Houston Chronicle

Originally Published: September 26, 2000

Alice Cooper stages metal madness as art

Author: Michael D Clark

After seeing Alice Cooper at Aerial Theater on Monday night, it's hard to understand why censors are making such a big deal out of Eminem's hateful schtick.

Like the real Slim Shady, Cooper has been exploiting misogyny and gratuitous violence for decades.

Eminem raps in graphic detail about tying up his women and stashing them in a car trunk for safe keeping.

Cooper just acts it out as a performance art.

In a moment admittedly hammed up for laughs, Cooper grabs a nurse (played by his daughter Calico) by the scruff of the neck and slams her in the hatch of an overturned vehicle.

The desiccating limbs lining the stage or the shish-kebabing of a mutant half-baby, half-wolf doll are high on the heebie-jeebie meter. And the pints of fake blood spilled during Cooper's hour-and-forty minute performance would make the producers of Gladiator and The Patriot squeamish.

So why the furor over Eminem's wife-beating stage show while Cooper's slaughterfest moves from town to town unscathed?

For one thing, Eminem is a twenty-something urban youth who appeals to kids. At 52, Cooper is an old coot, by rock 'n' roll standards, who plays golf in Arizona when not dressing like an extra from Evil Dead.

Eminem also sold 5 million albums this year and fills arenas with today's impressionable minds. Cooper's fan base is the same age as those legislating what kids should and shouldn't be watching. Not many of them seem too interested in seeing the Detroit rock legend anymore. Less than 1,000 showed up for his show at the Aerial.

What the diehards got was a haunted house set to a metal score that has influenced many current headbanging stars, from Metallica to Marilyn Manson. Unlike Manson or Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor, who pass their rock operas off as real life, Cooper has sacrificed his music to the show.

A cross between the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein and The Crow, Cooper has become too adept at staging hits like School's Out and No More Mr. Nice Guy for his cane-twirling zombie act. Sometimes it's hard to imagine that any of these songs were Top 10 radio hits and platinum records.

The head, torso and spinal remains of a chewed-up body kept in a metal box introduced Cooper on a stage referred to as the City of the Dead. The blacklight-illuminated scene featured green gaseous skies and a ground covered in bones and torture devices. A five-piece band of road warriors greeted the evil ringleader.

Sporting a red overcoat, his trademark white makeup with running eye-liner and breast armor, Cooper can still hail the spirit of the 17th-century witch he claims to be reincarnated from. His best prop, however, is the natural aging effects a rock 'n' roll lifestyle can produce.

The folds and crags in Cooper's scowl coupled with his stained teeth make him look more and more like the skulls he covets as Hamlet did.

Drawing mostly from hits collected on Rhino's Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper box set, almost every blast of heavy metal crunch had a contradictory hammed-up visual or carnie gag to accompany it.

Go to Hell had Cooper shaking the maracas below massive decibels of guitar volume, while Eighteen featured Cooper hobbling on a crutch as he smirked and middle-aged men chanted, "I'm 18."

New songs from his latest release, Brutal Planet, were co-opted into a show like new acts of a play. Pick Up the Bones featured Cooper standing center stage smelling calcium remains he had collected in a bloody pillow case, and Wicked Young Man was the first of many trips to the trunk for the nurse character. (A medical report after the show revealed that Calico was accidentally hurt during the show. Her ankle laceration was said not to be serious.).

The old stand-by carnage of his early '70s days was revived, as well. Cooper's head triumphantly got lopped off by a guillotine for I Love the Dead. After all these years, the magic still tricks the eye.

The best moments were more subtle.

Sitting on an oil drum to sing the ballads Take It Like a Woman and Only Women Bleed displayed an actual singing voice that must have inspired Axl Rose's vocals for November Rain nearly a decade ago. More hilarious was his black tank top that said "Britney Wants Me" for an encore of School's Out.

It's these tongue-in-cheek touches that separate a brute like Eminem from an actor like Cooper. Maybe if Em sold teddy bears in the lobby at his shows he would be more lovable. A Cooper cuddly (complete with eye makeup) could be had for $20.