Alice Cooper’s Theatre of Death at The National 09.29.09 [Originally posted on FB 10.03.09]

Remember when you were a little kid at the amusement park for the first time, and all you wanted to do was ride the big roller coaster? You know the one with the corkscrew turns, loops and the darkened tunnel? You talked big, so when it came time to ride, you couldn’t back down, you got strapped in and held on tight. It was exhilarating, exciting, freeing…and it scared the hell out of you.

Well, my musical equivalent of that experience dates back to when I was about seven years old and, one night on television, I saw a video of an Alice Cooper concert from 1973. I was already, at that very young impressionable age, a fan of another band that wore makeup, but seeing Alice walk to the guillotine to be decapitated…it was exhilarating, exciting…and it scared the hell out of me.

Alice brought his ‘Theatre of Death’ tour to The National Tuesday night, and the surprises started early. As the lights went down on a boisterous crowd, a blaring school bell rang, and the show kicked off with ‘School’s Out’. By third song, ‘I’m Eighteen’ had been played, knocking out both encores before anyone had broken a sweat. I looked over at the person next to me and said ‘Hang on, all bets are off!’

I could run through the number of times and ways that Alice was ‘killed’ onstage, but honestly, if you’ve never seen him, you wouldn’t understand. I will say that a highlight for me was hearing ‘The Ballad of Dwight Fry’, complete with the straight-jacket. On previous tours, Alice would scamper around the stage, eluding actors portraying doctors and nurses, escape from the straight jacket and sing the next number. This time around though, he was captured and taking to the guillotine and promptly killed. Another highlight was a silhouette strip tease by a red-headed ‘nurse’ (yeah, a redheaded nurse…Alice knows his audience), that in true Alice fashion ended with the nurse being strangled.

In 1975 that was shocking. In 2009, the violence is delivered with a nod and a wink, letting you know that this is almost like a cartoon and Alice is in on the joke. I mean, where else can you raise your fist and sing along to a tale about necrophilia (Cold Ethyl), and not feel like you have to take a shower afterwards? If you take it seriously, then you’re missing the whole point.

That old roller coaster won’t make you scream like when you were a kid, but it’s still a fun ride. Think of this Alice Cooper tour as that coaster, ridden backwards with a blindfold. You may know the ride very well, but you still never see the turns coming, making for a fun and surprising good time.

Setlist [courtesy of the site SickThingsUK.com]:

School’s Out (part only) / Department of Youth / Eighteen / Wicked Young Man / Ballad of Dwight Fry / Go To Hell / Guilty / Welcome To My Nightmare / Cold Ethyl / Poison / The Awakening / From The Inside (w/ extended instrumental) / Nurse Rozetta / Is It My Body / Be My Lover / Only Women Bleed / I Never Cry / The Black Widow (Instrumental) / Vengeance Is Mine / Devil’s Food / Dirty Diamonds / Billion Dollar Babies / Killer / I Love The Dead (excerpt) / No More Mr. Nice Guy / Under My Wheels / Schools Out (full version)