Theatre, Oct. 26
rock have combined first-class songwriting and shameless show-biz
trickery with the bravado of Alice Cooper. When his original
band hit in the early 1970s, they were a refreshing breath
of skanky air signaling the death of hippiedom (and not a
moment too soon). Almost 40 years later, he’s still got it.
Cooper entertained a packed Proctors Theatre on Sunday evening
with a slick combination of his trademark musicianship and
singing a bit of “It’s Hot Tonight” as an intro—and after,
in silhouette, killing a guy with a blade—Cooper and his band
(guitarists Jason Hook and Keri Kelli, bassist Chuck Garric
and drummer Eric Singer) launched into three of his best early
hits. The amusing, self-lacerating “No More Mr. Nice Guy,”
the thundering “Under My Wheels” and the witty, anthemic “I’m
Eighteen” are exhibits A, B and C for why Cooper (the original
Alice Cooper band, specifically) belongs in the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame—a slight that Cooper, from all reports, takes
man singing “I’m Eighteen” should have registered as self-parody.
That it didn’t is a tribute to the song and the audience,
which contained a large contingent of fans on the younger
side of that age also singing along. On that last point, I’ve
been to, ahem, adult-oriented rock shows where I was embarrassed
that kids were in the audience. Cooper, for all his intimations
of violence and horror, puts on a hard PG-13 show; there’s
nothing in it a kid hasn’t already seen in, say, The Dark
Knight. Judging from the large number of parents with
children, being fans of Alice Cooper is a family affair.
later songbook is a mixed bag, but his selections here were
solid enough: the silly snark of “Lost in America,” which
borrows its refrain from Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” (name
another metal dude who even listened to new wave);
the horror-matinee vibe of “Feed My Frankenstein”; and the
corny metal romanticism of “Poison,” which was the second
song in the encore and got the ladies dancin’. Strangely,
songs from his new album (Along Came a Spider) were
piped in as warm-up music before the show; it’s solid, and
it would have been fun to hear some of it live.
of the show was a cascading swirl of Cooper’s moody, horror-film
songs as “Welcome to My Nightmare” segued into “Cold Ethyl”
and then into “Only Women Bleed.” Cooper’s wife and daughters
provided the (as noted) PG-13 sexiness and choreographic accompaniment
to Alice’s psychodrama; after driving a stake through a doll’s
heart while crooning “Dead Babies,” they brought out the scaffold
and hung him.
I said, first-class entertainment.
ended, of course, with the timeless “School’s Out.” The encore
began with one classic, “Billion Dollar Babies,” and ended
with another, “Election.” There was more stage pizzazz with
Alice dressed in an Uncle Sam hat, and his family costumed
(and masked) as Bush, McCain and Obama. It was wonderful tomfoolery,
excellent musical entertainment, and kinda made you want to
Performing Arts Center, Oct. 25
20 years ago, I got sick of reading about Richard Thompson
in the rock press and went out and bought Shoot Out the
Lights, his 1982 record (with then-wife Linda) that still
shows up on most “best album of all-time” lists. I felt terribly
behind the curve, as Thompson had already over 20 years worth
of stuff out. But I got stung bad.
remember how many times I’ve seen him since then—6, 7 times?
Always brilliant, no more so than in 2004’s 1000 Years of
Popular Music program, the last time I saw him.
so, until now. Saturday night’s show at Great Barrington’s
little Mahaiwe Theater was so manifestly provocative, focused,
entertaining, and astonishing that it’s hard to know where
was solo, which means we didn’t get to see him play electric
guitar, but he made up for that in spades—he assumes a fighting
stance, legs slightly splayed, leaning slightly forward on
the balls of his feet, and precisely batters his guitar with
a mesmerizing firebrand thumb and fingerstyle technique. He
actually rocks harder, much harder, when he’s alone than when
he’s fronting a band.
was close to a career retrospective, with a couple things
from 2007’s Sweet Warrior, including the antiwar “Dad’s
Gonna Kill Us” (“Dad” being Baghdad), big old rockers like
“Feel So Good” and “Valerie,” a couple of super-dark-to-the-point-of-hilarity
treks into madness like “Hope You Like the New Me” and a devastating
“Shoot Out the Lights” complete with heart-stopping guitar
work, and delicate tear-jerkers like “From Galway to Graceland”
and “Beeswing.” There’s always gonna be some absurdo-comic
material (who can forget “Dear Janet Jackson” and “I Agree
With Pat Metheny”), and we got the new Brit dance-hall ode
to brainy women “Hots for the Smarts,” which was chock full
of money lines. My fave: “She likes to be goosed while reciting
from Proust.” We even got a super-obscure Left Banke cover.
And he happily took requests.
this was served up with dizzying guitar technique, good cheer,
pathos, and more than a little machismo. Maybe it was the
stage backdrop of ever-changing cool colors that made Thompson
look like some kind of Celtic bohemian superhero. Maybe it
was the exquisite sound, comfortably loud, dense, and all-enveloping.
The only rational response to this barrage of brilliance was
to grin like a monkey and shake one’s head back and forth.
And just maybe, to further the analogy Seth Rogovoy made in
his blog about Thompson’s music being like a good complex
scotch, maybe the guy is simply getting better and better
with age. I think that’s it.