Disc

Originally Published: November 1972

Scotland Is Alice's Wonderland

Author: Caroline Boucher

Alice couldn't have got a better reception anywhere. He was knocked out afterwards -- so were the whole band.

Where else in England would everybody be on their feet before you're onstage; dance on the very parapet of the balcony; sing along word perfect; chuck lighted cigarettes from the balcony on to people below so the air smelt of singed hair.

That's how it was for Alice Cooper's only British date of 1972 at Green's Playhouse, Glasgow. And the Scottish kids who so often seem to miss out on big acts really made their gratitude felt.

Sadly, because the plane was late we missed Phlorescent Leech and Eddy, but everyone I spoke to said they were great. Alice has improved drastically since I last saw him at the Rainbow over a year go.

Musically now, the band is very tight and the act much more polished and continuous than it used to be. Plus they have a really excellent lighting system.

Although Alice still isn't the ultimate in showmen, it was the best gig I've been to since early Led Zeppelin. Going to shows mainly round the London area you tend to forget what audiences are really like, ones who enjoy themselves and leap about and get off on the band.

With the band playing so well now, and the sound balance so good, Alice is a bit of a let down. Thank God he's stopped wearing that appalling black suit with specially drilled holes in it, but for the gold sequined trousers and top he's now sporting, he could lose half a stone for a start. One term at drama school could make Alice.

At the moment all his ideas are great, but go off at half-cock because he hasn't the ultimate panache to carry them off. His movements are inhibited and self-conscious, he has virtually no stage presence and he never MOVES, just sidles.

For all that he and his manager's ideas are lovely. The act starts off with some of their best rock and roll numhers, well linked and leading into Alice's famous little trappings - the sword onstage, the python which he all but stuffs down his trousers. Then there's a sequence from "West Side Story," the Jets song, which would probably make Leonard Bernstein blench but is always good for royalties.

That culminates in a street fighting sequence with the audience screaming for Alice as he attacks his guitarist with a knife. With much wobbling and knocking over a high hat the drummer manages to leap over his drums and also joins in, at which point two police sirens go off at the back and the stage blacks out apart from the revolving siren lights.

This point was a too lengthy link with much scuffling onstage as Alice was rigged up to his scaffold and after an even more tedious interlude of mock thunderstorms, the lights went up and Alice was hung with a nicely realistic jerk of the trap going from under his feet.

Then back again for more goodly rock, and a lengthy encore of "School's Out" with Alice chucking out posters. Or if you were in the front few rows Alice spat some chewed up poster at you.

The band is a joy to watch. The guitarists move really well, the drummer is impressive to look at if not to listen to, and they play an excellent set with some of the best timing and phrasing you could wish to hear.

The kids at Green's Playhouse, Glasgow, were yelling "Alice, Alice, Alice" at the tops of their voices in deafening unison as the object of their emotion stepped up to the gallows. But as the volume grew louder and the cries more disjointed, you couldn't tell what the cry was.

It sounded more like "violence, violence, violence," and at that moment Alice had his finger on a trigger that could have sparked off a hundred knifings in this city where violence has always been a way of life.

Alice Cooper was turning Glaswegians on at a rate they'd never known before on any rough Saturday night. And the Scottish kids lapped it all up in a feverish excitement that would have beaten any Celtic/Rangers or ethnic/religious clash the city could invent.

They weren't actually yelling "violence," but it sounded like that and it might just as well have been.

It was a scarey five minutes and the cops down at the front, with their black and white chequered hatbands, couldn't figure out this guy with a girl's name, a snake, a sword and a knife who was about to be hung by his band.

Maybe the bass player ought to be arrested, or perhaps the drummer. He was nasty the way he lunged with a switchblade.

Alice in Scotland on Friday sold out in a matter of hours and these kids -- mostly male -- couldn't get enough of the transvestite freak whose stage show mixes the macabre with rock on a more than 50-50 basis.

Alice is a killer, a violent psycho whose street battles probably reflected Sauchiehall Street's more seedy evenings better than any other rock artist on the road.

To the more weak hearted of us, it would probably shock. To the violent in mind, it doubtless inspires. Alice maintains that his act does not encourage violence, but saps the violent energy from the kids, leaving them too expired to follow in his footsteps.

Whatever else it is no-one can argue that Alice presents the most spectacular act of any group, taking theatre/rock to its absolute limits.

Though there's better hard music around, Alice gets full marks for presentation, full marks for effort and full marks for stunning effect.

The act is timed to perfection, with each gesture building up to the moment when Alice dangles from the noose at the right of the stage.

It opens with clouds of bubbles engulfing the musicians from each side of the stage, and, as the music grows louder, our hero slinks on, dressed in gold lame pants as tight as sunburned skin, and a black leather top gripped together with loosely fitting thongs.

