MORRISTOWN, NJ—I have interviewed Alice Cooper three times in as many years around Halloween and each time the classic shock rocker tells me how he is in the best voice—sober and fit—and playing killer shows with killer musicians and how I should come out and see for myself. And so this time I did.
The Coop lives.
Alice Cooper’s Wake The Dead tour, which is currently playing theaters across the U.S., is indeed a whiz bang, crack-skulls extravaganza presented in three acts, spanning over five decades of head-banging theatrical mayhem. He absolutely sounds reborn; graveled voice, slender frame, jet-black, shoulder-length hair and the signature makeup that made him one of the most recognizable figures of post-Boomer rock.
It is how I remember him, except, as promised, he is no longer a stumbling drunk, slurring his wicked lyrics in a victim’s dirge. This Alice is arrogant and defiant and roars through “Under My Wheels” and “Billion Dollar Babies” with the cold precision of an assassin. When he sings “No More Mister Nice Guy,” a song now 40 years old, you’re in no position to doubt it. Even his later work, from “Hey Stoopid” to 2011’s “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” sounds like it could have come from any of the quintessential Alice Cooper records.
From the first notes of his once and always opening salvo, “Hello Hooray,” Cooper prowls the stage, wielding gold-tipped canes and shimmering swords, and giant cups of faux java; snapping whips that prompt costumed extras to turn him into a giant, mutated 10-foot Frankenstein creature, wrap him in a straitjacket and behead him in a guillotine—all highlights of The Coop’s well-worn repertoire.
His band is truly the finest ensemble since the legendary Welcome To My Nightmare tour, Cooper’s first theatrical solo venture in 1975, which featured longtime songwriting partner and world-class gunslinger, Dick Wagner.
Wagner’s mighty holster is aptly filled by one of the finest women axe-grinders in all of rock, Orianthi, a barely five-foot sexy blonde whirlwind, dressed in black with streaks of stage blood streaming down her face. She plays the part as well as she rips through scorching solos, slithering through the boy’s club and dry ice as if she were born to goth.
Many of Cooper’s regulars—Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen on guitars, Glen Sobel on drums and bassist Chuck Garric—round out a band that flows through the Cooper songbook with aplomb, while also managing to add an original flair to the arrangements.
The performance’s third act features Cooper roaming through an imaginary graveyard of his former drinking buddies, or as he referred to them during our discussion, his “dead, drunk friends.” Awaking the echoes with renditions of songs from each—“Break On Through (To The Other Side)” (Jim Morrison), “Revolution” (John Lennon) and “My Generation” (Keith Moon)—Cooper tears it up with the fervor of a fan whose brushes with fame could never diminish the worship of his compatriot’s legend.
Of course, “School’s Out” put to bed another in a seemingly endless array of productions Alice Cooper has given over to a genre forever groping at solemnity dressed up as legitimacy. His finale—streamers, giant bursting balloons stuffed with confetti and blazing lights swirling about the theater as if a prison break (ain’t that what the last agonizing moments of school are like?)—is a tribute to the spirit of this rock and roll thing, which he conquered for a time many years ago and has haunted since with a villainous smirk.
I answered the master’s call, and I am here to gladly report that Alice is back to remind us all of how much damn fun it all is.
Long live The Coop.