Alice Cooper / Cheap Trick / Atlanta, GA / 08-26-2005

On a mild summer’s night, among the picnic baskets and bottles of wine, Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheatre hosted one of the most anticipated tours of the year; Cheap Trick and Alice Cooper.  Despite the strict decibel levels of the venue and a less than enthusiastic crowd, both bands proved that they can still rock with the best of them.

Kicking off their set with the now mandatory opening number “Hello There,” Cheap Trick seemed flat and uninspired.  This is a band that thrives on audience reaction and besides the obvious hits, the crowd just didn’t seem all that interested.  There were missed notes and flubbed drum fills throughout the first half of the set.  The crowd seemed to grow impatient during guitarist Rick Nielsen’s speeches between songs.  Normally, his between song antics are highlights of the night, but here it just seemed like filler.  Luckily by the time “Voices” came around midway through the set, the band had hit their stride and played like they’re capable of.  By the ending trilogy of hits “The Flame,” “That 70’s Song” and “Surrender,” the crowd was into it and dancing in the aisles.  While they got a better response than most opening bands do, it still wasn’t up to the Cheap Trick standards.  The last 4 times around have been amazing so I guess they were due an average show.

Alice Cooper on the other hand was every bit as good as he’s ever been.  It’s clear the crowd was there for him.  Opening with “Department of Youth,” Cooper and his band of ringers, including Eric Singer on drums, rocked through a pretty straightforward first half with minimal theatrics.  Aside from the random sword, crutch or diamond necklace, the theatrics weren’t needed when the songs are as strong as “I’m 18.”  The crowd sang along to “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Billion Dollar Babies” and a beautifully done unplugged version of “I Never Cry.”

Of course when you go see Alice Cooper, you expect a certain amount of the theatrics.  He didn’t disappoint.  “Go to Hell” ushered in the “story time” part of the show, with Cooper’s daughter Calico dressed like an S & M vampire.  Cooper literally disappeared so the band could rock through the instrumental “Black Widow” before returning as the Showman to deliver the gluttonous “Gimmie,” and assemble pieces of his own body in the upright coffin.

Shortly after, the lights blacked out and Vincent Prices’ voice could be heard blaring over the PA.  Cooper appeared on stage complete with a huge yellow snake draped around his neck to deliver “Welcome to My Nightmare.”  This is where the morality play kicked in.  Schizophrenic Steven kills his wife during “the Awakening” and reflects on it during “Only Women Bleed” before being locked in a straight jacket for “Ballad of Dwight Frye” and finally being beheaded during “Killer.”  As the band pounded an instrumental version of “I Love the Dead,” the executioner paraded around the stage with the severed head and spit blood on the first few rows before placing the head into the upright coffin to complete the hybrid Frankenstein.  An interesting note for the hardcore fans: during Calico’s little dance celebrating the beheading of her dad, she did a quick version of the “Some Folks” dance from the “Welcome to My Nightmare” tour.

Since a guy like Alice can’t stay dead long, he emerged from the coffin to do a stellar version of the anthem “School’s Out” that signaled the end of the show.

The encore provided the best moment of the show for the hardcores.  After a routine delivery of “Poison,” Alice pulled out one of the rare songs that he’s fond of performing.  This time it was From the Inside’s “I Wish I Was Born in Beverly Hills.”  Once again, Calico appeared on stage.  This time she portrayed Paris Hilton with her Chihuahua and a throng of paparazzi following her.  While fighting off the photographers, her little dog went for the jugular and attacked her.  The final encore was “Under My Wheels.”

It’s really a shame that Alice Cooper never gets the credit he deserves as being the originator of theatricality in rock.  No one took it to the level that he did, and it’s great to see him out there still doing it.  He’s no longer evil or shocking, but he doesn’t need to be.  Alice is an entertainer that knows his audience and delivers the goods night after night.  That’s all he needs to do.