By Michael Lello
Photos by Jim Gavenus
WILKES-BARRE – In an era of Miley Cyrus’ twerks and Rihanna’s Instagram feed, an entertainer has to go to cartoonish extremes to engage, never mind, shock, an audience.
In a modern context, then, Alice Cooper’s cavalcade or snakes, straitjackets and guillotines take on an absurdly genteel feel, a far cry from the horror they inspired when the godfather of shock rock first unleashed them on rock ’n’ roll fans.
So it was with pangs of nostalgia that more than 1,800 filed into the sold-out F.M. Kirby Center on Friday to witness Cooper’s “Raise The Dead” tour, an evening of well-crafted music and theatrics that no longer possess the same shock value as they once did but now can be appreciated on several other levels, as Cooper’s music and stagecraft have certainly aged well.
Sharing more elements with a Broadway musical than with peers like Kiss or disciples like Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, Cooper captivated the audience with well-aged songs, a quartet of cover tunes and a tight, rocking band featuring standout Australian guitarist Orianthi.
Cooper hit the stage in a red and black striped suit, leading his band into “Hello Hooray,” gesturing with and twirling a cane, working the crowd into hysterics with a simple flick of the wrist or shrug of the shoulder. “Let the show begin/ I’ve been ready,” he sang, “ready as this audience that’s coming here to dream/ Loving every second, every moment, every scream.”
“House Of Fire” from Cooper’s brief late-’80s/early-’90s pop metal period followed and featured triumphant and melodic vocal harmonies on the choruses before the band launched into the first iconic tune of the night: “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” instantly recognizable by its opening guitar crunch. One of four songs Cooper played from his 1973 standout album “Billion Dollar Babies,” the song has lost none of its oomph in 40 years.
An even older song, the gritty, groove-rocking “Under My Wheels” from 1971’s “Killer,” was another standout, featuring a spotlit Orianthi guitar solo. Other early-show highlights included “Billion Dollar Babies,” preceded by a Glen Sobel drum intro; a strong delivery of “Caffeine” from 2011’s “Welcome 2 My Nightmare”; and “Department of Youth.”
“Hey Stoopid,” like much of Cooper’s catalog, appealed to the perpetual teenager, while “Dirty Diamonds” featured an extended Cooper-less instrumental segment.
Rain, thunder and lightning effects greeted “Welcome To My Nightmare,” a dramatic showpiece and the quintessential Cooper track. The frontman emerged with his trademark snake coiled around his shoulders, swinging a bullwhip. Later, Cooper donned a bloody labcoat for “Feed My Frankenstein,” before henchmen strapped him into a laboratory apparatus. A giant, long-haired Frankenstein puppet then took the stage, mouthing the lyrics. The showmanship now in full swing, a nurse placed Cooper in a straitjacket for “Ballad of Dwight Fry” from 1971’s “Love It To Death.” Cooper, of course, broke out of the straitjacket and strangled the nurse. But a death march ensued, and a henchman corralled Alice and brought him to a guillotine. Sobel played a drum roll, the blade dropped, blood flew and a henchman held Cooper’s head aloft, while bassist Chuck Garric led the crowd in the cathartic “I Love The Dead” singalong.
Cooper recently told Highway 81 Revisited about his next album, a tribute to the dead members of the Hollywood Vampires drinking club, and he previewed four songs from the upcoming release. A curtain dropped, revealing a Jim Morrison tombstone, as Cooper and company delivered an energetic and faithful version of The Doors “Break On Through (To The Other Side).” Next, a second curtain fell, revealing a John Lennon tombstone, and the band played a hard-rocking “Revolution.” Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” – featuring a sweet Orianthi solo – and a punky take on The Who’s “My Generation,” played in tribute to late drummer Keith Moon, followed in similar fashion.
“For all my dead drunk friends!” Cooper yelled at the conclusion of the fun covers mini-set.
“I’m 18” and “Poison” – another hair metal tune, and one of Cooper’s most catchy – wrapped up the main portion of the show, before Cooper and the band played the predictable and unseasonable, but fun, “School’s Out.” The song was accompanied by the most stunning visuals of the evening, with blinding, blinking lights, bubbles, balloons and confetti.
During “School’s Out,” Cooper, now wearing a spangly silver jacket, led the band and crowd into a snippet of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Part II” (“We don’t need no education”), before announcing the members of the band, saving the best for last: “And playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight . . . me!”