Thursday, October 9, 2003

Cooper is classic, but not scary

Concert review

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

Alice Cooper's most celebrated modern-day imitator, Marilyn Manson, hasn't shocked anyone in years. And it has been decades since the original shock rocker, Mr. Cooper himself, has been a figure of controversy.

The impact of Cooper's horror-show imagery - both in his music and his live act - has waned since his 1970s heyday, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to take victory laps around the classic-rock tour circuit. After all, the man caked in excessive black eye shadow is one of the great singles artists of the 70s rock, and he proved it at the Taft Theatre Wednesday night.

Backed by a four-man band made of hired guns each looking half his age, Cooper (who's 55, not 18) ran through a 90-minute set of hits, as well as a progression of familiar props, like the trusty "Billion Dollar Babies" saber, which skewered paper money shish kebab-style.

Perhaps the theater setting placed limits on the size of the stage props Cooper could use, because most were on the small side, lots of hand weapons like guns and swords and knives. Until he released a half-dozen Volkswagen-size balloons into the audience during the encore, the largest prop was a lifelike female rag doll he whipped around the stage. There was no showing of the guillotine or any of the other old-world, oversized instruments of pain with which Cooper is known to decorate his stage.

He probably could get away with no props at all as long as the tunes were right. The crowd wanted the hits, and Cooper obliged, making like a 70s AM radio: "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Eighteen," "Only Women Bleed," (the all-time greatest hard-rock ballad), "School's Out," "Under My Wheels," "Welcome to My Nightmare," and more.

The set also included a couple of pieces of evidence he was still legitimate in the 80s, namely the witty "I Love America" and the pop-metal hit "Poison," plus a punk-styled new title called "Man of the Year" from the album Eyes of Alice Cooper, which he released in September.

The only below-average portion of the show was the 10-minute period in the middle of the set that Cooper was off stage. The band performed what amounted to a drum solo sandwiched between fanfare music. The drum beat and the guitars sounded similar to those of "School's Out," and the crowd - the floor was full but there were plenty of empty balcony seats - stood and clapped in anticipation of a grand entrance by Cooper, but the fanfare fizzled out before he returned to stage.

It's understandable that Cooper would need to take "10." The '70s were a long time ago, and he's not 18 anymore.

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