Washington Post

Originally Published: October 07, 1999

For Alice Cooper, School's Still Out

Alice Cooper and his trend-setting brand of rock-and-roll theater--Grand Guignol with a big beat--haven't gotten smaller since the '70s; only the stage itself has. At the 9:30 club on Tuesday, Cooper seemed gleefully impervious to the club's narrower confines, and though he left some of his fans' favorite props at home--no guillotine, no gallows and just a cameo by the electric chair--he brought along an amusement-park fun house set (clowns included) and a few discreet costume changes, along with a tight band and a playlist featuring most of his best songs. From the opening "Hello Hooray" to a gleeful encore of "Under My Wheels," Cooper served as ringmaster, preacher, snake oil salesman and unrepentant rock provocateur. It's not his fault that things that were entertainly shocking 25 years ago are now merely entertaining.

In fact, the diminished theatricality allowed for a reexamination of Cooper's musical accomplishments. They were particularly evident on swaggering tunes such as "Sideshow," "Poison," the rebel yell "Lost in America" and two classics of adolescent anxiety and hormonal glee, "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out." Cooper may be 51 and long out of school, but with the audience shouting along in support, he managed to revisit the past with surprising conviction. Those songs' indelible hooks helped, of course.

Other highlights included the hilariously smarmy "Is It My Body?" (featuring a gently constricting boa), the proto-power ballad "Only Women Bleed" and "Cold Ethyl," the ode to necrophilia in which Cooper partnered up with a rag doll Steve Tyler never dreamed of. Less successful were his rehab anthem "From the Inside," the psychodrama "Steven" and "Halo of Flies," which veered too close to portentous prog-rock while showcasing guitarists Ryan Roxie and Pete Friesen and drummer Eric Singer.

At one point, Cooper insisted there was "No More Mr. Nice Guy," though his gregariousness and showmanship made for a show that even the Parents Music Resource Center might enjoy these days. In fact, the only real horror evident Tuesday night was opening act Jesse Camp. In a mercifully brief set met with equal parts indifference and derision, the whining former MTV veejay proved that prolonged exposure to rock videos will not add a single drop of credibility or authenticity--or an ounce of protection--to someone diving headfirst into an empty talent pool.