Alice Cooper: One of the genre’s best and most frightening performers

By Tim Fenster:

Alice Cooper is not a legend because of his songwriting, or his pioneering use of scary stage props. His knack for bringing horror-themed hits to life on stage is why he’s a timeless success. Many hard rock artists have released songs heavier and darker than Cooper’s.  Yet his genius isn’t for writing such songs as “Welcome to My Nightmare,” but for perfectly capturing these Halloween visions on stage.

During a Friday show at the Erie Canal Harbor in downtown Buffalo, Cooper donned a spider-suit for set opener “The Black Widow,” and later danced with a life-sized woman doll for “Only Women Bleed.” He also dropped massive celebratory balloons during his best-known hit, “School’s Out,” and for “Feed My Frankenstein,” he donned a mad-scientist lab coat and then brought a ten-foot Frankenstein on stage. Nearly every song included some outlandish props and/or outfit to give the audience a glimpse into the demonic themes of Cooper’s music. The show’s theatrics hit a high point when Cooper crawled into a guillotine during a “Killer” performance and was (seemingly) beheaded.  As his “head” was paraded across stage, Cooper’s band launched into a ghoulish performance of “I Love the Dead.”

However, the show wasn’t all about theatrics.  Cooper was armed with a five-piece band — wearing all black, of course — that blasted the audience with amped-up takes on aged tunes.  The set list spanned Cooper’s nearly 50-year career, including such hits as “Poison” and “Eighteen,” which were both rare low points in the theatrics. Cooper was pioneering in these horror-house shows, defining shock rock music and paving the way for freaky artists ranging from Lady Gaga to Marilyn Manson. 

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Opener Anvil blasted through an over-the-top set, both musically and in frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow’s showmanship.  Such gimmicks as screaming into his guitar and hitting strings with a sex toy did little to complement their thrash metal fury. Lips lit up his V-neck with shredding and overdrive, while screaming too softly.  Backing him, bassist Glenn Five blasted low, heavy bass-lines, and drummer Robb Reiner pounded an impressively complex beat that was just too much.  Together their sound became a pummeling wall of fast, furious noise that grew tiresome after several sound-alike tunes.

This 33-year-old, Toronto-based band is credited for influencing Metallica, Slayer and other heavy metal greats, but for decades they dwindled in complete obscurity, until the acclaimed 2008 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil! plugged them back in.

On Friday, Anvil should have dialed the volume down from 11, so the audience could better hear individual instrumentation and vocals.  However, with such nonsensical songs as “Metal on Metal” and “Juggernaut of Justice,” it seems Anvil favors the metal blast over deep lyrical meaning.

Although Anvil’s set fell far short of Alice Cooper’s, the two artists are, in fact, quite similar.  Both create a brand of music that is loud, dark and fun; more for head-banging and mosh pits than critics or Grammy awards.

Sure, Cooper’s 25 albums have spawned a number of classics, but he will hardly be remembered as one of hard rock’s best songwriters.  Instead his legacy stands as being one of the genre’s best and most frightening performers.

On Friday night, he proved why.

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