Originally Published: July 23, 1977
Author: Robert Palmer
The show Alice Cooper brought to Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night, his first touring show in more than two years, was a case of the tail wagging the dog. The theatrical elements that Mr. Cooper introduced into arena rock - and theatrical means the full panoply of Hollywood and Las Vegas show business, from the lights to choreography to elaborate costuming - have swallowed up his music.
How effective that music can be was indicated at the beginning of Thursday's show, when Mr. Cooper, Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner on guitar, and Prakash John on bass jumped and gyrated on the lip of the stage, pounding out "Under My Wheels" and some of Mr. Cooper's other early numbers. This was raw, exciting rock-and-roll, and it provided a high point that the show did not reach again.
The theatrical conceit binding the show together was that Mr. Cooper, as "King of the Silver Screen," got to play out a variety of more-or-less familiar roles. The stage was designed to resemble a giant television set, which the band behind the screen, and color film was projected to allow Mr. Cooper time to change costumes and, sometimes, to supplement the live action.
Mr. Cooper's usual mock-macabre concerns dominated. There were giant spiders, a guillotine beheading, a vampire; sado-masochistic tableaux, and a particularly revolting bit of cannibalism. In other, funnier scenes, giant roosters chased Mr. Cooper with submachine guns and, on the screen, there were commercials for shows such as "Celebrity Neurosurgery" and "Police Gynecologist."
Overall, though, the mood of Mr. Cooper's show was as dark as ever. It can be argued that by stumbling through scenes of mayhem like a well-meaning oaf and treating his entire performance as if it were a parior farce, Mr. Cooper defuses his images of violence and degradation. But on an arena stage, Mr. Cooper is tiny while his images are immense. These images seem to have been designed to appeal primarily to young teen-agers and preteens, for whom they tend to be mere images, with little reality attached to them. Most older listeners will have seen enough to find them less than titillating.
The real pity is that Mr. Cooper's brand of Detroit hard rock has taken a back seat to his contrived theatrical gestures. Once the early hits had been dispensed with, the band settles into playing anonymously behind the huge televison screen. There were no more musical sparks, and the show seemed dead; Mr. Cooper could have been walking through it in his sleep.