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The Seventies were an interesting time for rock n' roll. By then, the music was already old enough to vote but rock n' roll had become increasingly about the show and the showmanship which went along with the music. By 1975, David Bowie was doing shows so big they famously used a cherry-picker arm and featured the services of entire theatrical teams to block a concert and let him sit suspended over the first few rows of his audience. Elton John and The Who presented lengthy and dramatic albums to adoring fans in stadiums which could barely contain their presence. KISS had already shown up dressed to kill and rock and rolled all night and partied every day with the biggest, hottest show in the world. All of that pageantry was awesome; it was everything rock n' roll had been played up to be by writers like Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe in the pages of Creem and Rolling Stone for a decade. It was played up as lawless, crazy, exciting, otherworldly and outside of society because “the man” just couldn't snuff out, stifle or contain the energy of youth.
Rock had become all those things, but Alice Cooper was still in a league all unto himself.
By the late Seventies, Alice Cooper had reached a pinnacle of achievement in rock presentation; they had the songs and they had the show and it was being revered – that is what The Strange Case... captures. Here, it's better than the circus; come one, come all, it's the greatest show on Earth!
Filmed (in San Diego, CA) on the tour supporting Alice Cooper's eleventh studio album, From The Inside, The Strange Case... shows a great and truly essential moment in the Cooper chronology, being candid (in his own way) about the time he spent drying out from alcoholism at a New York sanitarium. Bottles dance (literally) around the singer in a surrealist, nightmarish procession as his band (the line-up on this tour being Davey Johnstone and Steve Hunter on guitar, Fred Mandel on keyboards, Whitey Glan on drums and Prakash "Johnny Stiletto" John on bass stacks perfectly against those visuals to create a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical rock n' roll experience. Even so though, the band and stage only provide the platform and soundtrack to the spectacle of Alice Cooper. Here, Alice appears as an angry but fantastically animated wraith at stage center, waif thin (perhaps as a result of his time spent in that sanitarium), gaunt and angular, but still an imposing presence. On that stage, everything which happens is for the show (though I'd love to know if the singer's ear was actually bleeding) and the images and poses that the singer strikes only help to further the hellacious spectacles; even as the set and storyline begin to get a little muddled by the big hit songs like “Welcome To My Nightmare,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” :No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “I'm Eighteen,” Cooper cuts an image which never lets the audience's attention wander too far from him; his command in that regard is unmatched by anyone, ever.
After the hits (who would have thought that the hits would be the greatest lull in the show?), the storyline picks back up and sees Alice eventually released from captivity (“Inmates”) and sent back out into the world with a fresh shirt on and a suitcase in hand. Were this concert a movie, the credits would begin to roll – but instead the band breaks into one of the longer versions of “School's Out” ever committed to celluloid. All of the band members get their introductions to the crowd by Alice, but the energy level manages to stay up through it all right up until the whole show just comes crashing to a close.
When the ride does come careening to a stop, those who just bore witness to this film have to figure out what they just saw. That's when they'll realize that, while the spectacle may be over, the images endure; this DVD is great because it really does faithfully show how high the quality of a rock show could be and how far from that shows are now. Those who see The Strange Case... will realize what a stitch in time it was and recognize that shows like this simply do not exist anymore, regrettably, so it's nice to see that it hasn't been lost in the vaults.
The Strange Case of Alice Cooper – Live 1979, The Madhouse Rock Tour will be released by Shout Factory on May 22, 2012. Pre-order it here on Amazon .