Alice Cooper - Live in Wilkes-Barre (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Alice Cooper

Live in Wilkes-Barre (2018)

Live Show

I know it. You know it. We all know it. Alice Cooper is the top ranking champ of Rock and Roll. Across his March 10, two hour, 21 song set in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the 70 year old singer demonstrated exactly why everyone from GWAR to Sex Pistols to Hawkwind to Melvins to Jello Biafra to the Beastie Boys to Joan Jett gives the man huge props. That’s because not only is he the originator, he is still kicking ass, and on top of that, creating compelling, interesting shows.

This was demonstrated by the show’s centerpiece, a live performance of the classic-era epic “Halo of Flies.” Instead of trimming down the proto-goth smasher, the band blew it up into a full ten minutes of creepy, spiraling, twisting creep show, with Cooper slashing a sword around while he growled about planting time bombs on vehicles. Likewise, radio rockers “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Be My Lover” were charged up into hard hitting, speedy smashers that kicked as hard as any other rock tune you can name.

It needs to be said just how fantastic the Coop still sounds. His growl still had all the venomous menace as heard on the records, as exhibited by the rollicking live version of “Billion Dollar Babies.” Yet, on “Only Women Bleed,” wherein the band dropped back, leaving Cooper almost a capella, he created a raw, rich, tenderness that exhibited not only an amazing amount of vocal control, but a true sense of emotion, which to be honest, can be hard to summon night after night. See that too on the ode to insanity, “Ballad of Dwight Fry” where Cooper was lashed into a straight jacket.

Newer tunes got their due too and showed that many of the mid-period and later period Cooper cuts can definitely hang. “Lost In America” was stripped from its 90s studio production and heightened by a new “Blitzkrieg Bop” cadence. Brand new tune, “Fallen in Love” likewise was given the rev-up treatment.

Of course, Cooper basically invented to big, theatrical stage show. Yet, at the Wiles-Barre show, it seemed he trimmed back on the theater, saving most of the surprises for the back end of the show. Honestly, it worked well. Big beasties and props are cool, but there are few things as riveting as seeing Cooper just totally rock the hell out.

On the second half, a few of the “Nightmare” creatures did make their appearance. Several dark ghouls would creep behind Cooper as he sang, insinuating a sort of Babadook type grief. Later on, a human doll was dragged out on stage only to be wound up with a gigantic key in her back, after which, she immediately began an intricate ballet routine.

This underscored one of Cooper’s main strengths. With a theatrical show, its easy for groups to fall into one of two camps: either, pretentious, self-important decadence, or crass, banal atrocity. Cooper, while he does have a thundering, harder show, was able to apply a sort of elevated-artistic expression to the pounding drums and hard rocking Detroit guitars. Bowie gets a huge amount of respect for his dedication to characters and fine art in the music context (as he damn well should), but in this praise of the Starman, perhaps we have unfairly look passed Coopers own contributions, only because Cooper’s music is a bit more bombastic.

This was most apparent during the show’s finale. Avant-garde noise freakout “Killer”- a non-metered, noise-crack of a song- was played while Cooper was dragged to a giant guillotine. He thrashed about until the second the slanted blade dropped, severing Cooper’s head from his body. Without wasting a second, the band then snapped into a Cooper-less rendition of the classic of “I love the dead” while Cooper’s head was presented to the crowd and his body was carried off stage.

Now, there’s more than one way to skin a Coop, so of course he returned from the abyss for the encore- “Eighteen” and “School’s Out” with a nice bit of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” weaved in- but, there is something to be taken from the fact that Cooper’s on stage death highlighted just how amazing he is live. Also, I’m sure there’s some deep rumination in there somewhere about a man willingly killing himself for the audience’s delight, but that seems to be the kind of thing one processes internally- or at least waits for Easter to think about.