Alice Cooper builds ‘Nightmare Castle’ in Chicago

A spoiler-free review of the original shock rocker’s Windy City concert

Most artists insure their limbs in case a major accident renders them unable to play their instrument. Pianists’ fingers can be worth millions. An accident to drummers’ biceps can set them for life. So, does that mean Alice Cooper’s trademark eyes should be insured?

The mascara-lined rocker with the expressive irises took the stage Friday, September 24th in Chicago at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island for a 23-song set of nonstop rock.

The outdoor venue is laid out much like a festival fairgrounds. The pathway to the seating is lined with tents offering all manner of food and drink. The stage blocks an otherwise gorgeous view of the city’s beautiful iconic skyline. One can enjoy the view though on the long and winding walk to and from Huntington Bank Pavilion’s entrance.

Opening for Cooper was original KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley. He rocked the crowd with a 50 minute set consisting mostly of KISS songs including “Detroit Rock City” and “Deuce.” It was well received by the crowd that decided to show up early enough. Those that didn’t missed out on a real treat from the original KISS Spaceman.

Alice Cooper is known for blending his iconic rock anthems with horror-goth theatrics. When imitators try to replicate these gimmicks, it is often to hide the mediocrity of their music. When Cooper does it, it only enhances the vibe of an already-stellar catalogue that has cemented its place in rock history over the past half-century.

The set for Cooper’s show on this tour is his “Nightmare Castle.” It is a playland that hides and reveals his imaginative creations while acting as a jungle gym for the five out-of-this-world talented musicians that make up his band. Cooper strutted about an elevated platform at the front of the stage that ran the length of the castle. The effect created a sort of proscenium for the musical action. Fans — many of whom were wearing tour tee shirts going back decades — ate it up.

Cooper and company opened with “Feed My Frankenstein” and kept the music coming from there. Cooper managed to perform 23 songs without ever once addressing the crowd. He only did so at the end to introduce the band and thank everyone for coming. The setlist is expertly crafted so that one song flows effortlessly into another for a euphoric rock experience. Fans can expect to hear favorites including “Escape,” “Poison,” the surprisingly insightful “I’m Eighteen,” and of course “School’s Out.”

Cooper, often considered the nicest guy in rock, gives ample time to his stellar musicians for them to show off their skills. Ryan Roxie (lead and rhythm guitar), Chuck Garric (bass guitar), Tommy Hendrixson (rhythm and lead guitar), Nita Strauss (lead and rhythm guitar), and Glen Sobel (drums and percussion) are at the top of their game. To give the 73-year-old rock god a break, these five shred for a solid 10 minutes. Sobel’s drum solo and Strauss’ guitar-destroying picking are themselves worth a visit to the Nightmare Castle.

Cooper is the original shock rocker. And this show did not disappoint. Wonderfully horrific props accompanied certain numbers. Cooper himself had more costume changes than Celine Dion in Vegas. And there may have been a magic trick thrown in. Without spoiling the latter, I’ll just say — hold on to your head!

Cooper has lasted as long as he has for two reasons: one, damn good music. The other is he knows how to entertain. He takes his songs and creates an aesthetic with them that other artists simply cannot. He is a master at blurring that line between an artist with a soul and a character who has sold his own to the devil. When Cooper broke his silence to introduce the band, he took off his top hat and proclaimed, “Playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight…me.” About sums it up, don’t you think?

This write-up is the first in a new series called “Reviews on the Road,” where TMU travels to report on the return of live music across the country. Stay tuned for more concerts in more states, and email matt@themusicuniverse.com with venues you think we should check out.

Default image
Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews. Email: matt@themusicuniverse.com
Articles: 91