Death has often played a comic part in Alice Cooper's shows — to the point where the singer has pretended to be hanged or beheaded in a guillotine before miraculously springing back to keep the music going.
When Cooper's Raise the Dead Tour stops in Costa Mesa on Nov. 26, the departed will return to life again. But his performance may strike a note more poignant than outrageous.
Toward the end of Cooper's set list, he performs a tribute to some musical friends he drank with decades ago — John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon. To put them in perspective, Lennon would be 73 this year, Hendrix 71, Morrison 70 and Moon 67. Cooper, who turned 65 in February, would be the youngster in the group.
"I basically do a tribute, sort of a tip of the hat, to all my dead drunk friends," said Cooper, whose birth name is Vincent Furnier, by phone between stops on his tour.
Onstage, Cooper is one of the most flamboyant and tongue-in-cheek rock stars. In person, he's an intriguing mix of kidding and serious. A famous scene from the movie "Wayne's World" had the slacker heroes visiting Cooper backstage, where he launched into a lecture about Milwaukee's colonial and political history. The real-life Cooper, who said he has a covers album in the works, comes off about as erudite.
He also comes off as a man with a product to pitch — and that product is Alice Cooper, which was his band's name in the early 1970s before he adopted it as his stage name as well. Throughout the interview, he tossed around the word "Alice" ("The second part of the show is nightmare Alice.… I think most people are aware of that Alice") the way a salesman might bandy about the word "insurance."
"It's pure Alice Cooper," he said about his pending debut at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. "It's all the hits. I've got the best band, I think, the best touring band out there right now. And musically, it's the most solid we've ever been.
"And then you add all the theatrics to that and you add all the excitement and the energy to it — I mean, it's a very high-energy show. We don't give the audience a chance to get their breath."
Even though Cooper is far from the first amplified act to play at Segerstrom, venue President Terry Dwyer considers his booking something of a breakthrough.
"We've done rock acts before, but [this is] the first time we've ever done someone, I would say, in the kind of 'shock rock' genre," he said. "And I think it's thrilling."
The Segerstrom show also amounts to a must-see for local Cooper fans: It's his only Orange County stop on the Raise the Dead Tour, which began in June and will conclude Nov. 27 in Las Vegas. Cooper, for his part, is excited to bring the act to Segerstrom — or any intimate theater that allows audiences to see the mayhem up close.
"It's great to play theaters, and I'd say we do, I'd say, about 20% of the time," he said. "The rest is either arenas or big outdoor shows. But I always really like setting this show into a theater situation, because it's written as a theatrical piece. And everybody gets a good view of the detail in the show."
About that detail: The first part of the set list — "glam Alice" — covers the decadent '70s style, while the second part — "nightmare Alice" — delves into gothic rock. Then comes the tribute section before what Cooper called, without offering specifics, a "big finale."
Judging from the past, that finale may not be for the squeamish. But Cooper, a dedicated Christian, is careful to point out that his show carries a subtle spiritual message.
"I don't think there's any play, any movie, anything that doesn't have a villain and a hero," he said. "And the villain always gets his just deserts. Well, of course, Alice gets his head cut off or gets hung or whatever, and then comes back, reborn. He always comes back in a white top hat and tails with a party behind him, and it's sort of like the fact that the soul goes on."
In other words, the real theme of the show is the redemption of Alice Cooper?
"I think so, yeah."
If You Go
Who: Alice Cooper
Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26
Cost: Starts at $49
Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org
Three Questions You Always Wanted to Ask Alice Cooper
1. What do his friends call him offstage?
Even though the rocker's birth name is Vincent Furnier, he doesn't hear that too often. "Everybody calls me either 'Coop' or 'Alice,'" he said. "I got the name Coop from Groucho. Groucho Marx said, 'My best friend was Gary Cooper.' He says, 'Your name is Alice Cooper. He says, 'I can't call you Alice. I got to call you Coop.'"
2. How often does he hear "we're not worthy"?
Ever since Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) kowtowed to him backstage and chanted that line in 1992's "Wayne's World" — in response to a casual invitation to hang out with the rocker and his band — Cooper has never been able to escape it. "I get that probably four or five times a day," he said, sounding more amused than annoyed.
3. Is Myers, indeed, worthy of hanging out with him?
Yes. Cooper called him "a really good friend of mine" and noted that the two recently hung out at the Toronto International Film Festival, where "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon," a Myers-directed documentary about Cooper's longtime manager, was on the program.
[For the record, 9:58 a.m. Nov. 20: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Vincent Furnier is Alice Cooper's real name. It's actually his birth name, as Cooper had his name legally changed.]Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun