Montreal Gazette

Originally Published: September 30, 1999

Cooper cuts the guillotine, keeps the showmanship

Author: Jordan Zivitz

It's a tribute to Vincent Furnier's irony-free immersion in his three-decade old alter ego that last night's performance by Alice Cooper at a comfortably full Metropolis avoided the trappings of a blind nostalgia trip.

Many a less theatrical performer would have inadvertently accentuated such a downsizing in venue capacity. Cooper's entrance was hardly restrained as he broke free from his jack-in-the-box shelter, putting a quick end to the happy carnival music that ushered in his set and chasing the clowns who pulled double-duty as roadies off the stage with his riding crop.

Hello Hooray was the first in a succession of proven hits that sounded surprisingly vital, thanks to the energetic young whippersnappers in Cooper's band, all of whom looked a good 25 years younger than their headmaster.

Cooper's voice was in fine form; never exactly the Placido Domingo of hard rock, his appealing sneer has grown raspier with age, and gave chest-nuts like Be My Lover an appealingly guttural air. Still, it was guttural in a wholesome way; dolled up in leather pants, white shirt and dress coat, Cooper looked more like an eccentric mortician than the master of the damned.

Props added the anticipated visual element to the first few songs. Billion Dollar Babies saw fans clamouring for counterfeit money offered up by Cooper, and an inflatable poolside constrictor was tossed onto the singer during No More Mister Nice Guy. After a live python was draped around Cooper's shoulders minutes later, the props dried up for a while. Perhaps Cooper was aware a makeshift tomb looks a touch more chintzy when his audience isn't seeing it from a football field away.

The measure of a good song might be whether it can hold up to pared-down presentation, but paring down is all relative. In Cooper's case, the absence of guillotines and man-size tarantulas made I'm Eighteen and Lost in America all the more impressive for being presented with little more than enthusiastic showmanship.

Not big on small talk, Cooper first addressed the audience eight songs into his set. When he did speak, by way of explaining the alcoholic nightmare From the Inside, it was with the self-depreciation of someone who no longer needs smeared mascara to look ghoulish.

"You like to drink?" Cooper asked, half-rhetorically. "Look what it did to me. I used to be good looking. I used to look like Leonardo Di Caprio."

The stripped-down approach to the middle section of his set wasn't a blow to Cooper's penchant for spectacle (in some ways, it was an improvement; Cooper's clown buddies wore out their welcome after a few appearances). The most theatrical moment was Steven, a faux operatic number delivered with no indulgence other than a white spot light and one of Cooper's most expansive vocal turns.

Not that there wasn't a vaudevillian charm to the literally fiery drum solo in the middle of Halo of Flies. And when Cooper pulled off his vanishing trick late in the concert, emerging from behind the pancake makeup of one of the clowns after being trapped in the onstage tomb, it was obvious that making the transition from stadiums to large clubs hasn't dampened the spirit or ability of one of rock's master showmen.