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Review: Alice Cooper thrills with ageless theatricality at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater

Alice Cooper performed at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Aug. 13, 2016.

Jay Cridlin

Alice Cooper performed at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Aug. 13, 2016.

14

August

The fine art of subtlety has never really suited Alice Cooper.

So if you were expecting him to close his sold-out concert Saturday at Ruth Eckerd Hall with anything other than an undead Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump making out at center stage, his band shredding away on his 1972 hit Elected, well, you just don’t know Alice.

“No real candidates were hurt during this production,” Cooper assured the screaming masses. “Don’t forget to vote.”

It was a gleeful, guileless display of rock theatricality, and may the devil love Cooper more for it. At 68 – the same age as Clinton – the original shock rocker remains a living, screaming doodle in a shop-class textbook, his voice and face frozen in the sneer your mama warned you not to make.

Holding court on a stage packed with haunted-house bric-a-brac and props from a monster-movie yard sale, Cooper commanded the house with his unshakable commitment to character. And nearly 50 years after “Alice Cooper” was born, what a character he remains.

Cooper is less likely these days to shock his fans than he is to leave ‘em laughing – his stage show has a lot in common with “Weird Al” Yankovic's, and that’s by no means an insult – and it seems he’ll forever have an audience willing to it lap it off his leathers.

Like a pop star a third his age, Cooper whirled through costumes and set pieces all night, starting in a debonair cape and Beetlejuice suit for opener The Black Widow and shifting to a bloody surgeon’s coat for Feed My Frankenstein (which ended with a 12-foot monster storming the stage). He sang wrapped in a boa constrictor on Is It My Body and a straitjacket on Ballad of Dwight Fry, shook a saber lined with cash on Billion Dollar Babies and danced with a floppy female corpse doll on Cold Ethyl. He was teased by a Harley Quinnefied ballerina on Only Women Bleed and beheaded with a guillotine on I Love the Dead.

These may be old tricks, relics from his ‘70s-lunchbox heyday, but he couldn’t pull them off if he wasn't still so engaged in every moment, refusing to break character or even eye contact with fans. The costumes, the puppetry, the balloons and confetti and monster masks – it all may be a distraction, but there’s still no denying the dirty snake-rock thrills of Public Animal #9, Is It My Body or Poison. Cooper still sounded like the embodiment of adolescent angst when he bellowed I’m Eighteen, of anarchic rebellion when he roared School’s Out.

What really sells the show is the total commitment of his band. Rock-star styled within an inch of their lives, guitarists Nita Strauss, Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen; bassist Chuck Garric and drummer Glenn Sobel were as animated and dedicated as Mr. Cooper himself, delivering a nonstop series of tsunami-force riffs and unheavenly backing vocals. Halo of Flies gave the night its moment of Trans-Siberian Orchestral grandiosity, with a conductor-like Cooper twirling a baton to twirl out squealing prog-rock solos from his string section. Strauss got a few shining moments in the spotlight, particularly on Woman of Mass Distraction, as she slithered around Cooper like a snake while shredding out solos in a pummeling finale.

While there was no sign of Johnny Depp or Joe Perry, the audience did get a taste of Cooper’s Hollywood Vampires side project later on, with a mini-set of covers honoring his late friends and peers – Keith Moon (the Who’s Pinball Wizard), Jimi Hendrix (Fire), David Bowie (Sufragette City) and, in a most rip-roaring fashion, Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister (Ace of Spades).

There was even a bit of theatricality to this Vampires mini-set, which featured cartoonish tombstone props and narration (“You’re living on borrowed time, Alice. So what are you going to do, raise the dead?”).

But the crowd wouldn’t have it any other way. Give Cooper credit for leaning into the laughs instead of trying to shock us all again. If he actually went out there with anything other than Halloween hokey-pokey, it would reek of desperation and a total lack of self-awareness. It would kill the illusion of Alice Cooper, and nobody wants that.

So it’s no surprise that Cooper never endorsed Zombie Trump or Zombie Clinton when he ended the night with Elected. He instead wore a shirt promoting himself for president in 2016, running on the slogan, “Make America Sick Again.”

“Why not me?” he roared to the confetti-covered masses.

Yeah, why not Alice Cooper, the clown prince of darkness? As a nation in need of some lightness, we really could do a lot worse.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Sunday, August 14, 2016 1:00am]

    

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