Alice Cooper @ NIA, Birmingham – 27 October 2011

Further to the release of his latest album ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’, recorded with long time collaborator Bob Ezrin – producer of the original multi-platinum ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ in 1975, Alice Cooper dropped into the NIA tonight for a date on his ‘Halloween Night of Fear’ tour.

At 63 years old you could be forgiven for assuming a rock legend is  past his sell-by-date, but nothing could be further from the truth where Alice Cooper is concerned.

The lights go down and the show opens with a Vincent Price recorded reading and intro to ‘The Black Widow’. The curtain drops and the band open the track as Alice appears centre stage on a raised platform sporting an impressive black widow costume, beginning a 90 minute theatrical celebration of Halloween.

Descending from his riser, Cooper follows on with ‘Brutal Planet’ and ‘I’m Eighteen’ the 1970 breakthrough single from his first major label release album ‘Love It to Death’. Although, after a career spanning four decades with over fifty million album sales to his name, this born entertainer puts on a show as if the album were released yesterday.

The set continues with ‘Under My Wheels’ and ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ which includes the mock beheading of an infant. Such is the tongue-in-cheek likeability of Cooper – this act of child murder earns him a huge ovation, before he launches into fan favourites ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ and ‘Hey Stoopid’ with his adoring masses going wild and singing every word aloud.

For ‘Is It My Body’ a Boa constrictor is handed to Cooper. During the song the snake slivers its body around the neck of Alice, as he happily serenades his exotic friend.

‘Halo Of Flies’is followed by the latest single ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’ with an anything but subtle introduction. Strutting out onto stage wearing a jacket with ‘NEW SONG’ printed onto the back, Alice begins performing the track before removing the jacket to reveal a white shirt with ‘I’LL BITE YOUR FACE OFF’ emblazoned across the back.

Part of the appeal of an Alice Cooper show is of course pure pantomime. There are enough costume changes to make Lady Gaga jealous, ranging from mad scientist to human mirror ball and everything in between. Throughout the night Alice performs with a life-size female dummy, is tortured and beheaded, and impales a pesky photographer. I’m pretty sure you could watch this show every night of the tour and still spot things you had missed the night before.

The Alice Cooper band features a fine bunch of musicians including the first ever female member in guitarist Orianthi Panagaris – an Australian musician, singer-songwriter and guitarist, perhaps best known as lead guitarist for Michael Jackson’s ill-fated ‘This Is It’ concert series. Her guitar solo in-between ‘Muscle of Love’ and ‘Only Women Bleed’ clearly demonstrate her shredding prowess.

Bob Dylan once told Rolling Stone that he thought Cooper was one of the most under-rated songwriters in America, so to let the theatrics of tonight’s show overshadow the music would be a mistake. During the variety of ‘Cold Ethyl’, ‘Feed My Frankenstein’, featuring a 20 foot monster lumbering around the stage, ‘Clones (We’re All)’, ‘Poison’, ‘Wicked Young Man’, ‘Killer’ and ‘I Love the Dead’, Dylan’s thoughts are definitely echoed.

Cooper closes the show with the thundering ‘School’s Out’ incorporating Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, when giant confetti laden balloons are thrown into the crowd, which the ultimate ringmaster proceeds to pop with a sword, showering the front rows with the contents.

The show encores with Cooper clad in a barmy silver suit, waving a Union Jack as he belts out his own personal leadership campaign, ‘Elected’. He’s certainly earned the crowd’s vote, and at the age when most would consider retirement, he doesn’t even appear to be contemplating it.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston