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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Alice Cooper: The Alice Cooper Show


1) Under My Wheels; 2) I'm Eighteen; 3) Only Women Bleed; 4) Sick Things; 5) Is It My Body; 6) I Never Cry; 7) Billion Dollar Babies; 8) Devil's Food/The Black Widow; 9) You And Me; 10) I Love The Dead/Go To Hell/Wish You Were Here; 11) School's Out.

A live album from Alice Cooper makes about as much sense as you guess it makes: without the accompanying «events», the music is still worthwhile — and it must be stated that, no matter how flashy the visual entertainment, Alice always cared highly about the musical component of the show — but what exactly can it add to the studio experience? Very little.

This does not mean that all the performed numbers were uniformly inferior quality carbon copies of the studio recordings. The original Alice Cooper band could extend some of them into gritty improvised jams, true to the requirements of the epoch, and so did Furnier's new band, dominated by the Wagner/Hunter duo. For instance, history has preserved for us a gorgeous moment of mu­si­cal masturbation in the guise of a lengthy, spirited «guitar battle» between Wagner and Hunter, as they attack each other — first, figuratively and then, literally! — before eventually launching into 'Black Widow' (this can be seen on the video of the Welcome To My Nightmare tour): Seven­ties' glammy excess at its most guilty-pleasuring.

Unfortunately, no such flourishes have been successfully stored on The Alice Cooper Show, a live album released without Alice's consent or knowledge, at a time when his personal and criti­cal problems were heavily multiplying, and overseen by a bunch of people who, apparently, were on­ly capable of appreciating the man from the Cashcow side.

Certainly the Lace And Whiskey tour show must have been more coherent than this unruly mess, which starts off as your homebrewn version of Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits Live and then crams «lesser» numbers into heavily edited medleys. Apart from 'No More Nice Guy' (which was probably not performed at all in 1977), all the hit singles are here — including all three ballads, which you encounter when you least expect them (I am particularly knocked out by the idea of hearing the Sinatra-esque sentimentalism of 'You And Me' in between 'The Black Widow' and 'I Love The Dead' — what a creative find!). Little portions of non-hit material are unwillingly al­lowed to seep through every now and then, but you do not get neither the meat of the Lace And Whiskey component of the show, nor the important «Steven»-related segments. What for? The respectable American citizen only wants to hear 'School's Out'. Making matters worse, everything is run through very quickly (limited budget, double LPs not allowed) — and then there is the utterly ridiculous medley that does not have 'Wish You Were Here', as promised (only a short instrumental coda) and abbreviates 'Go To Hell' to the point of non-existence.

Ultimately, what saves the album from deserved oblivion is the surprisingly high level of perfor­mance. For one thing, problems or no problems, Alice is in great vocal shape: he sings up a storm on the hard-rocking numbers and displays plenty of theatrical brilliance on the showier tunes; his performance on 'I Love The Dead', for instance, is sharper and creepier than on the live version from the 1973 tour (as heard on the bonus disc for Billion Dollar Babies). And as for the backing band — Wagner and Hunter are the kind of seasoned pros who will stupefy audiences from their wheelchairs, let alone mishandled live albums. Even here, they get their own moment of personal glory during the solo parts on 'I'm Eighteen'.

Alice himself has always hated this album, eventually squeezing it out of the public conscience by releasing a personally approved live recording twenty years later; for a long time, it has been out of print and has few chances of making it back there — especially now that we have official access to live stuff from 1973. Still, its reputation of representing Alice at his worst is just as ex­aggerated as the negative feelings for Lace And Whiskey itself. It just wasn't a good year for the man, but he could still put up a mean show. For all of its indirect flaws — lack of authorization, commercialism at the wheel, awful construction, hideous flow — I am tempted, brain-wise, to issue it a thumbs down, but every time I listen to it, I still dig every second of it, and, since the heart takes precedence, it is still a thumbs up. And a hint to those few good, thinking people that may someday own the rights to the Cooper catalog —remastering, restructuring, and expanding the record would only honor the man's legacy.

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