He's known as the King of "shock rock," but Alice Cooper -- the name of a band at the beginning, but generally accepted for the past several decades as the guy who fronted that band, one Vincent Furnier -- is really a product of the sort of urban proto-punk that spat out groups like the MC5 and the Stooges. Granted, Cooper -- as we'll refer to the man from here forward, since the original Alice Cooper band is but a gleam in the eye of obsessive vinyl collectors at this point -- took it all way deep into the mainstream, married that violent punk to a grandiose theatrical conception, and became a frequent guest on "The Hollywood Squares."
But that original aesthetic, which wedded a macabre theatrical aspect to a proto-punk-metal-glam aesthetic, remains. It was in full evidence on Friday, as Cooper brought his theater of the absurdly gross and abundantly awesome to a packed Central Wharf crowd. As Cooper prepares to release a sequel to his most commercially successful effort, "Welcome To My Nightmare" -- "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" is due on Sept. 13th -- he's on the road giving the people what they want, which essentially means an overview of his rather impressive career.
This music is often referred to as heavy metal, and it does certainly trade in the bombastic and the grand gesture. However, as the band and the man took the stage following a pre-recorded Vincent Price intro and dug straight into "The Black Widow," it was immediately clear that this sound is associated with metal only in the way that a band like Queen is -- tangentially. It's really just rock 'n' roll with a theatrical bent.
The "hits" came quickly, with the perennial anthem "I'm Eighteen" occupying the third slot in the set, and the deeper -- and frankly, more incisive -- cuts "Under My Wheels" and "Billion Dollar Babies" following in rapid succession. These songs offered the blend of strong melody, brilliant guitar riffs and snarky attitude that marks the finest Alice Cooper output. By the time he'd arrived at this point in the set, the man himself seemed to be warming to the rabid reception granted him by the exuberant crowd.
So "No Mr. Nice Guy" and "Is It My Body" came across as nasty slabs of gritty rock 'n' roll, and made up for the only weak moments in the set -- the '80s-era slips known as "Hey Stoopid" and "Poison," both of which are only slightly north of Def Leppard on the taste-o-meter.
Whatever, because "Muscle Of Love," the new "I'll Bite Your Face Off," and an irony-free "Only Women Bleed" more than made up for the period-specific slips. This was, on balance, another fantastic show at the harbor -- one of many that took place this summer. The "School's Out" that interpolated Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In the Wall" was just icing on the cake. The encore of "Elected" was the food fight after the serving of cake. Too short, by 30 minutes, maybe, but excellent, nonetheless.
Opener Anvil capitalized on the success of its indie film runaway hit "The Story of Anvil."
Led by guitarist and singer Lips, the group tore through a set that commenced with "March of the Crabs" and concluded with the band's closest thing to a hit, the dirge-like "Metal On Metal."
The band was actually fairly amazing, within its era-specific genre of early '90s metal -- which means the riffs were loud and dumb and indelible, the drumming was over the top, and the lyrics were essentially comprised of mildly clever sexual double entendres.
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Part of Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor. Friday evening in the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf.