I was skeptical that Vincent Farnier, the grizzled 60-year-old veteran better known as Alice Cooper, could deliver on the promise of his once legendary live show, even if I had read in previous weeks that he’d assembled one of his most lethal line-ups for this summer’s Psycho-Drama tour. Hard to believe I’ve reached 30 without seeing one of my childhood heroes in the flesh, despite spending my formative years watching his schlock-rock spawn (GWAR, Marilyn Manson) rape his legacy in jest. My first pick from the Columbia House tape club was Cooper’s seminal greatest hits album, which I wore thin. I’d even fallen for the monster movie garbage of his mid-80s comeback. And lately I’ve been digesting the Hollywood psychedelic weirdness with which he started (Pretties for You and Easy Action) before moving to Detroit and more scuzzy horror-blues. Still, his iconic stature has waned in the last two decades, more time spent schmoozing, golfing and releasing mediocre albums than simply staying out of the limelight like many of his ilk. It was a muggy Sunday night at Columbus’ LC Pavilion, rain was on the horizon, and I was gearing up for a letdown of state fair proportions.
Who knew Cooper could command an audience this size through a crisp and captivating two-hour set of low-brow family entertainment? He was living proof that some performers thrive as post-alcoholic seniors, strutting through his funhouse of cobwebs and chintzy props like a naked mole rat, head to toe in his trademark mascara and leather. There was a confidence in his gravel-growl voice that was competently fortified by his backing band (which included former Kiss drummer Eric Singer and the hair-metal journeyman, guitarist Kerri Kelli), who ripped through the back catalog with arena-worthy enthusiasm. Though I have nothing to compare it to other than the archives of VH1 Classic and similar twilight metalheads, there was a sharp energy in these renditions of “I’m Eighteen” and “Billion Dollar Babies” (a personal favorite) that I could would have never expected. There hasn’t been a concert this summer, save some in the dive bars, which had me singing along more. Name it, they played it.
Of course the guy had a new album to shill, Along Came a Spider, and its shtick and songs were present. But the concept (Cooper as a tortured serial killer) was acted out with choreographed theatrical chutzpah, stringing together a suite of “Be My Lover,” “Cold Ethyl,” “Only Women Bleed” and “Dead Babies,” while dancing, killing and violating a nymphet in white, before being hung (instead of beheaded) in the set’s climax. It was the type of cartoonish violence and childish misogyny the several thousand had come to see, and the sickly sour smell of dirt weed and late summer in the air provided the perfect environs for a nostalgia trip. Sure there were some duds (I never was a fan of “Poison”) and some head-scratchers (the dunderheaded “Lost in America”), but as this consummate showman showed, there’s plenty of mileage left under his wheels.