Winnipeg Sun

Originally Published: April 27, 2010

Gruesome Twosome: Win some, lose some

Author: Darryl Sterdan

Gruesome Twosome Tour
With Rob Zombie & Alice Cooper
Monday, April 26
MTS Centre

Sun Rating: 3.5 out of 5

One man's trick is another man's treat.

At least, it was when Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie's Gruesome Twosome tour kicked off at MTS Centre on Monday night for 5,500 fans.

Sure, the 62-year-old Coop and the 45-year-old Zombie sound like a match made in heaven (or hell, depending on your preference). But when you put them back to back, the resulting double bill is the sonic equivalent of following a Vincent Price classic with torture-porn dreck.

One guess who was Vincent. Yep, that's right - it was Cooper (whose real name actually is Vincent). Although the tour is billed as a co-headlining jaunt with both acts playing equal-length sets, on this night Alice opened. During our recent interview, he admitted he likes to play first so he can get to the next town to golf. But if you think that means his mind is elsewhere, think again. Cooper's hilariously cheesey 75-minute set was a perfect example of the sort of old-school showmanship, dramatic structure and magical razzle-dazzle that most rock bands just can't be bothered with anymore (one guess who I'm talking about).

As giant scrawled letters spelling his name hung and swung from the rafters, Cooper - sporting biker leathers - opened with a quintet of teenage anthems: School's Out, Department of Youth, I'm Eighteen (during which he brandished a crutch made from bones), Wicked Young Man and The Ballad of Dwight Fry, which ended with him being guillotined in the first of several executions. The second act opened with (what else?) Go to Hell and Guilty, followed by the macabre Cold Ethyl (with Alice abusing a dummy in a pink tutu) and Poison (which concluded with him being injected with a giant needle).

Act 3 continued the medical theme with From the Inside and Nurse Rozetta. In the latter his female dancer ripped open her white uniform and took a grinder to her metal-covered crotch. In Be My Lover, she stripped behind a backlit screen - until Alice choked her with one of her white stockings, and then sang Only Women Bleed while holding her unconscious body on his lap. Then he attacked her again, ripped off her clothes and wig, donned them, and stood on an upturned garbage can to croon I Never Cry - until she kicked the can out from under him and he was hanged.

The final act of the show - all of which was directed by Rob Roth, whose credits include Broadway's Beauty and the Beast - is all revenge, money and power. Vengeance is Mine found him clad in an eight-armed spider outfit, singing from the top of a giant rolling staircase. During Dirty Diamonds and Billion Dollar Babies, he tossed funny money and costume jewelry into the audience. In Killer, he got rubbed out one last time - nursey drove giant spikes through his body - leading into the triple-play closer of I Love the Dead, No More Mr. Nice Guy (which he sang in a silver tuxedo complete with tails and top hat) and Under My Wheels. Phew.

For those keeping score at home, it was 21 songs (at least half of them bona fide hits), four onstage deaths, a few more ambitious set pieces, umpteen costume changes, and plenty of faux sex and violence - all in 75 minutes. Where I come from, that's called giving people bang for their buck.

Even Zombie couldn't argue. "Between Zombie and the Coop, you're getting too much for your money," he said during his set. I might have been inclined to agree, had Zombie held up his end of the bargain. Instead, the horror rocker-turned-horror director put on an 85-minute show that was mostly style and little substance, with a sensory-overloading onslaught of technology trying to substitute for talent and showmanship.

Granted, it was some wicked-cool technology. Instead of a backline of amps, Zombie and his band - including longtime bassist Piggy D and former Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5 - played in front of a wall of video screens showing everything from song lyrics and anime to images of the Manson and Munster families, along with tons of cheeseball horror movies (including some of Zombie's own derivative cinematic efforts). Another giant screen adorned the back wall, and video monitors were even set into risers at the front of the stage. There were mic stands mounted in skeletons and lines of flamethrowers on either side of the drumkit. During Mars Needs Women, the musicians were joined onstage by a giant Martian robot with glowing green eyes. In the Sabbathy dirge Lords of Salem, they donned robes while Zombie hauled a cross around the stage. All in all, not quite in Cooper's league, but not too shabby.

Trouble is, the music actually was shabby - shockingly so. Zombie's main problem is the fact that he he simply can't sing. Unlike Cooper - whose sneering, leering pipes sound every bit as good as 35 years ago - all the ragged-throated Zombie does is yell, bark and grunt. Dude barely even bothers enunciating; most of the time, I found it difficult to decipher a word he was singing (so if I've got a few songs wrong on the set list below, don't blame me). His band's apparent decision to reduce all his songs to one gargantuan wall of grinding, distorted mush didn't help. More than once, they were midway through a number (case in point: More Human Than Human) before I suddenly realized what they were playing, and how muddy, hamfisted and generally awful it sounded in comparison to the studio version. While there were a few highlights - like the go-go surf-rock of Werewolf Women of the SS and the death-boogie of House of 1,000 Corpses - their show was mainly a long, dull slog through an oppressive, bludgeoning landscape of noise and fury signifying nothing. Not that the kids having fun down front seemed to mind.

Unfortunately, it didn't seem like Zombie - dolled up, as usual, like Hollywood fashion designer's idea of a post-apocalyptic biker - was having much fun. He made a few halfhearted attempts to get the crowd to howl like wolves or sing along - at one point, he even tried to get an all-girl most pit going - but when they didn't respond enthusiastically enough, he seemed slightly put out, commenting at one point, "Maybe Edmonton will be better."

Or maybe he was just upset at being upstaged by an old guy in a silver tuxedo.

Alice Cooper Set List:
School's Out
Department of Youth
I'm Eighteen
Wicked Young Man
Ballad of Dwight Fry
Go to Hell
Guilty
Cold Ethyl
Poison
From the Inside
Nurse Rozetta
Be My Lover
Only Women Bleed
I Never Cry
Solos
Vengeance is Mine
Dirty Diamonds
Billion Dollars Babies
Killer
I Love the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under My Wheels

(Original published on the Winnipeg Sun website on April 27th, 2010.)