades” and an absolutely stellar version of “Suffragette City.”

The second came right after that, as Cooper and his band tore into “I’m Eighteen.” Cooper might be 50 years removed from that age, but ever the showman he still knows how to make it sound big and important.

It’s easy to be cynical about “classic” acts still touring 20, 30 or ever 40 years after their first taste of success. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to be out on the road past the age of 65 simply for the love of the game. But seeing Alice Cooper in the middle of the stage, giant balloons full of confetti bouncing over the crowd with lights flashing and bubbles in the air, wielding a freaking katana to wage war on those balloons, you can’t help but think that he’s really enjoying himself.

Try to imagine other shock rockers doing what Cooper does at age 68. Will Manson still be out there tearing up Bibles? (Maybe?) Will GWAR have evolved into something else entirely? (Can’t wait to find out.) Will Danzig still be ripped and angry about something? (This one actually seems pretty likely, to be honest.) But hell, maybe 20 years from now Alice Cooper will still be out onstage being decapitated. And if he is, I’m willing to bet it’ll still be one hell of a show.

Personal Bias: I have this very vivid memory of being a kid, riding in the passenger seat of my dad’s work van as “School’s Out” comes on the radio and thinking that, even then, the idea that the guy in the radio would play that song when school wasn’t in was just weird. I haven’t thought about that memory in over a decade. Music is funny like that.

The Crowd: Sure, you had your dudes in black shirts and cargo shorts, but those dudes were singing next to guys in crisp dress shirts and golf shirts. Women with comic-book tattoos sang the same way that suburban soccer moms did. Maybe you think that’s strange. I thought it was kind of beautiful. We all make it, in our own way.

Overheard In the Crowd: “Oh, we’re just trying to get some space while we can,” explained one of the gentlemen behind me, in why he was sitting in the wrong seat and not next to his buddy in the row behind him. Can’t say I blame him: the floor seats at Revention are tiny.

Random Notebook Dump: Here’s the short version of what would be a blog on its own: maybe I’m the only one that sees it, but I see a lot of similarities between Alice Cooper and Weird Al. They aren’t mirrors of each other or anything, but their performance style isn’t all that dissimilar and each provides a music history lesson live. Either way, going down that path had my typing their names into Google and discovering this video, which is a damn delight.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia