Monday, November 03, 2014

Hello Hooray: With Bagful of Old Tricks, Alice Cooper Proves a New Treat in Hammond -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Alice Cooper
The Venue at Horseshoe Casino
Hammond, IN
November 2, 2014

I'm not really too into Halloween, in terms of costumes or parties or the celebration of the macabre--the candy, sure--and my seeing Alice Cooper in concert on Sunday night really had absolutely nothing to do with it being Halloween weekend.

But really, other than perhaps KISS or David Bowie, who in rock history would be more apt for the occasion?

And, in a year when I've seen 18 other Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame artists yet none similarly for a first time, heading to the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond to catch the man born Vincent Furnier turned out to be a real treat.

I've always known and liked the mega-hits--"School's Out," "I'm Eighteen," "No More Mr. Nice
Guy"--but Alice's heyday was a bit before my time, and I've never explored deeper, nor was ever much inclined to see him live (though I don't really recall many opportunities).

It's also taken some Wikipedia and research for me to understand that Alice Cooper was initially the name of a band that Vincent Furnier was the lead singer in, during which time the aforementioned songs were created. In 1975, Furnier adopted the Alice Cooper moniker and carried on as a solo act, seemingly in a similar vein as the group.

So even after finally seeing Alice Cooper in concert, I'm still somewhat piecing together his rightful place in rock history, but in terms of introducing makeup and theatricality into the rock arena (and arena rock), Cooper--and I'm hereforth using the name to refer to both the group and solo phases--certainly seems to be a forerunner to KISS, the New York Dolls, Elton John, Twisted Sister, Poison and many more. (I'm not sure if Alice influenced Bowie, or vice-versa or it both were somewhat simultaneous.)

But it seems that Alice Cooper is credited for creating "Shock Rock" and back in the early '70s he likely scared the bejeezus out of parents more than anyone.

Seeing him, at 66, in the sterile, soulless box that is the Venue at Horseshoe Casino, certainly felt far more slick than shocking, especially as he rolled through the same setlist he's played at other headlining tour stops in what felt a bit too much like a scripted performance. (He's spent much of the year opening for Motley Crue on their final tour.))

As noted, I'm rather late to the Alice Cooper party, so I can't speak to his wonts, but with Wikipedia noting that he is known for "his social and witty persona offstage," I found it a shame he didn't say anything to the crowd except "Thank you." (I'm not asking for silly stage patter, but like it when artists with such storied pasts pause for a bit of genuine reflection.)

Nonetheless, it was largely great fun.

Especially in having studied up for the show with the aid of Spotify, I now have a greater appreciation for Alice Cooper's canon than I did. I enjoyed everything that was played, especially as the band--with three terrific guitarists taking impressive lead turns--was superb.

With Alice in (presumably) the same ghoulish get-up he's worn for years, echoed by both a drop curtain in front of the stage and one that remained at the back of it, early musical highlights included "House of Fire," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Under My Wheels," "Billion Dollar Babies" and "Caffeine," which I really enjoyed.

While some of these numbers included the use of small props, it wasn't until after "Dirty Diamonds" and its extended guitar, bass and drum solos, that the show amped up the theatricality, first with a live snake on "Welcome to My Nightmare," then "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" and most extensively, "Feed My Frankenstein," which had Alice dressed as Dr. Frankenstein, hooked up and fried into an oversized Frankenstein monster (this wasn't really him, as Alice was back too quickly for the next piece of macabre madness, including ultimately having his head chopped off by a guillotine).

Through a quartet of cover songs--that all sounded really strong, including Cooper's vocals--"dead"-but-not-headless Alice paid homage to his "dead drunk friends": Jim Morrison ("Break on Through"), John Lennon ("Revolution"), Jimi Hendrix ("Foxy Lady," with an attractive female guitarist, Nita Strauss, playing blistering licks) and Keith Moon ("My Generation").

In doing so, he did well to affirm his place among rock's immortals, but even with subsequent blasts through "I'm Eighteen," "Poison" and the show closing "School's Out" (with a good portion of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" interspersed), I couldn't help but have it reiterated that Cooper doesn't--musically at least--quite stand with the truly top echelon of history's best artists.

All in all though, it was a pretty good excuse to shlep to Hammond, as despite the Plasticine environment--to be fair, though the Aragon may have been more apt, I wouldn't have gone to a SRO show there--and somewhat boilerplate performance, I'm glad I can add Alice Cooper to my list of legendary artists seen on stage.

And much more than not, I enjoyed the show.

But as an example of what's lost when artists too closely heed to a set-in-stone setlist--and believe me, I understand that there were numerous well-rehearsed production and lighting cues to be considered--just two days before Election Day, I would have voted for Alice Cooper to include one of his biggest hits:


Just one more minor aspect that made a winning performance not quite a landslide.

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