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Alice Cooper, Ace Frehley @ Nokia Theater 10/28/09

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Forty horrifying years into his career, Alice Cooper is still sacrificing himself to audiences on a nightly basis. Not content to give his life for show business just once, in his current Theater Of Death tour, which stopped at the Nokia Theater, he endures a beheading, a hanging, and a blood-spewing run-through with a dozen swords. If it gets a raised fist and a “woo!”, he will spare himself from nothing.

That kind of old-fashioned determination has earned him a place in the hearts of many Americans as a personal bogeyman, an envoy into the realm of dark fantasy. Even though he was no more violent or antisocial than a good monster movie, kids internalize music in a way that doesn’t often happen with films. (The same could be said for NWA, many years later.) But all the ooga-booga posturing would be meaningless if he didn’t have tunes. The music on the Alice Cooper albums made from 1971-74 predict heavy metal as it would appear ten years in the future - heavy guitars, crunchy, memorable hooks and big choruses that give the finger to authority. To a kid growing up on comics, junk food and rock and roll during the seventies, there was nothing cooler.

Today, most of these gags are played for comedy rather than horror. But the songs retain their dark magic in the hands of a very capable young band, and if the setlist is a bit predictable, the performances are strong all around. Comparing the show at the Nokia to some footage from the Lace And Whiskey tour in 1978, he actually looks healthier and stronger now than he did then (decades of clean living can do that for you, I guess.) If he’s lost the power to surprise us much in these times, he’s instead become a model of reliable quality and consummate professionalism.