POP: live review: Alice Cooper Astoria, London

Alice Cooper's songs only appeal to minority groups. For example, "School's Out" will have no meaning for people who've never attended an educational institution. In the same way, "Only Women Bleed" merely addresses the problems of half the earth's population. Despite these limitations, all his early compositions seem to have survived very well since 1972, when Alice Cooper's name first began to appear scrawled on classroom desks. In that historic year the British school-leaving age was raised from 15 to 16. Such are the ramifications of pop music. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, President Richard Nixon was beginning to become seriously unstuck, thus providing Cooper with material for his second hit "Elected". All that may seem a long time ago now, but in the intervening decades Alice Cooper has become a national treasure, even though he's American.

The crowd at the Astoria loved him to bits, especially when he threatened to beat them mercilessly with his riding crop. From time to time he also held in his gloved right hand a duelling sword, a crutch and a ringmaster's cane. Anything to make him look a little meaner. His haggard features appear to require less make-up these days than in the past, his hair remains as lank as ever, and he looked truly startling as he came to the edge of the stage during "Poison" and declared, "You're weird: I'm not!" Only Alice Cooper could make such an outrageous claim.

The master of irony continued the performance with "Lost in America", a song about one of the greatest drawbacks of life in the States. "I ain't got a girl 'cos I ain't got a car," he complained. "I ain't got a car 'cos I ain't got a job. I ain't got a job 'cos I ain't got a car." And so it went on. As frightening as Marlowe's ghost, he floated in dry ice and ordered "Feed my Frankenstein!". Single-handedly, he fought off a stage-invasion by an LA street gang. Held down by white-smocked men, he was forced into a strait-jacket, from which he soon escaped. Meanwhile, all around him, guys in tight trousers fought the kind of heavy-metal guitar battles long forgotten on these shores. Alice Cooper even allowed a genuine Seventies-style drum solo halfway through the show, providing time for a costume change from motorcycle jacket to Victorian frock coat. This was soon to be cast off again. After all, Alice Cooper was going to hell, and he had to be dressed right. OK, so it's only an act, but there's no sign at all that the mask is slipping.

Magnus Mills

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