LIVE: Alice Cooper / The Stranglers @ First Direct Arena, Leeds

By Tom Walsh

“I put on my Facebook this morning, ‘I’ve got tickets to Alice fucking Cooper’, hell yeah”, I overhear an excited gentlemen mention to his friend moments before the curtain raises. There’s a fevered anticipation building in Leeds’ LED-light clad First Direct Arena, usually reserved for the latest chart topping act.

However, many in attendance have been to this rodeo before. They adorn t-shirts bearing tour dates from the late-1980s and giddily tell their sons and daughters in attendance how they saw “the king of shock rock” at the peak of his powers. Alice Cooper is in town and he’s brought his Nightmare Castle to terrify us once again.

Before delving into the horror and pantomime of Cooper’s live show, you need something to whet the appetite and as support acts go, you won’t find many more prestigious than The Stranglers. A band that are constantly defying the test of time, spanning over 40 years, they have seen it all and done it all. During an unexpected moment of technical difficulties, guitarist Baz Warne squints out from the stage, “I see a lot of grey hair and a lot of bald heads,” he jokes in his baritone Sunderland accent. It is a tour de force of a set, rattling through their immensely eclectic back catalogue from the ska-infused ‘Peaches’ and punk fundamentals of ‘No More Heroes’ to a cover of Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’ to the unmistakable ‘Golden Brown’.

Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle is akin to going to the world’s most twisted pantomime with the world’s most hard rocking soundtrack. Our hero emerges dressed as a medieval count and rolls back the years to deliver a huge rendition of ‘Feed My Frankenstein’, twirling a cane before being pursued by an enormous marauding creature escaped from the laboratory. 

Every single utterance from the godfather of rock and roll is lapped up by this besotted audience. Every classic is here, from ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ to ‘He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)’, during which two young girls are chased across the stage by a machete-wielding murderer in a hockey mask.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as Cooper is later guillotined by a white witch – played by Cooper’s own daughter – and then his severed head is cavorted around the stage by a giant deformed baby. You know, just a casual Monday evening. And when this is not going on, we’re treated to shredding guitar solos from axewoman Nita Strauss.

Naturally, all the hits still strike a chord as loudly as they ever did with the unmistakable riff and rasping lyrics of ‘Poison’, which sit neatly alongside ‘Teenage Frankenstein’ and, of course, a huge final rendition of ‘School’s Out’. The curtain falls in an explosion of confetti and the strains of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ ringing in the ears, as Cooper exclaims “school’s out, Leeds!”.

After 50 years in the business, only “Alice fucking Cooper” could still be ripping out shows of rampaging Frankensteins, endless guitar solos and faux beheadings. As the esteemed gig-goer beside me quipped – “hell yeah!”.