We’re pretty sure what we’re seeing isn’t the Olympia Theatre’s usual curtain. The top half of Alice Cooper’s face fills the space, spider pupils sit on webbed sclera. Even his eyebrows have a hint of hirsute arachnid about them. Lit from behind in white, his twin orbs suddenly glow and we are invited, welcomed and threatened, informed that we will walk the line between guests and victims. The curtain is torn away by gasmasked individuals and in a shower of green sparks, our first glimpse of Cooper is every Hammer horror vampire ever, standing upright, moving slowly, a cloak wrapped tight around him like a bat’s wings at rest. He springs to life, grabs a cane and we begin.
That cane doesn’t last long, however. The length of one song and it gets discarded; a gift for the audience. Then the next cane meets the same fate. Much of this night is Cooper wielding a prop. After all, in a career spanning five decades you’re bound to get things down to a fine art. During the night he wields in turn canes, a whip, a conductor’s baton, a mannequin, and his own head post-faux-decapitation. A band member gives it a kick as it rolls past, discarded. “Billion Dollar Babies” brings with it an épée, notes from the Bank Of Cooper skewered along its length and distributed throughout the audience which leaves Cooper free to display a few fencing moves. Of course, with prop changes come outfit changes counting roughly three tail coats, a bloody Doctor’s coat, two top hats, three sleeveless leather jackets, two with studs and one decorated with knives, one of which seems real enough when he spears the stage with it and it stays upright.
Guitarist Nita Strauss is the gymnast of the night, seemingly everywhere at once from monitor to atop speaker stacks to mic and then obscured between smoke jets coloured orange to look like flame, very convincingly to the casual eye. Recently ranked #1 in Guitar World Magazine’s ’10 Female Guitar Players You Should Know’ at just thirty, it’s pretty much the top rank in the world, although disappointing we’re still gendering musicianship in this way. Influenced by seeing Steve Vai as a child, she prowls around the stage eliciting screams from her cool grey Ibanez, her main moment beginning in darkness as she climbs aboard the aforementioned speaker stacks and shreds the audience’s tiny minds away. It’s a solo that goes on and on, ending with her bathed in a spotlight centre stage bringing a strange beauty and originality to the familiar intro to “Poison”.
And every band member gets their time in the spotlight, “Halo Of Flies” brings Glen Sobel lit red relentlessly punishing the drums [and that classic rock staple: the cowbell] in an awe-inspiring display of almost robotic timing… While juggling his drumsticks. Despite this solo time though, don’t assume this band aren’t a well-oiled combination. They weave around each other as if they’ve walked these paths many times before and when standing as a unit [when Cooper dons a top hat and conducts them like an orchestra, for example] their poses are not uniform but complementary. Bassist Chuck Garric arches while his stage left buddy lead guitarist Ryan Roxie [who, during “Only Women Bleed” plays a twelve string and six string double neck guitar] crouches, their poses en masse like a leather clad Mighty Morphin Power Rangers photoshoot.
If you thought throwing one knife to the ground was the height of the theatricality though, you’re thinking of the wrong act. With “Feed My Frankenstein”, skeletal minions carry on a smoking, upright table to which Alice is willingly strapped and, clouded in the smoke, reappears as a bald-headed, bolt-headed giant, running around the stage. “The Ballad Of Dwight Fry” with its horribly convincing raspy screams of “I’ve gotta get out of here!” – Cooper’s strongest vocal of the night – brings a straitjacketed [but still holding a microphone] Cooper to battle with a high-kicking, floor-rolling, knife-wielding nurse who leads him eventually to the guillotine to a military march. The audience don’t get involved as much as expected, preferring to get that classic Alice Cooper beheading moment on camera. Later, the same nurse is outroduced as Sheryl and it’s hard to tell beneath the white face paint and grimaces, but we’re pretty sure we’ve been visited by Cooper’s wife.
There’s never any doubt of an encore as after the ‘last song’ we are plunged into blackness. The evening ends much as it started, with pyrotechnics but a few extras, like giant balloons filled with confetti and more of those Cooper bank notes and… a bubble machine? Any earlier audience nonchalance is overcome and everyone is united under “School’s Out” with smatterings of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2”. The band are introduced, a nod to this evening when Cooper jokingly states lead and rhythm guitarist Tommy Henriksen is from Dublin and the crowd love this obvious lie. And then it’s over. Guillotine gone, no more blood-stained clothing and we try to do as we have been instructed: “Have sick, twisted nightmares. Goodnight!”