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Originally Published: July 27, 2008
British International Motor Show, ExCel, London, E16
It is said that the most lasting themes in pop music are cars and girls. What better place for a concert, then, than at a motor show, which celebrates at least 50 per cent of the equation?
Any. Any place at all. Formerly known as Dock Rock, the Motor Show Music Festival takes place at a conference centre in the far, far east of London in a specially erected 'intimate arena'. Arenas aren't meant to be intimate. They look even more forlorn when they are more intimate than intended. This one is far from full. We are so close to City Airport that the planes nearly rip the roof off the stage as they land, which provides much of the entertainment tonight. Beers are £3 a bottle. On the hottest night of the year so far, it is freezing, thanks to winds whipping in from the Thames. Other Motorshow Festival attractions next week include Deep Purple, Chicago and Meat Loaf.
None of this is Alice Cooper's fault, to be sure. When the ghoulish 60-year-old began this latest tour in Bulgaria, he probably felt confident that a car show would be a germane environment. Most of his songs are about stalkers, serial killers, or being young and misunderstood, but at least one is about cars and girls, and it even has a punchline.
Taken from his 1994 album The Last Temptation, 'Lost In America' goes: 'I can't get a girl cos I ain't got a car/I can't get a car cos I ain't got a job/I can't get a job cos I ain't got a car/I'm looking for a girl with a car and a job... and a house! And cable!'
It's hard to tell whether Cooper - whose most famous song is the celebratory 'School's Out', with which he ends tonight - is siding with the feckless here, which most hard rock acts routinely do, or whether 'Lost In America' is a satire on how bankrupt the Affluent Society has become.
It's probably a little of both because Alice Cooper is really two people - the transgressive bogeyman of over 35 years standing, and Vincent Furnier, a born-again Christian who has right-wing leanings and plays a hell of a lot of golf. Furnier surely feels right at home here among his Clarkson Man brethren. Cooper, meanwhile, does his level best to make the place his own.
He begins behind a curtain, killing somebody in silhouette. Everyone cheers. The 'body' lies on the stage for a while as Cooper evilly twirls a baton, singing 'No More Mr Nice Guy'. Eventually two sepulchral figures carry the dead away, and several songs go by in which Alice Cooper and his band merely play the songs. Playing the songs - 'Dirty Diamonds', 'Muscle Of Love' - is not what you require from rock's original shock jock.
It has been a good few years since Cooper regularly boasted of three-tier stages upon which wickedness could run free. In his two heydays of the Seventies and Eighties, when Cooper was busy influencing everyone from Kiss (monster make-up) to the young Marilyn Manson (woman's name, fascination with the macabre) and Eminem (stage chainsaws, abusing sex dolls), his was one of the most celebrated shows in rock. Its dedication to gore was such that David Blunkett tried to have his 1988 tour banned, as Mary Whitehouse had tried before him.
Tonight he limits himself to an extended song sequence in which he beats a lady-doll about and drives a stake through a baby's heart. He is caught, wrapped in a straitjacket, and finally hanged. It's all good gothic panto fun, but not that much fun.
How does a born-again Christian square this carry-on with his conscience? Easily. One of the greatest works of devotional literature, Dante's Divine Comedy, is one-third full of the most titillating horror ever devised by man, second only to the Bible itself. In Cooper's Inferno, the transgressor is punished; the status quo is reset. He is rather fond of 'killing' women onstage but it helps to learn that his daughter Calico often joins the show, although she is not among the dancers tonight. Furnier would make the point that all this butchery is no more meaningful than a magician cutting his glamorous assistant in half.
The encore provides 'Poison', Cooper's last big hit, from 1989, and 'Elected', an earlier satire about politicians. Two dancers wearing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton masks fight, then fornicate, onstage. We are rewarded with giant balloons.
Offstage, Furnier is a witty and urbane man. Like Bob Dylan, he has a well-received radio show. If only some of his intelligence could find its way back into Alice Cooper.
As it is, this quaint baddie may well have had his day.