Guardian

Originally Published: July 22, 2000

Welcome to my nightmare

A two-headed child, a guillotine, a rebirth... Steven Poole enters the weird world of Alice Cooper

Author: Steven Poole

The stage sweats under camouflage netting; a backdrop depicts a scorched earth in green and black. Suddenly, to an explosion of lights and sonic grinding, a metal box on a plinth opens to reveal a wild-haired Methuselah consisting only of head and upper torso on a stick. He pleads with us to run for our lives. "I am the only piece of technology left on this dead planet," he thunders with staring eyes. "A lifeless, godless world, run by the sadistic megalomaniac, Alice Cooper!"

As Cooper pounds into the extreme noise riffing of the title track of his new album, Brutal Planet, he still cuts a diabolically attractive, dynamic figure on stage at London's Hammersmith Apollo: wrapped in leathers and chains, stalking the stage like a grizzled old Cerberus. Red chopsticks making devil's horns in his hair, he twirls riding crops and canes like a cartoon majorette from Hades. Under certain lights he resemblesCilla Black dressed for Hallowe'en - but such genuinely alarming moments are few.

Cooper is the unabomber with good tunes, spitting at the stupidity and evil of commercial industrialism, and the show's cathartic comedy of death and destruction is a glorious piece of Day-Glo theatre. During Feed My Frankenstein, Cooper roams the stage finding bloody bits of bodies and feeding them into an upright glass pod, straight out of 60s sci-fi cinema. He is all of 20th-century humanity, embodying the tragic hubris of man the technologist.

The ethics of mercy-killing get a look in too, as Cooper sings Goodbye Little Baby while spearing a two-headed infant on his sabre. For this crime, he is bloodily guillotined. Cooper always has to die for our sins. Halfway through the show, we endure a fabulously, insanely dull drum solo, which really does seem to last the biblical three days and nights. And then, naturally, Cooper is resurrected: reanimated from within his Frankenstein pod, resplendent in white tails over a shredded chain mail T-shirt. No More Mr Nice Guy.

Cooper is the Nietzschean Antichrist of rock: a man beyond shame, beyond useless humility, who glories in his dirty power. "I am a vicious young man," he sneers. Age cannot wither him: the arch wielding of a crutch during I'm Eighteen is mere cunning misdirection. And how his fans love to be abused by this avuncular Beelzebub. "Raise your hands if you're poison!" he commands, and we all do. "Oh, my disobedient children!" he wails, spying a headbanger in a Marilyn Manson T-shirt. The disappointment is righteous: Manson stole Cooper's phantasmagoria but stripped it of all its humour and joie de mourir.

Meanwhile, through it all, Cooper's band pounds out an irresistibly raw, multi-legged spider of hard rock: the twin guitars build churches of harmonic crunch. His greatest hits are all present and freshly forged in Hell's finest rehearsal room: Under My Wheels, Poison, Go to Hell, Billion Dollar Baby, I Wanna Be Elected, and of course the anthem of anthems, School's Out.

Cooper has also been having his traditional woman problems. A masked, writhing S&M dancer gets kicked off her podium; a Carry On nurse is repeatedly shoved into the boot of a wrecked car. But then Cooper gets sensitive, sitting on a stool to sing his feminist ballad, Only Women Bleed. A grinning apologist explained to me that Cooper had gone further than any other male pop artist in dealing with women's issues. "Even Lloyd Cole didn't write a song about menstruation," he shouted through the din, nearly convincingly.

But Alice's best feminist joke comes when he reappears for the encore in a black sleeveless T-shirt with the legend: "Britney Wants Me." He gyrates his hips and then twirls, so we can read the continuation on his back: "Dead." There can be few better recommendations.