Alice Cooper, the devilish rock star who has mesmerized teens and petrified their parents since the 1970s with his elaborate —and bloody— stage show and song titles such as “Dead Babies,” wants to talk football.
Specifically, the football allegiances of fans in Wilkes-Barre.
“Oh, I know Wilkes-Barre very well, but I never could understand, who is your football team? Is it the Steelers? Philadelphia?” he asks. “You’re pretty much between four or five teams. You can even be a Buffalo fan.”
It’s all decidedly normal patter for a man who regularly decapitates himself with a guillotine on stage and will do so again on Friday when he brings his “Raise the Dead Tour” to the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre. (For the record, Cooper, who was reared in Michigan and now calls Arizona home, is a Detroit Lions fan.)
Split into three segments, Cooper’s latest tour honors the different phases of the fiendish character’s life. It’s all a way of keeping the concert fresh for fans and for himself, Cooper says.
“How do I make it into a show that this audience hasn’t seen? Because a lot of people have seen me 30 times,” he says. “So I divided it into three parts: The beginning is Glam Alice, a very showy, slick, rock-‘n’-roll show. Then it goes to Nightmare Alice, which is probably what Alice is most known for, with “Welcome to My Nightmare” and those songs and the guillotine. Then it’s the ‘Raise the Dead’ part, where Alice, after having his head cut off, comes out on a gurney and he’s in a graveyard.”
But it’s not just any graveyard, he stresses. This one is the final resting place of the infamous Hollywood Vampires, the group of rock stars with whom Cooper, a former alcoholic, used to get frequently sloshed: The Who’s Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. Cooper and his band, which includes female guitar virtuoso Orianthi, perform a set of the ghostly crew’s hits, including The Beatles’ “Revolution” and Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”
“They were all my dead drunk friends. And the audience loves that because they realize that every single one of those guys was a drinking buddy of mine. It has authenticity,” says Cooper, who is readying a covers album of classic rock songs.
But with such a theatrical performance — Cooper is widely regarded as the progenitor of “shock rock,” inspiring the likes of Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie — there are bound to be some mishaps. Cooper calls such snafus “Spinal Tap moments,” after the 1984 faux-documentary about an accident-prone metal band. Yet, even when something does go wrong on stage, Cooper says, there are no mistakes.
“There are times where I tell the band, ‘If you were backing up and fell over your guitars, make sure you get up, and then five songs later, do it again,’ ” he explains. “The audience doesn’t know what a mistake is and what a mistake isn’t in this show. But there have been times when (a prop didn’t work) and you can’t play it dramatic. You have to be Clouseau at this point. You have to make it slapstick.”
Cooper’s concerts include a healthy dose of the tongue-in-cheek, but it wasn’t always that way. When the star was still establishing his outrageous personality, he reveled in the audience and conservative critics taking him at face value.
“When the audience was taking me seriously and the parents were terrified, and they really didn’t know what was going on, and they thought that Alice lived in a big castle somewhere … yeah, it was fun to ride that wave,” Cooper admits. “’Who is this guy? Where does he come from? I don’t want to be within 10 feet of him.’ That was fun. But when they started getting the humor in the lyrics and in the stage show was when it bloomed. Because then we had not just a small little outcast audience, we had a bigger one that went, ‘I get it. How hip is this?’ ”
Along with the Hollywood Vampires tribute, fans attending the Raise the Dead Tour can expect all of Cooper’s requisite hits faithfully re-created, including “I’m Eighteen,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “Poison” and the rebellious 1972 anthem “School’s Out.”
“When I go see the Stones, I want to hear ‘Brown Sugar’ sound like ‘Brown Sugar.’ I don’t want to hear the reggae version, I don’t want to hear the jazz version,” quips Cooper, who at 65 has a realistic view of how today’s youths see him and his groundbreaking contemporaries.
“When you talk about your Iggy Pops and Ozzy Osbournes and Alice Coopers, I think most kids who are 16, 17, 18 are going, ‘These are mythical creatures. I’ve heard about these people all my life,’ ” he says.
“But people come to see us and they go, ‘Wow!’ We’re still rockers, and we go up there to do a great show. My whole thing is be healthy and just rock this place.”