Globe & Mail

Originally Published: November 25, 1981

Apocalypse Alice: the flash and trash can't hide the rock

Author: Liam Lacey

Out of the rising smoke came two men in camouflage outfits, rushing onto the Maple Leaf Gardens' stage carrying flashlights and looking fearfully up into the bleachers. (Drum rolls; shriek of guitars. Enter Alice Cooper, hair pulled back, carrying a whip and dressed in leather.) The grunts in camouflage grabbed guitars, and the band sprang into the opening song, Who Do You Think We Are?

Apocalypse Alice is a new creation, but it has a lot in common with some of the old ones, including the black eye makeup, wild rolls of the eyes, and that up-and-down-the-stage marching strut.

What's different is that the new Cooper has lost a lot of weight, to the degree that he looks positively skeletal. The image is amplified by Cooper's vest, which is adorned with white lines like a rib cage. Behind him was a white skull, mounted on a large black flag. (The only spot of color on the stage was the crotch of his leather trousers, which was highlighted in red like a baboon in mating season.)

All the flash and trash, though, didn't distract from the fact that it was a great evening of rock and roll, propulsively and energetically played with a conviction that hardly seemed possible from one who has been around as long as Cooper. His last album showed he was one of the few veteran rockers reminded of the musical energy crisis by the new wave movement; last night his non-stop succession of songs could have taught the young punks lessons.

All the best of the older songs were played, including the classic rocker from 10 years ago, I'm Eighteen, for which he waved a crutch around in the air. Other stand-out tunes were Guilty, No More Mr. Nice Guy and the rousing Billion Dollar Baby. When he finally brought out the python, the audience at the front of the stage shrank back. The truth, though, was that it looked like a boa worn by a drag queen doing Dietrich.

Cold Ethyl, probably the best song ever written about necrophilia (admittedly a limited field of competition) was also a big hit, with Cooper carrying a stuffed doll around on stage, engaging in deep kisses between choruses. But the greatest stroke of perversity of the evening was to be his follow-up to Cold Ethyl - his 1975 feminist hit, Only Women Bleed.

On that song, and on several others, Cooper sang better than ever, in his chant style that sounds a little like Jagger. Musically, too, the quintet of camouflaged musicians behind him was nothing if not propulsive; at moments, there were three guitarists each playing exactly the same chords at the same time.

To round out the show, Cooper went back to the opening number, Who Do You Think We Are? ("We're your friends, we're here to protect you") This time, though, he retreated behind a screen for a moment to emerge with a Canadian and an American flag, one in each hand. The band played, in succession, Stars and Strips Forever and Oh, Canada, at which point Cooper arranged a cheap, but clever standing ovation for himself by insisting that everyone rise for their national anthem.