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Monday, April 24, 2017 12:09 am

Alice being Alice

Cooper delivers at convention center

Still crazy after all these years: Alice Cooper knows his way around a stage, and he showed it Sunday at Prairie Capital Convention Center.
PHOTO BY BRIAN J. BOWLES

 

Ringling Brother and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold its last performance next month.

No matter. There is still Alice Cooper, who is a long way from folding his tent.

With tickets priced at $47 and $71, Cooper has chutzpah for an artist whose popularity peaked 40 years ago. The ticket price, plus the fact that it was Sunday and many of Cooper’s core fans likely have 10 p.m. bedtimes these days, might help explain why half the Prairie Capital Convention Center was curtained off. I’d seen Cooper twice, more than 15 years ago, and wasn’t prepared for anything special – you’ve seen one boa constrictor, you’ve seen them all. But Cooper has improved with age.

The venue helped. At this point in his career, Cooper is playing casinos and smaller halls – when I last saw him, he was in a theater that didn’t hold more than a couple thousand or so. The stage back then was big enough for Cooper and his five-piece band, but add a guillotine and assorted other props and there wasn’t much room to work. It is difficult to behave like a madman if you can’t move more than a half-dozen paces before running into something. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, and both Cooper and his band worked every inch of the stage. By the time they were done, it was clear that this remains a bucket-list act for any serious aficionado of classic rock. He could have charged more and the audience still would have gotten its money’s worth.

Nita Strauss, who’s been with the band for three years, showed both stage presence and expert musicianship.
PHOTO BY BRIAN J. BOWLES

 

Cooper typically throws in versions of other artists’ songs, but he wisely eschewed covers on Sunday in favor of a breadth-of-career performance that included “Pain,” from the 1980 album Flush The Fashion, often regarded as a forgettable work and one that Cooper has picked from sparingly during recent tours. Guitarist Nita Strauss, alone on stage, skillfully set up “Poison,” from 1989, with an extended solo that was a nice recovery from “Woman of Mass Distraction,” which didn’t go as planned. Gremlins invaded Strauss’ guitar just as she and Cooper were playing off each other with sly gestures and sundry poses, forcing her to briefly enlist the help of a tech on the left stage wing. It was a minor glitch taken in stride by seasoned performers who’ve no doubt seen much worse, and guitarist Ryan Roxie, who’s been playing with Cooper since 1996, took up the slack with nary a shrug.

You can say a lot about Alice Cooper, and many people have, but he employs seriously talented musicians. A three-guitar setup allows layering and depth that stood out best on the less-frenzied sections of “Welcome To My Nightmare.” Strauss has tons of stage presence and is no slouch on the fretboard – she could tap Eruption-style all night long, and she did -- but she was not the measure of Roxie, who bent strings just-so to coax exclamation marks that made 40-year-old songs sound fresh. Anchoring it all was Glen Sobel, who was as much drum major as drummer as he tossed and twirled and flourished drumsticks without missing a beat. The obligatory drum solo was anything but obligatory, as much visual delight as ear candy.

Cooper says that his wife Sheryl is scarier than he is (in the Cooper household, that’s a compliment), and he has a point. Appearing on stage as a demented nurse and a wind-up doll who emerged from a toy box and briefly danced as her husband sang “Only Women Bleed,” Sheryl Cooper exhibited grace, vulnerability and savagery. In a show filled with “look-at-me’s,” she demanded attention.

The giant singing Frankenstein figure – it was impossible to know whether Cooper was underneath the behemoth thing that towered at least ten feet high – during “Feed My Frankenstein” (naturally) was pure hoot, drawing a visible laugh from Strauss even though she’s seen it a hundred times, or more, during her three years touring with Cooper. The guillotining of Cooper near the show’s end almost seemed like the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a ballgame – you know it’s coming, you know the decades-old stunt isn’t oh-lord-that’s-gory realistic, but you also know it wouldn’t be an Alice Cooper show without it. And so a masked executioner striding around stage holding up Cooper’s severed head was an affirming sight. The whole world might be going crazy, but a headless Cooper these days is more comfort than shock.

 

The Setlist

  1. Brutal Planet
  2. No More Mr. Nice Guy
  3. Under My Wheels
  4. Lost In America
  5. Pain
  6. Welcome To My Nightmare
  7. Billion Dollar Babies
  8. The World Needs Guts
  9. Woman of Mass Distraction
  10. Poison
  11. Halo of Flies
  12. Feed My Frankenstein
  13. Cold Ethyl
  14. Only Women Bleed
  15. Escape
  16. Ballad of Dwight Fry
  17. Killer/I Love The Dead
  18. School’s Out

    Encore
  19. I’m Eighteen
  20. Elected
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