Best Gigs The Rockbrat’s Seen ? Alice Cooper (1997)

 Who: Alice Cooper
When: Sydney Entertainment Centre, September 11, 1997 

 I promised myself, as I walked out of Kiss’s Hallenstadion concert in Zurich last December, that I had endured my final ‘big stage’ experience. No more would I enter into the arena zone and suffer from it’s choking effects – the lack of intimacy, cigarette lighters, over-priced merchandise and the endless array of rock clichés. But this is the Coop for fuck sake. The master of horror rock who in his prime would’ve made hollow clones like Marilyn Manson shit their strides. “Face it” quotes a recent bio, “Alice Cooper brought show business and rock & roll together in ways never seen before, and rarely seen since – and the shock waves he created are still shaking the foundations of both”. Too true. So here I am amongst a sea of old denim clad metal-heads, in the belly of the beast so to speak. I so dearly wanted to give the Coop a ‘three skull’ rating, and if I was judging the all-round performance of one Vinnie Furnier himself I would have, but with a band consisting of poodle heads who’ve been associated with the likes of Winger (eek) and Gilby Clarke, it’s a whole different ball game. I am fully aware that half the reason he survived the late 80’s/90’s was by catering to the hard rock/metal brethren and he is indeed now classed as HM – it’s just that this is not the particular era I wish to remember. These bozo’s are fine musicians, but dear me, possess every dumb, tiring rock cliché around. The scariest thing about Alice Cooper in 1997 is his backing band – and I thought that cheeze-metal was dead ! Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh and remind myself that this is not the 26th March, 1977 and I am not at the Sydney Sports Ground ! Tonight was the final show of a mammoth world tour in support of his latest LP ‘A Fistful Of Alice’ – a live offering recorded recently in Mexico. The stage theme undertook a carnival type atmosphere with an array of theme park attractions on view. Several clowns (as in Bo-Bo, not the band members) could also be seen running amok throughout the night. ‘Hello Hooray’ a long time set opener quickly got bums off seats, followed by the very apt ‘Sideshow’ from 1994’s ‘Last Temptation’ album. Former Y&T drummer Jimmy DeGrasso belts out one of the most recognised intro’s ever as ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ is aired. Now this is the stuff I came to hear !! Twenty four years old and still sounding as electrifying as ever, Alice struts and pouts through this classic, whilst slicing the air with a sword-full of dollar bills. ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ follows – it’s well known chords sending the kids next to me into spasms. I had my fingers crossed that personal fave’s ‘Raped And Freezin’, ‘Levity Ball’ and ‘Ballad Of Dwight Fry’ would be played giving reason for a spasm of my own but it didn’t eventuate. What I wasn’t expecting however, was a very hot working of ‘Public Animal No. 9’ taken from the ‘School’s Out’ album !! Dedicated this evening for “everyone who’s ever been in jail” this lost gem was my plum for the night. Wow ! The massacre continues with ‘Be My Lover’, tonight sounding hot, abrasive and very very rockin’. Still one of rock n roll’s premier show men, the Coop graciously accepts a live boa mid song from a helpful clown. Parading the snake across his shoulders, this long time Coop live prop still shocks many and scares the living shit out of some front row punters. Shifting quickly to latter day material, the very metal sounding ‘Lost In America’ is up next and it cooks. With it’s poignant lyrics (which go over the heads of many), tasty riffs and big chorus this track shoulda done much more than limited MTV rotation. ‘Eighteen’ eases off the throttle a little and is warmly received. My eyes widened in disbelief when I saw one of rock’s greatest frontmen fling a guitar over his neck and strum along on the chorus. The Coop playing guitar ? Huh ? I thought I’d seen it all. Please shoot me. ‘From The Inside’, the masterpiece penned by Alice and Bernie Taupin (among others) pleasantly restores my sanity. This 1978 cut was written after Cooper’s time spent in a New York hospital for chronic alcoholism and is another evening stand-out. Those pesky clowns endeavoured mid-song to push the long time sober singer off the wagon with offers of beer, to no avail. Resting on a trash can, the Coop then wails through the beautiful 1975 ballad ‘Only Women Bleed’, tonight sounding note perfect and crystal clear. A magical moment to be savoured for sure. There are no need for drum solo’s in 1997, but nobody has told the boof-head behind the kit and I am forced to sit though a rather tedious and pointless exercise. More recent offerings such as ‘Nothing’s Free’ are kicked out. There are some damn fine moments on ‘The Last Temptation’ and this blistering cut is one of ’em, so too ‘Cleansed By Fire’, which is up next. The Coop (now sporting a top hat and wielding a cane) then rips into an energetic take of ‘Poison’, the top 5 entry from a few years back and a definite crowd fave. No latter day Cooper show is complete without ‘Cold Ethyl’ – the twisted necrophilic trip from ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’. They don’t write ’em like this anymore folks and I’m instantly sent into a state of rock convulsions of my own. ‘Unfinished Sweet’ was another surprise pulled from a back catalogue of riches, where the Coop is locked in a casket and speared by five sinister clowns. Clowns suck ! But they are no match for the super ghoul who breaks free and blasts into ‘School’s Out’, which draws the curtain on a scorching, memorable set. ‘Department Of Youth’ and ‘Under My Wheels’ were the encores – the Coop ending proceedings by threatening to return next year. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for the forthcoming release of the definitive multi-CD box set, ‘The Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper,’ which is an authoritative and comprehensive chronicle of Alice’s entire musical history. No guillotine or electric chair on show tonight, just the bare essentials with some very cool songs. The word ‘legend’ gets used far too generously nowadays, but Alice Cooper is indeed just that, a pioneer who tore a page out of rock n roll and re-wrote it in blood – the ultimate showman who’s recordings in the 70’s were a soundtrack for a whole generation. He is a survivor who rocks hard, is still relevant and will continue to be a sick, nasty creature in the eyes of grannies, and will poison virgin minds for sometime to come.