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Originally Published: July 19, 1996
Riverport Amphitheatre, Tuesday, July 16
WHEN horror-show hard-rocker Alice Cooper started clicking on the music scene in the early '70s, he struck a crazy pose for head-bangers, budding punks and the odd freak everywhere. That pose and his later music eventually fell into irrelevancy, but the guy deserves credit for giving the dazed and confused generation a colorful icon.
The damndest thing is that several decades on, his early work still kicks butt over most modern rockers today. When Alice stepped out Tuesday night on the Riverport Amphitheatre stage - co-headlining a bill with long-running German metal heads the Scorpions - he embodied things that are sadly getting lost in today's rock 'n' roll: self-deprecating humor, an ability to rock without self-consciousness and an unadulterated fl amboyance that is plain fun, fun, fun.
Do you remember when rock was supposed to be fun? Alice sure does. Still skinny, with his black shag hair framing a face that is running a long-distance race, Alice propped his vinyl pantsed leg up on a monitor, wh ipped his microphone stand with a riding crop and launched into the thundering groove of "Under My Wheels."
"No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Poison" and "Welcome to My Nightmare" were small rock 'n' roll wonders. Instead of battering like a bludgeon, these songs swung with a hard, grooving bump, due in large part to the smart cohesion and attack of Alice's terrific young backup band.
Admittedly, it's hard for a middle-aged man to belt out a teen-age rebellion anthem like "Eighteen" without looking like an idiot, but Alice delivered with sublime wit. He propped himself up on a crutch, then held the crutch in front of him and played air-guitar on it. I seriously doubt Pearl Jam's glum and earnest Eddie Vedder will ever carry himself with such hysterical grace.
Alice was always sort of the demented Sarah Bernhard of rock 'n' roll theater, and his over-the-top thespian tendencies are still intact. When he tossed little pink baby dolls into the audience during "Billion Dollar Babies," it incited a head-bangers melee below.
With choreography that involved Alice fighting with gang members under a strobe light, he turned "Gutter Cat Vs. the Jets" into a punk community theater production of "West Side Story." At one point, "doctors" in white lab coats and surgical masks came on stage to wrap him in a straitjacket. Undaunted, our Alice eventually broke free long enough for a simulated strangulation and several more costume changes.
He donned a white top hat and tails for "School's Out," another adolescent gem that soared beyond nostalgia into a truly liberating moment. By the time he encored with "Elected," he was dressed like a glittery, debauched Uncle Sam. Then, as he turned to depart from the shouting throng, he intoned, "Don't forget to vote - for me!"
When election day rolls around, I know whom I'm writing in on the ballot: Alice Cooper, a man oh man of the people.