Star Times

Originally Published: June 21, 1998

Live In London

Author: Steven Dowling

WELCOME, once again, to the nightmare. Alice Cooper is back, and he's come for your sanity. And your sides.

It's a physical impossibility to leave an Alice Cooper gig with anything less than a six-foot grin. The three decades-long godfather of glam rock is a survivor from the days way back when, before the LA poodle-rockers ruined everything with their makeup and their girls' haircuts. The Cooper horror-comedy stage shows were as theatrical as live rock has ever got (with none of the pretension of Pink Floyd et al), marrying dwarf-torture, executions and wriggling boa constrictors to the most cartoonish of the devil's tunes.

Those days of big-budget extravaganzas are over, with Cooper having learnt during the '80s it's no use trying to take on the likes of Rolling Stones touring excess when you're earning a fraction of their wealth. So when the lights go down on the Astoria stage in front of hundreds of baying leather-clad acolytes, it's very much a pint-size version of that old spectacle. A fun-fair, full of monster-masked clowns and coffins and circus music.

When Cooper bursts out of a packing crate to rapturous applause, it's the start of a night of insane entertainment. The clowns are the key, scampering this way and that in their fanged faces, harassing guitarists, escaping whenever Cooper strides in their direction.

He dispenses with opener Hello Hooray with operatic flourish, a whippet-thin dandy in black leather and eyeliner. Then there's a new song - one of the few moments where Cooper bucks the formula from a parade of hits to something unfamiliar. The throng wave their arms but the mouths don't move. Then it's back to the back catalogue, to the brilliant Billion Dollar Babies.

Radiohead may take stadium-size gigs to new uncharted territories. Massive Attack can perform miracles of melancholy live. Teenage Fanclub will melt your heart 50 rows from the stage. But this, this is rock'n'roll entertainment at its lowbrow best. Cooper's teenage rebellion hymns are hardly going to stand up as any of rock's greatest intellectual moments, but who cares? When his vocal chords rollercoaster their way through the likes of No More Mr. Nice Guy, resistance is useless. For an hour-and-a-half, Alice Cooper is God. Fantastic? Hell, we are not worthy...