Classic Rock Corner

Alice Cooper's Dark Theatrics Dominate Deep Purple's Space Truckin'

Dr. Cooper will see you now...don't mind the mess.
Dr. Cooper will see you now...don't mind the mess. Pavilion video screen/Bob Ruggiero
Deep Purple, Alice Cooper Band, The Edgar Winter Band
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 18, 2017

Here’s another tri-pronged classic-rock bill that celebrated a bit of the heavier, darker side of the genre. And the lineup was certainly a study in contrast — not to mention that 66.6 percent of the bill played tunes that paid homage to a certain lumbering man-made monster.

People were still leisurely making their way to their seats when an energetic Edgar Winter bounded out at precisely 6:45 p.m. with a “Houston, who wants to take a FREE RIDE??” and launching into a fist-pumping version the classic-rock radio staple. After noting that he and his brother – the late blues great Johnny Winter – were born and raised “just a bit away” in Beaumont, he launched into a Texas blues shuffle (which, according to, was unique to Houston).

click to enlarge Edgar Winter slings his keyboard. - PAVILION VIDEO SCREEN/BOB RUGGIERO
Edgar Winter slings his keyboard.
Pavilion video screen/Bob Ruggiero
But Winter squandered the momentum in the midst of his Johnny-tribute cover of “Tobacco Road” with an overlong, bizarre middle segment meant to be comedic in which he alternately spoke gibberish or in tongues like a Pentecostal preacher. Then he “challenged” each of his three backing musicians to “play it back” to him on their instrument of choice.

Closing with the jammy, fuzzy and crowd pleasing instrumental calling card “Frankenstein,” Winter had his keyboard-slung-like-a-guitar around his neck. His set – which he performed with impeccable and sharp vocals – made me want to dig deeper into his catalog with both the Edgar Winter Group and Edgar Winter’s White Trash beyond the anthology that I have.

During the set change, a huge, creepy banner of Alice Cooper’s face (with spiders for eyes) rose in front of the stage. It was undoubtedly so crews could stock the area with various collections of dead baby dolls, electrocution set ups, scary clown masks and – of course – one large guillotine.

Though the King of Shock Rock genuinely terrified parents in the ‘70s, today “Alice Cooper” is seen mostly as a horror character – Freddy Krueger with a microphone. Still, there is nothing, nothing like the spectacle of an Alice Cooper show, even in 2017.

Pavilion video screen/Bob Ruggiero
Opening with “Brutal Planet” – the title track off his best (and usually overlooked) album of the past 20 years – Cooper and his five-piece band, including head shredder Nita Strauss, crunched on hit after hit. Other group members Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen (guitars), Chuck Garric (bass), and Glen Sobel (drums) meshed both in playing and aerobic stages moves like a well-oiled...well...guillotine.

They ran the table from “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Under My Wheels” a vibrant “Billion Dollar Babies,=” and ‘80s comeback hit “Poison.” He played only one track (“Paranoiaic Personality”) off new album Paranormal, but it fit in nicely. Maybe they should play the whole album over the PA during the set change.

Some songs had more spectacle and props: Cooper flopped and abused a doll during the ode to necrophilia, “Cold Ethyl.” And through some smoke and electricity, standard-size Alice was transformed into an approximately 25-foot tall maniacal figure rushing around the stage on “Feed My Frankenstein.” Note of trivia: The nimble, white-faced, pirouetting ballerina during ballad “Only Women Bleed” was indeed Sheryl Cooper, his wife of 40+ years, whom he met when she was a dancer on the 1975 Welcome to My Nightmare tour.

Alice was, per tradition, guillotined as a prelude to “I Love the Dead.” And while a stage staple for decades, the show would not be the same without it. Of course, “School’s Out” closed the show in a torrent of confetti and balloons bounced through the audience, which Cooper would sneeringly spear with a sword when they came within his reach. It was a rock and roll spectacle on a level of its own, which kept the majority of the crowd on its feet during the entire set.

It was a thrilling set, to be sure, and Deep Purple would have an impossible act to follow (though, admittedly, the comparison is unfair). They’ve never been much of a “show” band – concentrating on the punishing music on an epic scale. And lead singer Ian Gillan’s stage presence is pretty much limited to a side shuffle with arms out front, his eyes squinting.

click to enlarge Deep Purple's Ian Gillan and Steve Morse - PAVILION VIDEO SCREEN/BOB RUGGIERO
Deep Purple's Ian Gillan and Steve Morse
Pavilion video screen/Bob Ruggiero
But overall, DP’s set was uneven, alternating between the forceful (bomb-exploding opener “Highway Star,” fan favorite “Fireball”) and meandering with perhaps a few Don Airey keyboard solos too many. Guitarist Steve Morse showed again how fine and precise his playing is; can't wait for the upcoming Dixie Dregs reunion. And drummer Ian Paice, the sole remaining original member (though Gillan and bassist Roger Glover date to the “classic” Mk II lineup) showed that, at age 69, he was more than up for any group’s most physically demanding position.

