Alice Cooper, The Mission, The Tubes: Manchester Arena

By Shaun Ponsonby
Thu 16 November, 2017

The shock rock icon returns with the original band for the first time in 46 years, and welcomes Shaun Ponsonby to his nightmare. 

Alice Cooper probably isn’t given enough credit for what he created. Today, his act is more pantomime. But in the beginning, he was considered a genuine threat. He was punk before punk, goth before goth, gender bending before Bowie.

The list of people he has influenced is far more eclectic than you might imagine. Yes, obviously Marilyn Manson, KISS and Slipknot are in there. But so is Lady GaGa, Boy George, Adam Ant, Kurt Cobain and Talking Heads. Where do you think Michael Jackson got Thriller from? Bob Dylan called Cooper an “overlooked songwriter” in Rolling Stone magazine. Elton John named him “one of the few innovative people in rock ‘n’ roll.

But he didn’t do it alone. Alice Cooper was originally the name of the band, and the line-up remained steady until 1973’s Muscle of Love. After this, Alice went solo.

That original line-up was present tonight, touring with Cooper for the first time in a whopping 46 years. But first Cooper played with his current band, trawling through his entire history.

Although Alice has settled into more subdued visuals in recent years, he manages to shake up his shows by pulling out songs from his back catalogue that only his most ardent fans would remember. 1980’s Pain comes early in the show, from the mainly forgotten new wave-inspired Flush The Fashion album.

A few songs down the line, The World Needs Guts from his 1986 hair metal comeback Constrictor is aired. Both songs probably haven’t been played in decades and delight the long-time fans who have heard the likes of Under My Wheels and Poison more times than they can count.

As incredible and historic as it was to see the original band, you can’t help but wonder if it would have been better to do a full reunion tour rather than a brief mini-set for the last third of the show. Although Alice has had a healthy career for the last 46 years, it is the records he made with the original band that made his legacy.

Therefore, with so many standards being pushed back to the last third of the show, the first half maybe didn’t flow as well as past tours.

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Alice’s structure is pretty much widely known at this point.  He does some nasty stuff and gets punished for it. In a lot of ways, it is a morality play. He doesn’t get away with his misdeeds. He has been “executed” in a variety of ways. He has been hung, electrocuted, injected. Tonight it is probably the most famous of all. He is beheaded in the guillotine.

But there is a knowingness to what he does.  He doesn’t take this horror and voodoo stuff seriously. It is knowingly cheesy, and you’re supposed to smirk as the silliness unfolds.

As his body is taken off stage, the band run through I Love The Dead as the stage lights dim.  When they come back up, the original band are in place, and they run through five of their most iconic songs; I’m Eighteen, Billion Dollar Babies, No More Mr Nice Guy, Muscle of Love and ending, of course, with School’s Out, when they were joined by the current band, not to mention confetti, a bubble machine, giant balloons and an interpolation into Another Brick In The Wall.

It may not have been the best Alice Cooper show this writer has seen (that crown goes to 2009’s Theatre of Death). But Goddamn! He knows how to leave you smiling.

Support tonight came from another two veteran bands.

The Mission were an odd choice. Frontman Wayne Hussey formed the band in 1986 after stints in Sisters of Mercy and Dead or Alive. After 35 years of performing, you would think he would have learned how to do stage banter by now, but every time he opened his mouth to do anything other than sing, he was met with a stony silence, and we half expected a tumbleweed to roll past. “I got into the venue this morning, and had a little shower and then I remembered I was in Manchester.” What the hell does that mean? Was it supposed to be a joke, or was it just a general comment? Neither would have been worth the effort.

It wouldn’t have been a problem,  of course, if it didn’t totally ruin the flow of their set, which was otherwise very good, save for their version of Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane.

The Tubes fared much better, and a more appropriate fit for an Alice Cooper show. The cult protopunk legends may not be as outrageous as they once were, but frontman Fee Waybill morphs between numerous characters, which in itself creates a different dynamic for each track.

In the intro to Prime Time, he portrays a wannabe gameshow host, and the whole thing culminates in the appearance of his drag persona Quay Lewd for their biggest hit White Punks on Dope, and shoes so high that he had serious trouble walking. It was ridiculous on every single level, and we loved every minute of it.

Pictures courtesy of Sakura