- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Adults seeking a ghoulish good time as Halloween approaches may want to get into the spirit by catching original shock rocker Alice Cooper when he performs Monday at the Warner Theatre.

Born Vincent Furnier in Detroit, the artist began his journey through rock’s dark side as a teen, when he played in several bands in Phoenix, where his family had relocated when he was a child. Rumor has it that he renamed one of those groups after the name Alice Cooper came to him during a Ouija-board session. With a gender-bending name in place, his crew honed its freaky live show — a blend of blood, boas and electric chairs — and laid down rebellious tracks that eventually etched them into rock ‘n’ roll history with such classic hits as “Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”

In the 1970s, the man Alice Cooper veered off into solo territory, adding a few more tracks to the charts, including “Only Women Bleed” and “Poison.”

Now 58 — and with a renewed commitment to his health since a 1978 stint in rehab — he’s still playing guillotine games and rockin’ concert halls across the globe.

He remains the same dark angel, makeup and all, but some things have changed over the years. For one, he says, you just can’t shock an audience anymore.

“You turn on CNN, and there’s a guy getting his head cut off by a terrorist,” he says. “I get my head cut off [in the show] in a fake guillotine, and everybody knows it’s a trick. So when reality becomes more shocking than fantasies of the artists … ”

His current show is a veritable circus of the macabre, he says, weaving in all the big hit songs among theatrical sections such as “Sacrifice a Diva.” (This time it’s Paris Hilton, he notes.) There’s even crowd participation.

“I decided to rewrite the show,” the performer explains, “so that the audience are the townspeople; they’re actually the ones demanding Alice’s head at the end.”

He cautions concertgoers in the first 10 rows that they will, basically, be in the performance: “You’re either gonna get blood on you or confetti on you, or Alice is gonna throw a riding crop at you.”

In case you were wondering, he does talk about Alice in third person. “Alice is a fictional character,” he says. “I can be very subjective about him; I can even watch a video of Alice and say, ‘I don’t like what he’s doing here.’”

On the other hand, some adventurous Washingtonians will like it.

• • •

Tilly and the Wall will be in the house at the Black Cat on Wednesday to represent their hometown: Omaha, Neb.

That’s right, Omaha. The town the Counting Crows hailed in song and dubbed “somewhere in Middle America,” where “it’s the heart that matters more.” The town we have to thank for former President Gerald R. Ford, the Enola Gay and some really good steaks. Despite not seeming like a musical hotbed, the town has spawned several notable indie bands, among them Cursive and Bright Eyes.

Tilly’s keyboardist, Nick White, believes the city has been a real boon for his own groovy indie-pop quintet.

“The cost of living is really low,” he explains. “People have enough free time to be creative and hang out with friends and start projects, and there’s not too much going on where you could go to a show every night. So you kind of have to create your own things to do.”

For the musicians of Tilly and the Wall, being innovative in their spare time meant forming a rock band in 2001 — one that employs some funky instrumentation, including hand percussion, a recorder and even a tap dancer instead of a drummer.

Nebraska’s sounding cooler already, huh?

Those taps are supplied by musician-dancer Jamie Williams, and the gang stumbled on the effect somewhat accidentally. Mr. White recalls that the musicians were short a drummer, and Miss Williams, a trained dancer who had performed with a ballet company in her youth, offered to keep the rhythm with her feet.

“It turned out we just really liked the way it sounded with the stripped-down music and the tap beats,” Mr. White says.

Someone else also liked the sound: Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, who signed the group to his Team Love label and helped release both its full-length debut, 2004’s “Wild Like Children,” and this year’s “Bottoms of Barrels.”

When Tilly and the Wall bring these upbeat, almost kitschy tunes to town next week— along with a reputation for snazzy dress and a flair for the theatrical ? they’ll up the performance value.

They’ll take the stage with Pony Up! and Love Is All. The show begins at 8:30 p.m.

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