At the end of his stellar show at the Chumash Casino Resort last Thursday, Alice Cooper finished the band introductions with his only bit of coyness of the evening, saying, "And playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight ... me."
Cooper has been playing the part for more than four decades now, and his performance at the Chumash made it clear why he has the honorary (or is it dishonorary?) title of the "Godfather of Shock Rock" and was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago.
As promised, the show had three main parts: "Glam Alice," "Nightmare Alice" and a tribute to Cooper's "dead, drunk friends." And, as expected from one of rock music's premier showmen, all three parts had the magnificent music enhanced by thrilling theatrics.
The show kicked off with "Hello Hooray," the lead track off Cooper's brilliant 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies. Cooper, singing in front of a shower of falling sparks, was wearing a red and black striped suit and his signature black eye makeup, and had a cane and a massive belt buckle.
The Billion Dollar Babies album was revisited in short order with one of Cooper's best-known songs, "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and later with the title track for which Cooper shook a stack of fake hundred dollar bills from the blade of a sword into the showroom.
Along the way, Cooper played other songs from his classic period ("Under My Wheels" with all three guitarists playing smokin' solos, and "Department of Youth"), a few from his glam metal resurgence ("House of Fire" and "Hey Stoopid"), and some recent hard rockers ("I'll Bite Your Face Off," "Caffeine," which had an amusing giant coffee cup prop, and "Dirty Diamonds" during which Cooper teased a few eager ladies in the front with necklaces that he was throwing out into the crowd).
The "Nightmare Alice" portion of the show started with a simulated thunderstorm from which Cooper emerged wearing a super-tall top hat, and with a rather large snake around his neck, to sing — what else? — "Welcome to My Nightmare." This was followed by "Go to Hell," which had Cooper deftly swinging a whip at his guitarists.
The evening became even more theatrical with "Feed My Frankenstein," during which Cooper put on a gas mask and was strapped down, leading after some sparks to a giant Frankenstein puppet who came out and pranced around the stage to the crowd's morbid delight.
The next few songs continued the macabre madness with two insane nurses, a straightjacket for Cooper, a freaky baby doll, and an attempted escape and struggle, all culminating with Cooper at the business end of a guillotine blade that came crashing down. While "I Love the Dead" played, Cooper's severed head was held up to confirm the dirty deed/dirty dead.
Of course this was all for show, and Cooper, with his head intact, returned for the third part of the show, a tribute to his old drinking buddies that actually did break on through to the land of the dead: Jim Morrison (with a cover of The Doors' "Break On Through (to the Other Side)"), John Lennon (with a cover of The Beatles' "Revolution"), Jimi Hendrix (with a cover of "Foxey Lady" featuring guitarist/foxy lady Orianthi) and Keith Moon (with a cover of The Who's "My Generation").
The evening closed with three of Cooper's biggest songs: "I'm Eighteen," "Poison" and the encore "School's Out," which had bubbles shooting onto the stage, Cooper spinning a cane, streamers descending from the ceiling and giant balloons that Cooper popped with a sword to release the confetti within. This song nicely morphed into the chorus of Pink Floyd's like-minded song "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" — think "We don't need no education."
At 65 years old, Cooper shows no signs of slowing down, and his fans show no sign of tiring of his act. I'm guessing that Cooper will be playing the part of Cooper for quite awhile longer.
Hello Hooray (Judy Collins cover)
House of Fire
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under My Wheels
I'll Bite Your Face Off
Billion Dollar Babies
Department of Youth
Welcome to My Nightmare
Go to Hell
He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)
Feed My Frankenstein
Ballad of Dwight Fry
I Love the Dead
Break On Through (to the Other Side) (Doors cover)
Revolution (Beatles cover)
Foxey Lady (Jimi Hendrix cover)
My Generation (Who cover)
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.