New Musical Express

Originally Published: April 14, 1973

Freaks In New York, Bad taste in Detroit

James Johnston in America with the Cooper Roadshow

The man was balding, podgy, 50, finely-suited and standing on the steps outside the Knoedler Art Gallery. He looked like an art critic and was leaving in digust, talking volubly.

"I tell ya, I don't know what things are coming to. Nothing's done right anymore. There's no art exhibition in there. It's just a bunch of freaks."

The scene inside was indeed weird, but an event described on the invitation as "The unveiling of the world's first cylindric chromo-hologram 'Portrait of the Brain of Alice Cooper' by Salvador Dali" was unlikely to turn out a normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill occurence.

Alice Cooper and Salvador Dali, both masters of outrage, were there surrounded by some of New York's stranger taste-makers. Cooper and Dali were sitting behind a green table being photographed, but otherwise nobody seemed to know what exactly was going on.

The "hologram" itself stood upstairs, a cylindrical tube with beams forming an image of Cooper, plus beneath that, a brain, a soft watch and various less indistinguishable features.

As has been explained before, it came about through Cooper and Dali meeting for dinner one night. The resulting piece is just as much technical as artistic.

Alice himself says: "I don't know how it's done exactly, and if you were to ask Salvador Dali he'd confuse you so much you'd still be no wiser. I don't even know how I came to meet him, whether he got in touch with us or we got in touch with him. All I know was that he was suddenly there."

Alice, on this particular day wasn't looking too bright, stumbling around saying: "Do I look as tired as I feel?" He eventually kissed Dali on both cheeks and left early.

It was no real surprise as this was supposed to be his day off, a day in between dates on the mammoth Cooper tour of the States.

The next night was a concert in Detroit and was expected to be something special, with Alice returning to his home town. The town that spawned the whole Cooper extravaganza; where raw city living is at its most uptight; where rock concert-goers like to see some action.

A great deal has been written about the tour already, its gigantic scale and the show itself. Basically it's scheduled for three months, is expected to make around four and a half million dollars and take in nearly 60 American cities.

According to Ashley Pandell, Alice's head promotion man on the road, the band could have fixed up enough concerts to last them a year in the States alone.

But already they are set to tour Japan and Europe, including Britain, which only allows for a three week holiday in between.

"It's got to the point now," says Pandell, "where a day off is more valuable to the band than $100,000."

So this particular stop is in Detroit; two days in one of America's working class cities. The Glasgow of North America, motorcity where every second plot of land seems to be a car lot.

Tension is obvious. Nobody is out on the street after five p.m., which causes an eerie stillness in the air, but what better place for Alice Cooper to play. He's always said his stage show is simply a product of gross American bad taste and frightfulnss, and here it is in abundance.

First event of the day is the Press conference - there's one in every town the Cooper show plays. For eager journalists hoping for facts, news and glitzy info, it was a total waste of time.

Alice eyed the massed ranks of Michigan press men. The Michigan press men eyed Alice. And battle commenced, mostly in the form of wisecracks that don't bear repeating.

Phlo and Eddie - Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan - arrived to help things along. In tow was the Great Randi, who is on tour to look after some of the special effects, and performed an illusion by using a combination of serial numbers from pound and dollar notes handed up from the audience to predict where Alice Cooper's name could be found in the telephone directory.

It was quite astonishing. Well, actually, everyone gasped at the time.

One remark Alice Cooper did make at the conference was that the most senisble thing to do whenever he's on tour is to invest money in Budweiser beer.

This could be best appreciated later that night when there were crates of the stuff in the dressing room, about the only drink around apart from Coke.

Generally though, it was a normal backstage scene . . . food, guitars, people - but with one exception, a portly, middle-aged woman with blonde hair who turned out to be Alice's mother.

She seemed perfectly at ease, chatting happily to anybody who happened to be around, while Alice regarded her with a sort of pleased, amused affection.

So what did the mother whose son had upset a million other mothers feel about the Alice Cooper stage show. According to Alice: "She's just cool. She looks like Tammy Wynette and she's scared to death when she goes to a concert. You know, she's one of those white-knuckled watchers, she's so concerned because she thinks I'm going to get my head cut off everytime."

Meanwhile out on stage, Phlo and Eddie were putting down some friendly easy rock including, on the second night, the old Turtles classic "Happy Together", their new single "After Glow", and a falsetto theme that is annoyingly catchy.

The line-up at present includes Aynsley Dunbar; Jim Pons on bass, an original Turtle with Volman and Kaylan; Gary Rowles, formerly of Love, on guitar; and John Herron on keyboards. Together they make up a fine little band not lacking in humour, with Phlo and Eddie every now and again affectionately sending carious corners of the rock world with throwaway lines.

Still, after their 40 minutes the crowd was getting restless for Alice Cooper.

Up top though, centre stage, to announce the band's presence, stood Neal Smith's drum kit, which most be one of the most lavish in the world, while soothing semi-classical music came over the P.A. as a kind of clam before the storm.

Finally, the musicians appeared. Then Cooper. And all thundering into the highly dramatic "Hello Hurray", perhaps the perfect opening number for the band and the show.

What followed was almost totally confined to music in the first half, the harsh menacing guitars behind Cooper on "Eighteen" and "Elected" before he said: "This is Detroit so here's one I'm sure you're going to enjoy. It's dirty," and went into "Raped and Freezin' "off the new album.

Cooper himself stalked around looking suitably menacing, but much of the show is tongue in cheek, not meant to be taken that seriosuly at all - like on "Unfinished Sweet", where he reached the ultimate in ham dramatics. The singer complained of tooth-ache, a five-foot tooth appeared on stage which Alice attacked with a giant toothbrush. Yes, all good pantomime stuff.

For a few monents, the lights darkened and roadies busily threw what looked like remnants from Madame Tussauds across the stage.

Alice and the band reappeared and went into the whole baby killing routine. A new twist, though, is Alice's now much publicised redemption, the execution scene complete with guillotine.

One second Alice was singing, then he was dragged across the stage and his head firmly clasped in the elaborate apparatus. He continued singing until all the house lights focused on his head, a girl screamed out of the darkness. "Don't die Alice", the guillotine blade cut down and Cooper's head fell off into the waiting basket.

Meanwhile his executioner, the Great Randi in the disguise, picked Alice's 'head' out of the basket, and waved it around the stage, while the backing track played over the P.A. The rest of the Cooper band collected the 'body', stretched it out on stage, licked it, played with it and fondled it.

Mmmmmm, it was really quite a gory scene.

It was near enough the finale of the show, the theatrical highlight, even though Alice later reappeared for a couple more numbers, the gig ending with the band waving a Stars and Stripes and singing "God Bless America".

Personally I couldn't help but be impressed, despite certain reservations on Alice Cooper in the past. As the song goes, there's no business like show business. I'd go along with that, anyway.

Alice Cooper: "No More Mr. Nice Guy" (Warner Brothers)

Far more obviously Cooperish than its rather dreary predecessor, this track finds our lovable, cuddly, beer drinking pervert issuing yet another hard rock manifesto for anti-social conduct of various descriptions. I think it's really (sob!) beautiful. You will buy this record, take it into your homes, and whip it goodnight.