Everyone’s heard of the old showbiz adage: “He died a death on stage.”
Well last night in Swindon, Alice Cooper died several – in the most gruesome ways imaginable.
He was beheaded, hanged and suffered quite alarmingly when he was stabbed with a hypodermic needle.
But he always emerged intact, trying hard not to grin while milking a thrilled audience like a seasoned pro.
Alice Cooper’s Theatre of Death show at the Oasis was a spectacular combination of muscular, catchy Seventies-based hard rock-cum-heavy metal music and often hilariously gory theatrics.
Now 61, Alice – in real life, son-of-a-preacher man Vincent Furnier – came across like a combination of fellow Detroit rocker Iggy Pop and a hammy Vincent Price.
An irate Screaming Lord Sutch – who used to be carted on stage in a coffin – once accused Cooper of stealing his act.
But with the staggeringly realistic mock executions including the well-oiled gallows and guillotine routines, reformed alcoholic Cooper has taken the B horror movie theme way beyond anything the Raving Loony Party founder Sutch could possibly have envisaged.
It was the sort of stuff that once prompted an outraged David Blunkett to splutter: “I’m horrified. It goes beyond entertainment.”
But unlike the hugely appreciative Swindon audience, which ranged from teenagers looking forward to school’s out this Christmas to grey-bearded rockers who probably used their bus passes to get to the gig, Blunkett had missed the point.
The entire performance was done with a whopping slice of tongue-in-cheek self-mockery. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s pure vaudeville. No-one takes Alice Cooper seriously: certainly not Alice or indeed his fans.
During the 90-minute show Cooper – who recently revealed that he took his “little old lady” stage name from a Ouija board message – employed a succession of props that could have come out of the dusty basement of long-lamented Hammer horror films.
They included swords, a whip, and some voodoo-like beads and bones, which the “the godfather of shock rock” employed with unremitting relish. It was a bit like the Rocky Horror Show, only with much better music and a lot more violence.
For all Alice Cooper’s macabre stage gimmicks over the past four decades – from gleefully hacking baby dolls to pieces to strutting the boards wrapped with a 12ft boa constrictor – it shouldn’t been forgotten that he has an outstanding back catalogue of songs to call on.
Albums – mostly harking to the Seventies and notably Love It To Death, Schools Out, Billion Dollar Babies and Killer – have worn remarkably well over the years. And with the aid of a tight and tenacious backing band, he belted out timeless rock classics such as School’s Out, I’m Eighteen and Is It My Body.
Swindon loved it to death.
“I couldn’t afford to see him years ago, it’s brilliant that a star of his magnitude has come to Swindon,” said 50-year-old musician Ian Doeser of Gladstone Street.
And friend Sharon Bond, 49, of Wareham Close, West Swindon, said: “I’ve been a fan since I was 13.
My mother read a story in a national newspaper when I was a kid that he should be banned, and I’ve wanted to see him ever since!”