Alice Cooper at the Whisky a Go Go: Concert Review

Alice Cooper - Whiskey A Go-Go - P 2011
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Alice Cooper - Whiskey A Go-Go - P 2011

An intimate, stripped-down show for the venerable shock rocker; more a chance to let off some steam than promote his new album.

“We’re a bar band,” Alice Cooper announced near the start of his show Thursday night. “A Sunset Strip bar band.” What exactly differenciates a Sunset Strip bar band from a band playing at, say, a bar on Sunset and Fairfax was never explained. But on the basis of their performance at the Whisky a Go Go, it means one that can mix a fair number of their own hits along with the covers and the ability to attract a couple of well-known guest stars.

And it’s rare that your typical bar band, Sunset Strip or not, gets the kind of buildup Alice Cooper received. There was a DJ from KLOS-FM (which was broadcasting the show) introducing Jim Ladd, who introduced an exec from Universal Music, who introduced a couple of prize winners, then introduced Rob Zombie, who -- finally! -- introduced the band, who clambered onstage and launched into “Train Kept a-Rollin’ ” (a choice, one imagines influenced by Cooper’s last performance at the Whisky in 1968, where he opened for some new British band called Led Zeppelin).

It was followed by a mix of Cooper’s own hits -- "No More Mr. Nice Guy," “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels," “School’s Out” (with special guest Ke$ha) -- and classic rock covers. Robbie Krieger sat in for a couple of Doors hits (“Break on Through,” “Back Door Man”) and to tell a couple of stories about Cooper’s encounters with Jim Morrison, as well as demonstrating the headliner's stylistic debt to the late singer. Other covers also were connected to Cooper’s early days in Hollywood, including “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” because Cooper saw the Animals at the Whisky in 1968. The “we don’t need no education” chant from “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” shoehorned into “School’s Out.”

They were played with professionalism, if not a great deal of inspiration, by Cooper’s touring band (or, to put it another way, a bar band of a very high order). Drummer Glen Sobel was the obvious standout; crisp and precise, musical but stopping just this side of overly busy. Steve Hunter, who played on the original “Welcome to My Nightmare,” seemed more like window dressing than a part of the band; though he could easily outplay the two other guitarists, he was called on for only a few short solos.

What pulled the night out of the ordinary was Cooper, who remains a most personable classic rocker. Hale and looking good for 63, he joked that pretty soon, he’ll have to start singing “I’m 80," adding that producer Bob Ezrin kept insisting that the band “dumb down” their songs and even proclaimed that Alice Cooper “is my favorite rock star.”

It’s nice to see a musician, especially one in his 60s, joke about age; it's very much in keeping with Cooper’s character. Even at his most controversial, he always brought wit and sly distance to his stage persona. While “Eighteen” and “Is It My Body" nailed adolescent frustrations, “Nice Guy,” and the admission in “School’s Out” that “we can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” were sly, winking acknowledgement that he was in on the joke. And the songs -- with their touches of Broadway, vaudeville and pop -- were far more sophisticated than other contemporary hard rock and metal bands.

But as much fun as the show could be, for an evening “celebrating" the release of his new album, “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” (Universal Music), only one song, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off,” made it into the 75-minute show.

But the audience didn’t seem to mind. They were happy to see Cooper in an intimate, stripped-down setting. If you’re going to see a bar band on the Sunset Strip, these guys weren't bad at all. 

Set List:

Train Kept a-Rollin'
Under My Wheels
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Is It My Body
Brown Sugar
I'll Bite Your Face Off
Muscle of Love
Cold Ethyl
Billion Dollar Babies
Break on Through (with Robbie Krieger)
Back Door Man (with Robbie Krieger)
I'm Eighteen
School's Out/Another Brick in the Wall, Part II (with Ke$ha)