There's evil in the air the moment he struts on to the stage. He's like some ballet dancer whose legs have grown tired and whose eyes -- blacked with make up -- have seen more heavy nights than the devil himself. He's right out of a Hammer film.

The musicians really ought to be hunchbacked old men, with Alice goading them with a whip to thrash them into playing harder. Perhaps he could breathe fire into the speaker cabinets, or juggle human skulls between numbers.

Nothing, like nothing, would be too much for this guy.

His first prop is Yvonne, a boa constrictor snake, which curls around Alice like a spiral staircase. Yvonne could if she wanted to, grip hard enough to squeeze Alice's guts out through his mouth, but her training's good, and her tail flashes up between Alice's legs.

Next prop is a sword which Alice swishes within inches of his musicians and fans. Is he going to swallow it? . . . No, but he gets dangerously close to slitting his own throat. The sword is replaced with a knife, a lethal looking blade designed more for meat than bread, and here the fun really starts.

A dustbin is brought on and garbage littered around the stage to transform Alice's rostrum into a New York, Lower East Side ghetto -- just like the West Side Story settings.

The next bit is really hot, taken deliberately from the West Side Story routine. Alice and musicians become the Sharks and the Jets -- "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet from your first cigarette to your last dying breath" -- and, as pre-recorded tapes take over the soundtrack, a switchblade battle takes place.

The whole scrap is acted out faithfully, with the band and Alice lunging for each other until drummer Neil Smith and Alice are the only ones left standing. The rest lie crumpled alongside the garbage, groaning and writhing like it was all for real.

But Alice, dear Alice, cops it first and Smith stands, arms aloft, in a victory salute. The crowd are yelling "Alice, Alice, Alice" and it's here that the mind plays tricks. Is it "violence, violence, violence" they're shouting?

Smoke is coming from somewhere and the din is deafening. Alice is moving again, clutching a broken bottle and stumbling towards the drummer. Knife aloft, he lunges at Smith and stabs him between the shoulder blades.

The deed is done, police sirens fill the air and orange lights -- they're orange in America, blue over here -- flash on the amp tops.

"What shall we do with him?" asks a guitarist and the cry is unanimous. The audience, delirious with violence, are acting as judge and jury.

"Hang him" is the cry.

Alice is bound with rope, and the band do a quick change -- one is the masked executioner (hunch-backed, of course), another the cleric reading from the good book, and another the lone drummer beating out a solemnroll on the side drum hanging off his shoulder.

And while the kids yell their encouragement, Alice is forced upstairs towards the gallows while the masked executioner urges him along with a blazing torch. The noose is fitted around his neck and the din grows louder and louder.

A massive crash, accompanied by some mock thunder and lightning, signifies that the convicted Alice is no more. He dangles from the noose, apparently lifeless. Smoke pours out from beneath the gallows and the set has reached a horrific climax.

But there's more to come. The smoke continues to belch out into the darkness, engulfing the entire stage and most of the front rows including the row of police men whose torches flicker hopelessly through the mist.

And while all this is going on Alice is cut down (to be replaced by a skeleton), and dressed as a Presidential candidate. Three minutes later, when the smoke has cleared, the lights are brought up to reveal a new man, in white tail suit, cane and top hat, urging voters to place their cross next to his name.

Stupified by what has happened, the crowd are all out of their seats drunk with excitement which is further encouraged as Alice expertly flicks the cane around and distributes posters into the throng.

It was a superb piece of showmanship, and the bolt was driven even further home when Alice came back for an encore.

The opening bars of "School's Out" signalled his re-appearance. Saving the best known number until the end always pays dividends and on Saturday, coupled with a further distribution of even more posters -- some of which he chewed first -- it transformed the show into an orgy of idiot dancing. A great climax to a great show.

Alice is a Jekyll and Hyde personality. On stage the Hyde in him thrashes out violence at its most extreme, but off he's the passive Jekyll, quieter and more reserved than most rock personalities. He might feed his snake on rats, but that's the only gesture to make you shiver.

He firmly believes that seeing his violent act does not encourage fans to follow in his footsteps.

"I don't think it incites violence at all. It doesn't get me off watching someone else get violent, so why should it affect the kids?

"When I was using the doll to kill in the previous act none of the rest of the band was involved so we changed that to involve everybody.

The hanging scene, says Alice, could easily go wrong. Twice he escaped luckily, and once he was knocked out for about five minutes after hitting his head on the floor of the gallows. Piano wires are strapped around him to give the "dangling" effect, but after they've been used for awhile they stretch -- thus making the rope tighter around his neck.

His reason for playing Scotland was simple.

"We've already done this act in London, and don't intend to repeat ourselves.

"We were going to put out a Christmas single saying 'enjoy this Christmas because it might be your last' but we decided against it."

Alice is likely to be back in Britain in May or June of next year with a new set which will go on the road in the States first.

"By the time we get to doing the next act in England it'll be really sparkling."