Sunday, August 28, 2005

Khakis and golf clubs by day, giant snakes and leather by night: That’s Alice Cooper’s story these days. And, if the sadomasochistic zombie opera he brought to Wolf Trap on Thursday night seemed like a gleeful nostalgia act, it’s because Mr. Cooper isn’t trying to fool anyone. He’s happy not to shock but simply to entertain.

On that score, vintage ‘70s metal faves like “School’s Out,” “I’m Eighteen,” “Department of Youth” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” went over like tasty schlock instead of the decadent rebel yells they were in their heyday. Mr. Cooper also peppered in newish songs such as “Lost in America” and cuts from his latest album “Dirty Diamonds,” including the goofball groin rocker “Woman of Mass Distraction.”

Let no one say Mr. Cooper doesn’t go the extra mile. In addition to the black-clad foursome that backed him on each tune (pretty solidly, too), Mr. Cooper wheeled out time-honored horror show props including a boa constrictor and a giant guillotine in which the singer was mock-decapitated by a cast of 19th-century village idiots.

Mr. Cooper, who underwent multiple outfit changes, one more outlandish than the next, stalked the stage like the walking dead and wore a scowl that suggested his Metamucil was in short supply. This, when not under the whiplash of a dominatrix dancing girl. If Wolf Trap were a person, he would have been blushing.

Preceding Mr. Cooper on an unusual hard-rock double bill was never-die power pop band Cheap Trick. The veteran band records sporadically and has a tenuous claim on relevance, but core members Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen didn’t much care. Alluding to last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, Mr. Nielsen joked of the network: “We were too old when they started.” Which isn’t quite true: Cheap Trick saw a brief resurgence in the late ‘80s with MTV-promoted hits such as “Don’t Be Cruel” and “The Flame.” Mr. Zander sang the latter — a sleek power ballad not written by the band — with surprising potency.

Mr. Nielsen brandished a garish five-necked guitar that complemented his ball cap-and-sunglasses image. Mr. Zander literally never let his hair down, as it remained hidden under a white top hat matching his spiffy white suit. In a little more than hour, the band hustled through tunes such as the “Live at Budokan” classic “I Want You to Want Me,” “Never Had a Lot to Lose,” “I Know What I Want” and Big Star’s “Out in the Street,” a cover version that Cheap Trick recorded for the theme-song slot of “That ‘70s Show.”

“That ‘70s Show”: Too bad it’s already the name of a sitcom. If Thursday night’s healthy audience was any indication, Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick could tour under that moniker for years to come.

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