Los Angeles Times

Originally Published: June 24, 1996

Ghoul's Out as Alice Lets the Songs Speak

IRVINE-For years now, Alice Cooper has lurked on the fringes of musical insignificance. True, he had a cameo appearance in the "Wayne's World" movie, but he hasn't had a hit song since "Poison" in 1989; still has no new record to plug and, until now, hadn't toured the states in five years.

But none of that seemed to matter at Irvine Meadows on Saturday, when-opening for the Scorpions, a metal band from Germany-Cooper and his tight five-man band delivered an impressive 12-song set that proved there's more to this man than a legacy of ghoulish stage antics.

There were a couple of nods to his theatrical impulses (there was an entertaining gang fight, for instance, during "Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets" late in the show) but for the most part, Cooper has stripped away the theatrics and seems intent on letting his songs stand or fall on their own.

Surprisingly perhaps, they soared.

Such classics as "Billion Dollar Babies," "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and the set-opening "Under My heels" were played crisply and still sounded catchy as ever. Caught up in the good-time spirit, even many of the over-30 males in the crowd sang along to "I'm Eighteen":

Cooper (born Vincent Furnier) showed us his more introspective side. At one point--as Guns 'N' Roses guitarist Slash joined the party--the pace was slowed for an acoustic-based, emotional rendering of "Only Women Bleed," Cooper's look at the loneliness and hardships endured by women romantically involved with rock stars. Equally moving was a penetrating examination of mental illness, the haunting "Ballad of Dwight Fry."

Some songs, such as the melodramatic "Welcome to My Nightmare" from 1975, have not aged as well, and at times Cooper's voice was rough and ragged. But he and his band--particularly ex-Winger guitarist Reb Beach--played with enough enthusiasm and conviction to overcome the deficiencies.

As the set started drawing to a close with a rousing rendition of "School's Out," Cooper donned a white top hat and tuxedo jacket and launched into the finale, "Elected." After prancing about the stage waving an American flag, he stepped up to the microphone and reminded everyone: "This is an election year, so don't forget to vote--for Alice!"

While Cooper has discovered new ways of reinventing himself, the Scorpions have lost their sting and seem headed hopelessly toward extinction.

In choosing to practically ignore their new album, "Pure Instinct," they relied almost exclusively on their tried-and-true mix of power ballads and interchangeable rockers during their 90-minute set. Except for a couple of songs, the band chose to milk its oldies to satisfy its loyal but apparently undiscriminating fans.

Equally problematic was the band's insistence on punctuating practically every number with an exclamation point. Each song, it seemed, had to be big, then bigger, then biggest, with repetitive choruses and loud, frenzied guitar jams.

At the quintet's disposal are numerous songs that could add variety and texture to the musical menu. But either they were ignored ("Edge of Time," "White Dove" and "Are You the One?" all were missing in action) or given cursory treatment ("Holiday," "Wind of Change").

The only moments of inspiration were during the encores, the tender "Still Loving You" and the band's signature "Rock You Like a Hurricane."

Until then, the best thing going for the Scorpions was a beautifully designed and executed lighting scheme that bathed them in striking color combinations. Too bad the music paled in comparison.

In its ineffective, five-song opening set, My Head, a power trio from Los Angeles, cranked out lots of thick, grinding guitar riffs but, as demonstrated in the songs "Killer Hair" and the self-indulgent "Sonrisa," these people have to focus on essential ingredients--like melody and composition.

As things stand, the band's cluttered notes come off as little more than self-absorbed noodling.