The man on stage has died this way before. The blade catches the spotlight on its way down and a lifeless head tumbles into a basket, ready to be paraded in front of the baying crowd. In Alice Cooper’s world, execution by guillotine counts as playing the hits.
Kicking off this co-headline tour with the Cult – who, thanks to Ian Astbury’s aggro charisma, remain a muscular, exciting rock band in their best moments and a meat-and-potatoes one the rest of the time – Alice doesn’t skimp on crowd-pleasing gimmicks.
At a juncture when most people want to be reminded of how things were, it’s a canny, safe move. He hits the stage, which is decked out as a polystyrene castle, to the punchy riff of Feed My Frankenstein, done up in his trademark top hat and eye makeup, cane twirling. The response is exactly as you might expect – each costume change and macabre set piece is welcomed like fan service in a franchise revival.
It’s a shame, though, that the spirit of Alice’s 2021 album Detroit Stories – a tribute to the MC5-launching late-60s garage rock scene in his home town – hasn’t left much of a footprint. Just as the guillotine is on the road again, so is the glam metal aesthetic that has been his bread and butter for the past thirtysomething years.
Poison, Hey Stoopid and Teenage Frankenstein are dispatched with maximum bombast, divebombs flying from the fretboard of guitarist Nita Strauss. But, accentuated by the pyrotechnic chops of the band, who look like action figures from a toy line based on the mid-80s Sunset Strip, the staging of older numbers such as I’m Eighteen and No More Mr Nice Guy grinds their psych and powerpop elements into homogenised sleaze-rock.
With only 25 minutes at their disposal, openers Creeper race through their Jim Steinman-meets-AFI set, urged on by puckish vocalist Will Gould. They are heading in Alice’s direction, with a love of theatricality trumping their roots in Southampton’s hardcore scene, but they still perform with the guts and desperation of a punk band. They are unpredictable, something the headliner might take note of.
Alice Cooper is on tour in the UK until 1 June, then in Europe.