Alice Cooper + The Mission @ Arena Birmingham, 14th November, 2017

Despite his age, Alice Cooper still tours regularly with his traditional shock rock show and tonight he has the support of 80s goth darlings, The Mission. A sampled drumbeat penetrates through the venue with additional guitar sounds heralding the entrance of Wayne Hussey to perform one of The Mission’s most successful tracks, Tower Of Strength. Evidently, Hussey’s vocals are as haunting as ever and, as the band take to the stage for the second verse, they continue to grow in volume with his ability to sustain specific words creating an ethereal quality. It takes a couple of songs for the guitar levels to settle down as Hussey’s guitar sound is overwhelmingly tinny and the bass is initially lost in the mix. However, by the time they perform a cover of Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane these glitches have been resolved and the set of their greatest hits flows without a hitch, drawing more of the audience’s attention and making them a decent choice for a support act.

The Mission’s more well-known tracks such as Butterfly On A Wheel, Like A Child Again and Deliverance deservedly receive a warm response as the delivery is everything you would expect from a band that have been playing music for the past thirty years in various guises. Hussey engages with the audience at times, commenting on custard being invented in Birmingham and the success, or lack of, by the city’s football teams, but he stills has an arrogance that means you either love him or are irritated by him, but with the final song being Wasteland, surely most of the irritation would have faded.

A sinister announcement regarding broken toys and Cooper’s ability to haunt you indicates what is to follow, however, if you buy a ticket for Alice Cooper you surely know what you are letting yourself in for; and true to form he delivers in abundance.

Appearing on stage in his custom make up, leather trousers, array of hats and jackets, wielding a cane, Alice Cooper belts out Brutal Planet whilst pyrotechnics shower the stage and his five piece band produce a rich sound worthy of this living legend of rock.

Throughout the set, the back drop changes, displaying an array of distressed artwork and on stage is an oversized toy box that allows Cooper speedy jacket and hat changes. The one flaw of the show is the lack of screens so if you are on the ground floor, more than a quarter of the way back, it is difficult to see what is happening on stage and as it is performance driven you could feel slightly cheated.

There is no subtlety or cryptic qualities to Alice Cooper’s lyrics, for example tracks called The World Needs Guts and Department Of Youth are rousing anthems that are presented with the passion and vigour one would expect from a singer less than half Alice’s age. Towards the middle of the main set and after a traditional metal guitar solo from Nina Strauss, that allows Cooper time off stage, he launches into the 80s classic Poison that invigorates the audience as everyone knows all the words and are thoroughly enjoying singing along. This is followed by Halo Of Flies which sees Alice Cooper assume the role of a disquieting maestro, using his baton to conduct the musicians surrounding him before the major theatrics begin.

Feed My Frankenstein has Cooper, adorned in a blood stained lab coat, enter into a machine that blasts him with electricity and turns him into a 12 foot monster with a papier-mâché head that lurches around the stage mouthing the words to the song. Whereas Cold Ethyl has Alice dancing and spanking a life size debased ragdoll and then the piece de resistance where Cooper attempts to kill the miscreant nurse Sheryl resulting in a trip to the guillotine.

The beauty of this tour is that it isn’t only Alice that returns from the dead but the original line-up of the band Alice Cooper, and it is this collective, which includes Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce and Neal Smith, that take the concert to another level. The classic hits such as I’m Eighteen and No More Mr Nice Guy reverberate around the arena enhanced by the fervour of the audience and a rejuvenated Alice who seems to have an uplifted spring in his step as he prowls the width of the stage.  

The finale, as always, is every teacher’s paean School’s Out and the venue erupts with that familiar riff. Cooper’s current band join the originals and oversized balloons, ticker tape and streamers fly around the arena as Alice, all dressed in white, produces the final knock out blow of the evening.

There is a reason that Alice Cooper is a deemed a legend; he knows what the audience wants to experience and he unequivocally gives it to them and tonight was no different. I have yet to see Cooper fail to entertain an audience to its fullest so do yourself a favour and grab the opportunity to see the original shock rocker before he hangs up his cane and wipes away the eyeliner for the last time.

Reviewer: Toni Woodward

Photographer: Andy Watson

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