Originally Published: September 09, 1998
Welcome back, my friends, to the nightmare that never ends. That was the theme last week at Nautica, as Alice Cooper brought his world-famous rock and roll sideshow to Cleveland, treating a near-capacity crowd to an evening of musical entertainment like nothing you've ever seen under the big top.
These days, Marilyn Manson is the one grabbing all of the headlines. But while Alice Cooper was once the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll, he's finally getting the credit (and the respect) that he so richly deserves. It isn't hard to see why, judging by this show.
Throughout his career, Cooper has built his theatrical performances from the songs up. Now 50, he needn't rely on shock value to win over an audience that's already seen him do it all. Not when he's got a catalog of hits at his disposal. As for Manson, well ... there's always shock value.
Cooper relished his role as rock and roll ringleader last Wednesday, leading another crack ensemble of familiar faces through their paces as he pulled hit after hit, along with a few vintage surprises, from deep within his trick bag. Taking to the prop-laden stage to the tune of "Hello Hooray," the master showman performed for nearly two hours with a zest and zeal worthy of an artist half his age, but with the wisened finesse of the veteran entertainer that he is.
Cooper set up the creepy carnival feel of the evening early, leading off with "Sideshow," from his most recent offering, the 1994 concept album The Last Temptation. Brandishing a saber stuck through a thick wad of fake cash, Cooper paced the foot of the stage as guitarists Reb Beach (ex-Winger) and Pete Freisen (ex-The Almighty) fired up the familiar intro to "Billion Dollar Babies," from the 1973 album of the same name. With keyboardist Paul Taylor (also ex-Winger) joining in on guitar, Cooper followed with signature tune "No More Mr. Nice Guy," also from Babies, which brought a swell of applause from the audience.
As a bevy of costumed circus clowns paraded and pranced about the stage behind him, Cooper offered up a rare treat in "Public Animal #9," from '72's School's Out, then brought his 12-foot boa on stage with him for "Be My Lover."
Known for his anthems of adolescent angst long before Pearl Jam happened on the scene, Cooper pulled out his most recent, Temptation's "Lost in America," featuring a scorching lead solo from fretburner Beach. Cooper and Taylor joined in on guitar (that's four guitarists, if you're counting) for another signature tune, "I'm Eighteen," which again brought the crowd to its feet.
Addressing his minions for the first time, Cooper spun a quick tale to preface the next tune. "You know, I used to drink a little. I used to drink a lot. I used to drink everything. It got so bad that they put me in an insane asylum. When I was in there, I wrote this song." Cooper then shared what he learned on the inside on the title track from 1978's From The Inside, another rare live treat. Again, the crowd went nuts.
Astride an upturned trash can with Beach flanking him, acoustic guitar in hand, Cooper chilled out with "Only Women Bleed," delivering the tune for the umpteen hundred time with riveting poignancy. That served as a chilling prelude for the rarely performed "Steven," after which much mayhem ensued as Cooper was dragged from the stage by the clowns during the Babies gem "Unfinished Sweet."
Cooper emerged in carny barker attire for a blistering Temptation doubleshot opening with the world-wary "Nothing's Free" and closing with a stroll through the disenchanted forest with "Bad Place Alone."
Beach took a solo spotlight for the intro to "Poison," ably filling the guitarslinger shoes once occupied by Glen Buxton, Michael Bruce, Kane Roberts and Al Pitrelli. No slouch himself, Freisen (a returning member from Cooper's Trash/Hey Stoopid-era band) supercharged "Cold Ethyl," a standout cut from 1975's Welcome to My Nightmare, the title track of which was a noticeable exception on this night. Cooper and company made good on that omission, however, closing the set with a fiery "Halo of Flies" and trademark anthem "School's Out."
How would the King of Shock Rock top himself on this night in the rock and roll capital? With a tip of his top hat to the King of rock and roll, of course. Cooper emerged on stage again decked out in a flashy silver jacket and dark shades for a rowdy reading of "Jailhouse Rock" that caught nearly all in attendance off guard but brought them to their feet once more. And there they stayed for a show-closing performance of "Under My Wheels," which wrapped an interesting set in typically grand fashion.
Cooper's legacy is a tough one to live up to, as Marilyn Manson well knows. But on this night, Cooper did just that.
Another band with a storied history - at least in Cleveland, anyway - got the evening off to a fine, rocking start. Kidd Wicked have taken their knocks from the critics over the years - this writer included - but their opening set here showed that they can more than hold their own on the big stage. With familiar frontman Billy Morris spiriting the charge on lead vocals and lead guitar, Kidd Wicked tore through a groove-heavy 45-minute set of tunes laced with razor sharp melodies and punctuated by jagged, crushing riffs.
While this band has endured more than its fair share of lineup changes over the years, Morris' determination and resolve has paid off with a lineup that's perhaps the band's best yet, and a new record, Thick, that's as good as any new rock album on the market. With rhythm guitarist Lance Horwedel laying down an appropriately thick rhythm bed, bassist Joe Frietchen prowling the stage and dishing out the thump and drummer Todd Shelly powering the groove, Morris turned in an honest, sincere performance that won over this largely classic rock crowd.