The memories are fuzzy, but I saw my first Alice Cooper show in 1986 (Cleveland Public Hall, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion opened). It was one of the first concerts I ever went to, I wasn’t even old enough to drive, my mom played taxi that evening. This was way before Al Gore invented the internet so I was not prepared for all the theatrics Cooper included in his set.

Thirty years later, many of those same theatrics (Cooper in a straight jacket, Cooper getting his head chopped off in a guillotine, Cooper wearing a boa constrictor around his neck) – as well as many of the same songs – were included in Cooper’s nearly sold-out show at Express Live (outdoors) last Friday night.

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Alice Cooper’s been a road dog since emerging in the late ’60s (check out this amazing footage from 1971) and has been no stranger to Columbus though every time he’s rolled through, I’ve taken it for granted and have said, “He’ll be back. I’ll catch him next time.” The last few years have not been kind to musicians, we’ve lost some legends so I didn’t feel like playing with fate this time around (Cooper seems to be in great shape and there should be no reason at all to worry that he won’t be on the tour circuit and playing in Columbus in the next two years).

Though not billed as “An Evening with Alice Cooper”, the show didn’t feature an opening act and Cooper and band (guitarists Nita Strauss, Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen, bassist Chuck Garric, drummer Glen Sobel) hit the stage promptly at 8:45pm under a shower of sparkler lights, opening with “The Black Widow” from 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare.

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While Express Live isn’t exactly a small and cozy venue, it’s smaller than the arena stages Cooper has performed on throughout his career but the stage show was arena quality – from the elevated drum riser to the lighting and props. Cooper and band ran through a number of greatest hits from the ’70s early in the set, much to the delight of the crowd. It wouldn’t be too outlandish of a statement to say that there’s a good chance that a majority of those in attendance probably saw Cooper at least once in the ’80s like I did.

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No doubt, I love the classics and they all sounded just as I expected them to, but my first encounter with Cooper’s music was in the mid-80s and it’s that era’s music (Constrictor, Raise Your Fist and Yell, Trash, Hey Stoopid) that I enjoy the most so I was happy to hear “Poison” show up in the first half of the set. Nita Strauss follows in a long line of great guitarists in Cooper’s band and was killing it all night on stage with her dynamic playing.

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If you’ve seen an Alice Cooper show before, nothing that took place during the Express Live performance should have come as a shock but even though he’s been doing songs like “Only Women Bleed” and “Ballad of Dwight Fry” for 40 years, they didn’t come off as schtick.

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The last quarter of the set found the band paying tribute to legendary influences like The Doors (“Love Me Two Times”), The Who (“Pinball Wizard”), Jimi Hendrix (“Fire”) and David Bowie (“Suffragette City”). I’ve heard rumors that for the second leg of the tour, Cooper may drop these songs and replace them with some original numbers but it was a good way to keep the crowd entertained and singing along so deep into the set.

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I don’t want to give too much away but the closing number (“Elected”) featured a guest appearance by some recognizable politicians who are leading their parties in the current race for the White House. Neither fared well against Cooper who has always had a sour taste in his mouth for celebrities and politicians!

The first outdoor show of the Express Live concert season was a rousing success – the weather held out and classic hard rock rang through the air. Just like the artists Cooper paved the way for (KISS, GWAR, Marilyn Manson), you should experience a performance by the Godfather of Shock Rock at least once if for no other reason than to see the enormous influence he’s had on generations of rock bands.