I don’t know who Seventies parents hated more, Alice Cooper or Ozzy, but they were both lightning rods for scorn. The crown probably goes to the Prince of Darkness but Alice is a close second. And who could blame them? The Godfather of Shock Rock, known as Vincent Furnier before he became Alice Cooper, entertained the masses with shows that featured guillotines, live snakes, straightjackets, tombstones and mutilated baby dolls. But no bats to my knowledge. I am happy to report that most of those props were on stage at the Alabama Theatre tonight.
I had nearly forgotten about Alice Cooper, occasionally hearing the bolero snippet from “School’s Out” on TV commercials or maybe seeing a kid dressed up for Halloween. Then my friend Ed told me that he saw Alice Cooper in concert recently, and it was freaking amazing. He even added some superlative like “in my Top Ten ever”. Ed has been prone to dabble in bullshit from time to time, but when it comes to music he is a revered Jedi Master. So his testimonial was all I needed when I saw an AC concert poster in a window whilst walking in my newly adopted home of Birmingham, Alabama.
This would be my first concert in my new city, so I was pumped. The venue itself is worthy of mention. The Alabama Theatre opened in 1927 and has a capacity of a little over 2000. It was built during the Egyptian motif craze. King Tut’s tomb was discovered earlier that decade and it captivated the imagination of the entire world. Seems like every city has one of these gems, but not every city has the prudence to maintain their theater in the splendor of the period. This fantastic old space reminds me of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Alice Cooper and his band of crazies seemed out of place here. The house was not sold out. My unscientific calculation is better than half, but those who came were ready to rock and it felt like a sold out house.
Time travel back to the late Sixties/early Seventies. As a teen I would hang out at BKL Car Wash where my friend Tim worked. Tim introduced me to Ken who also worked there. Notably, Ken had the longest hair of anyone I knew then, down to the middle of his back. More importantly, Ken had the most amazing record album collection I’d ever seen with bands I did not know. He was kind enough to let me borrow whatever I wanted. That is when I discovered Alice Cooper’s “Pretties For You”, their 1969 debut release. I think the sleeve cover art is what caught my eye. I took it home, listened to it, thought it was garbage with psychedelic undercurrents, and dismissed Alice Cooper. Frank Zappa actually signed AC to his Straight Records label and released their first two records. Then in 1971 I’m Eighteen (also listed as simply Eighteen) hit the radio airways and I fell in love with AC’s new edgier harder sound. I turned 18 and graduated in 1972. I’m not sure if our high school yearbook officially listed I’m Eighteen as our class song but it was our class anthem for sure. It described perfectly the male teen angst and the plight of being “in the middle without any plans, I’m a boy and I’m a man”.
Every band needs a controversy or two for street cred. Alice Cooper’s first of many came in the form of the album cover art for “Love it to Death”, their third release and where I’m Eighteen resides. The original banned artwork features a photo of the boys with Alice holding his erect finger in a certain place. That album became an instant collectors’ item and one album that I guarded with my life. The cover of “Pretties For You” seems more prurient to me but it suggests that even the censors avoided that release.
Alice Cooper had no opening act, thankfully, and hit the stage at 8:15 to a roar of approval. They opened with the industrial metal feel of Brutal Planet from the album of the same name (2000) and burned Birmingham with a set list of crowd pleasers, slowing down briefly for Only Women Bleed. My words cannot adequately describe the spectacle and carnage of an Alice Cooper live show. I can imagine the ancient Romans being entertained in a similar fashion in the Colosseum (except maybe for the fact that it was real in Rome). Do yourself a favor and attend an Alice Cooper show if you have the opportunity. Alice is 69 years old, so do it soon.
This concert included everything that our parents hated about Alice Cooper. We witnessed the beheading of Alice on the guillotine with the severed head paraded around and of course the live snake around Alice’s neck. Then there was my all time favorite AC tune performed in a straightjacket with the zombie nurse delivering an injection, The Ballad of Dwight Fry from “Love it to Death”. It doesn’t get any better than the repetitive classic refrain “I gotta get out of here”. That song is about real Hollywood actor Dwight Frye. The “e” was dropped by AC to avoid any legal issues with using his name. Alice Cooper actually began as the name of the band but was later adopted by you-know-who as his personal stage name, especially when he began his solo career in 1975 with “Welcome To My Nightmare”.
Four guitars, percussion and a charismatic vocalist, with one guitarist being a blonde vixen in leather. That is the formula for hard rock heaven. Nita Strauss has been a member of AC since 2014 when she replaced Orianthi. Guitar World Magazine ranked Strauss as the #1 Female Guitar Player. Purported to be kin to classical musician and composer Johann Strauss, Nita lived up to her heritage by torching the stage throughout the evening, often upstaging her boss. But that’s OK. And smart. Alice Cooper knows that aging rockers need to surround themselves with new young talent, and a little eye candy doesn’t hurt either.
So my first concert in Birmingham was a home run – well known property, but they crushed it nonetheless. The encore was 1972’s School’s Out containing the classic tongue-in-cheek lyric “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes”, paying homage to high school stoners everywhere. The band threw out their picks and sticks. Obligatory, I suppose. I caught a pick. I don’t know who threw it but I’m telling everyone it was Nita’s.
More concerts. Other venues. I have tickets for Breaking Benjamin and Dispatch, both at a small venue (different nights) in the coming weeks. Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.
George “Roll Tide” Ford