Originally Published: March 2003
Author: Roger Lotring
Mashantucket, CT Fox Theatre
The embossed plaque of Frank Sinatra handing in the lobby of the Fox Theatre commemorates its inaugural show. With a regally fabricated elegance borne of architectural modernism, the 1,400-seat theater reflects on opulence of discriminating taste and style. But from the outside, the surrounding Foxwoods Resort Casino towers above rural Connecticut cornfields, resembling more of an unscrupulous Emerald City of Oz than Rat Pack debonair – A perfect playground for the subversive dementia that is Alice Cooper.
It's Devil's Night, a mischievous prelude to Halloween, developed from 19th century European tradition, and popularized by incendiary Detroit hellfire. But that seems lost on a wholesome audience of families and professional couples, all crabbing nostalgia. Looking around, it's an audience that makes an evening of watching The Weather Channel exciting by comparison. The show is listed online as a 7:30 performance, while posters linking the casino concourse promote a contradictory 9:00 start. That confusion is so endearingly Alice, leading the familial element of the crowd waiting and whining. Even unintentionally, he managed to keep his audience off-guard, unsure of what to expect.
Sometime after 7:30, and well before 9:00, comes the grand entrance of a slow, deliberate ascension above the stage, Alice presiding over his theatrical hell. Wrapped in the leather of violent sex, subtly bearing a slight Kabuki influence, Alice Cooper embodies the insurrection of Dragontown with an opening medley of key apocalyptical themes. "Sex, Death and Money" and "Brutal Planet" segue well into the title track of the latest album. The impact, though, leave most of the audience motionless in their seats, eyes wide in the face of the unfolding musical drama of Brutal Planet and Dragontown. It isn't until "I'm Eighteen" - with guitarists Pete Friesen and Eric Dover masterfully trading solos to bring the seminal Cooper classic to a more vibrant sound than the original 1971 recording - that some of the finally think to come to their feet.
With a body of work spanning more than twenty studio albums over three decades, the set is meticulously arranged to create a flowing storyline. Touching on numerous points of a prolific Cooper career, some songs are more familiar to some than other, the emphasis being largely on Welcome To My Nightmare, Billion Dollar Babies, and the pivotal Love It To Death. A solid, five-piece band backing him - Friesen and Dover, drummer Eric Singer, bassist Chuck Wright, and Teddy "Zigzag" Andreadis on keyboards and percussion - Alice does well to recapture some of thee insolent spirit and Detroit attitude of the original Alice Cooper Band, but with a decidedly heavier metal delivery. The resulting edginess visbly unsettles those limited by familiarity to just the hits. But despite the vocal abrasion with which he marks the trademark Cooper material, the deep fullness of his lower range on "Only Women Bleed" defines an emotive vocalist, more talented than most people probably realize.
The cinemantic "Welcome To My Nightmare" is transformed into more of a gritter funk than the kitsch of the almost showtune original. But it is "Go To Hell" that fully instigates the thematic plot of the evening, initially pitting Alice against the kinkiness of a geisha-styled dominatrix. His murderous tendencies progress with the impaling of a deformed aberration during "Dead Babies", resulting in his institutionalization and subsequent execution by guillotine under the gleeful watch of Nurse Rozetta during "Ballad of Dwight Fry". The audience finally rises to their feet for the duration of the show with the reanimation of Alice, resplendent in the tatters of a traditional white tuxedo during the noteworthy "No More Mister Nice Guy".
Classics such as the garage band slam of "Under My Wheels", and the anthemic "School's Out" delight the Fox Theatre as expected, as does "Department Of Youth", with its pop cultural battle between Alice and Britney Spears. But the intellectual charm of an Alice Cooper performance is in the realization that he can still horrify audiences, albeit with deliberate manipulation. "Wicked Young Man", subversively twisting the collective mind through a chilling dramatization of violence fueled by ideological hatred, ultimately leaves the audience expressionless, trying to comprehend Alice marching across the stage, wearing a makeshift Gestapo hat. The nostalgia and classic rock appeal serve as the sheep’s clothing, gloriously marking Alice Cooper as still very much a societal wolf, and a very clever one.