On the one hand, it seems odd to imagine the Grand Guignol hard rock of Alice Cooper in a stately venue like the Boch Center Wang Theatre, with its ornate, gilded molding, staid statuary, sumptuous curtains, and elaborately painted ceiling. On the other hand, the Wang Theatre is just that — a theater — and there are few performers in music history as purely theatrical as Cooper. Tuesday, framed by elaborate artifice (rather than the blank canvas offered by arenas and amphitheaters), the newly minted septuagenarian’s performance seemed all the more an act and suffered not a bit for it.
He came equipped with the standard trappings of a Cooper concert, of course: guillotine, 9-foot-tall Frankenstein’s monster costume, straitjacket, disembodied evil-clown heads, and so on. But the singer was himself a walking stage effect, and not just because of his shock makeup and often-bloody outfits. There were times when it seemed that there was no such thing as an unconsidered movement in his presentation; even seemingly offhand gestures like the turn of a hand appeared as if they were being made for one effect or another.
The surface result was a horror show, but Cooper’s not-so-secret weapon — and what distinguishes him from big-spectacle peers like Kiss — was the humor rippling throughout. It’s what let him to perform a jaunty, rocking song about loving a corpse (“Cold Ethyl”) without seeming simply exploitative, and what kept “Lost In America” on the right side of the line between delightfully stupid and just plain dumb. And it was a kick to see the giant monster who’d lurched and bellowed through “Feed My Frankenstein” high-five the guitarist as he exited.
But while “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was funny because it was funny (and also because Alice Cooper is Alice Cooper) (and also because Alice Cooper isn’t actually Alice Cooper), it worked as music because it was tough and tuneful. The band brought a hefty crunch that could be metallic (the race-car momentum of “Serious,” the galloping charge of “Halo Of Flies “) or subtle (the quavery “Ballad Of Dwight Fry,” the dismissiveness of “Only Women Bleed”).
Cooper gave such sparse focus to his solid 2017 album “Paranormal” — just two songs — that the audience heard more of it playing over the house speakers as they were taking their seats than they did from the stage. That doesn’t speak especially well to the prospect of injecting new ideas into the well-oiled machine of Cooper’s stage show. But after introducing his band during the closing “School’s Out,” he announced, “And playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight . . . me!” As if it could have been anyone else.
At Boch Center Wang Theatre, March 6Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.