As for Gillan, his trademark strained-sounding voice hit all the right notes, though he could have benefitted from having his mic turned up a bit to better hear his singing, as well as some in between song patter that was eaten up in the ether.

Surprisingly, several of the show’s highlights were not from the band’s best-known ‘70s material, and that includes the epic “Perfect Strangers” and strutting anal-sex anthem “Knocking at Your Back Door” both from 1984’s Perfect Strangers. And “Uncommon Man” of 2013’s Now What?! shone like a real gem. Unfortunately, two tracks from the recently-released Infinite (“The Surprising,” “Time for Bedlam”) did not.

Due to a rush to complete their set by the Pavilion’s 11 p.m. curfew, there was no break between set closer “Smoke on the Water” and the three-song encore. But, as “Smoke” is perhaps in the top 5 of classic rock anthems, this experience was far more for the audience than the recital by the Purps themselves, buoyed by the evening’s best graphics on the video screen behind the band.

Personal Bias: Enjoy the discographies from all three acts, but more a resident of Cooperstown that Deep Ellum or Winterfell.

The Crowd: Mostly forty- through sixtysomethings. Men a bit more grizzled/gray/bearded than other classic-rock shows. Alice Cooper T-shirts far outnumbered the Purps (also spotted: Rush, Little Feat, Metallica, Grand Funk, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick).

Overheard In the Crowd: By a man in the Pavilion’s Green Parking Lot, after which I repeated his words verbatim into my iPhone so as not to miss any language: “I saw Roger Waters at the Toyota Center. It sucked, man, it was all political! Trump and the Wall and Black Lives Matter! What was that? It was bullshit!

Random Notebook Dump: Hey, drunk dude two rows in front of me – dramatically “fanning” every woman within a five-foot radius with your Eagle 107.5-branded cardboard hand fan for most of the show is not going to get you laid.

click to enlarge Vincent Ruggiero meets the man born Vincent Furnier at the Eagle 107.5's booth. Wonder what Alice Cooper thinks of the Eagles. - PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO
Vincent Ruggiero meets the man born Vincent Furnier at the Eagle 107.5's booth. Wonder what Alice Cooper thinks of the Eagles.
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
Some thoughts from Vincent Ruggiero, aka "The Classic Rock Kid"
My mom had kept bugging me about whether or not I wanted to go see Alice Cooper. “Are you sure you want to go?” Alice Cooper can be scary.” Isn’t that a good joke! Either way, I had come to this concert not having experienced any of these bands before. I was curious for a lot of different reasons, asking myself a lot of questions. But No.1 on my mind was “Hmm, I wonder what the fourth song Edgar Winter plays will be?”

Well, if you said "an extended jam upwards of ten minutes that mainly featured Edgar Winter making different noises and the other members of the band replicate them on their respective instruments," you would be correct! They also broke into an actual soundbite of a song occasionally like "For the Love of Money," "Heartbreaker," "Sir Duke, and "Kashmir." As a casual rock enthusiast, I only recognized “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein.” They were all right, but not great.

In other news, Alice Cooper. Yeah...let’s just say Mom wouldn’t be too impressed. Music aside (the music was great, by the way), I don’t see why I needed to take Theatre Arts class. With guillotines and Frankenstein costumes, you have something 100 times more exciting than homework and pencils and teacher’s dirty looks. I could’ve just taken private lessons from Alice Cooper.

A more depressing part of the show, however, was when everyone was enthusiastically singing “School’s Out!” and I’m sitting here mouthing “School’s about to be in!” I stood for almost this entire portion of the concert. With this being so great, it’s no wonder the seats weren’t as full for Deep Purple.

Déjà vu? Yes, but it’s worse for Deep Purple. The last concert I went to, both Don Felder and Styx impressed, putting pressure on REO Speedwagon to do the same. Although they didn’t quite do as well, most audience members stayed because no single band was the main act. Unlucky for Deep Purple, there was. Even unluckier, it’s Alice Cooper. (I shouldn’t say unlucky, they agreed to do a tour together.) So no matter how good “Smoke on the Water” was, they just couldn’t beat Alice. All negatives aside, they did good. Nothing more, nothing less.

click to enlarge Ian Gillan and Ian Paice - PAVILION VIDEO SCREEN/BOB RUGGIERO
Ian Gillan and Ian Paice
Pavilion video screen/Bob Ruggiero

Free Ride
Unknown “Texas Blues Shuffle”
Tobacco Road
Rock ‘n Roll Hoochie Coo

Brutal Planet
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under My Wheels
Billion Dollar Babies
Paranoiac Personality
Woman of Mass Distraction
Nita Strauss guitar solo
Halo of Flies
Feed My Frankenstein
Cold Ethyl
Only Women Bleed
Killer (snippet)
I Love the Dead
I’m Eighteen

School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2


Highway Star
Strange Kind of Woman
Uncommon Man
The Surprising
Don Airey keyboard solo
Perfect Strangers
Space Truckin’
Smoke on the Water
Knockin’ at Your Back Door
Time for Bedlam
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero