Times

Originally Published: 1991

Concert Review

Author: Caroline Sullivan

Alice Cooper
Wembley Arena

Alice Cooper was once banned from playing Binghamton, New York. The city council deemed the Cooper stage act, which featured a live snake and a simulated guillotine, an incitement to violence. Eighteen years later Cooper's performances have not changed much. The intervening decades, however, have redefined the boundaries of taste and tolerance, and only the most impressionable of 10-year-olds would now be disturbed by the sight of Alice in full flow.

The show be brought to Wembley contained the usual Cooper totems: a python (presumably several generations removed from the original), a whip, baby dolls for chopping up. Centre stage was furnished with a giant skull and a playpen rimmed with barbed wire. Amplifiers were concealed by large skeletal fingers. Over-all this induced a jumbled impression of having chanced on a half-built horror movie set.

Cooper complemented the effect by entering in a puff of smoke via the skull's mouth. Twenty, years of rock star life seem to have left him in admirable fettle. The leather trousers fitted perhaps a trifle more constrictingly, but he looked essentially unchanged. Unchanged, too, was his wrathful glare as he prowled the stage. At no point did he step out of character by addressing the audience. This was an astute move, his speaking voice lacking sufficient sepulchral authority to preserve the illusion.

The backdrop to all of this, the music was a sprightly variant on generic hard rock. It was efficiently played by a backing band who must have been in nappies when Alice was scaring the folks in Binghamton. Each song was accompanied my an appropriate party piece. "Sick Things" featured the long-suffering snake, which the singer tauntingly thrusts at the audience; "Be My Frankenstein" was a rather specacular piece of theatre based on a how-did-they-do-that magic transmogrification.

There was a time when Cooper was the only one presenting this sort of elaborate stagecraft. Special effects are now obligatory for arena-sized bands but Cooper's are still in a league of their own. Not least was the concert's traditional finale, the "execution" scene. On previous tours Alice had been dispatched by the aforementioned gullotine and by hanging. This time he met his fate at the hands of a couple of monsters, who evidently failed to do a thorough job, for he soon returned for an encore.

Time and the advent of genuine rock nasties such as Slayer have relegated Alice Cooper to veterated uncle status. But in terms of pure tacky showmanship, he remains unsurpassed.