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Kevin Eck reviews the Halloween Hootenanny at MPP featuring the Gruesome Twosome. When he's not listening to heavy metal, he covers professional wrestling for The Sun and writes Ring Posts.

It's that time of year when the leaves are brown, there's a chill in the air and jack-o-lanterns abound. In other words, the perfect time for a concert featuring two of rock's preeminent boogeymen, Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper.

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The self-professed "Gruesome Twosome" were the main attractions at Merriweather Post Pavilion Sunday night, when they performed their Halloween Hootenanny tour. The Murder Dolls, Black Label Society, Children of Bodom and Clutch also performed.

In separate performances that each went a little over an hour, the macabre metal gods' over-the-top theatrics captured the spirit of the season, making for a spectacle that had the charm of a midnight monster movie double feature.

Despite their obvious similarities, Zombie and Cooper differ as performers. Zombie offers a true rock concert experience: he addressed the crowd between songs and encouraged audience members to stand up and sing along.

With Cooper, on the other hand, it was like watching a musical where he was both ring master and narrator. He gives you a story line that tied the songs together, complete with characters, costume changes and props.

As far as stage antics go, nobody can outdo Cooper, but from a musical standpoint, Zombie's set had more teeth (or, in this case, fangs) than the old man's.

Zombie entered the stage by emerging from a sinister-looking giant robot that was engulfed in flames. He opened with “Jesus Frankenstein,” from his latest CD, “Hellbilly Deluxe 2,” and from there it was one hard-driving, infectious song after another.

Among the highlights were Zombie staples "More Human Than Human," "Never Gonna Stop," "Thunder Kiss '65" and "Dragula," as well as "Sick Bubblegum," the first single off "Hellbilly Deluxe 2."

There also was a wicked guitar solo by John 5 (formerly Marilyn Manson's lead guitarist) that featured him playing his instrument with his teeth as well as playing the theme from 1960's TV show "The Munsters."

Throughout Zombie's set, large video screens on the stage showed clips from classic horror movies such as "Frankenstein" and "The Phantom of the Opera," as well as Zombie's own frightening videos and psychedelic images of go-go girls and pentagrams.

The stage was filled with scary skeletons and jack-o-lanterns and there were a number of super-sized ghouls and robots accompanying Zombie on stage.

After concluding the main part of his set, Zombie came back on stage for an encore at 10:35 p.m., but he said that he had just been informed that the show had to end because of the venue's curfew.

At that point, three guys in yellow security shirts came out and presented Zombie with a piece of paper. After a brief discussion, the men led Zombie off the stage. Zombie came right back out, however, and said he would have to pay a fine because he was going to continue playing.

It was all staged (the curfew at Merriweather is 11 p.m.), but there was some booing when security made Zombie leave. He played to a supportive, if eclectic crowd that ranged from Goth teens to senior citizens. After the mock scuffle, Zombie closed the show with "House of 1,000 Corpses."

Cooper preceded Zombie and wasted no time in energizing the crowd. He opened with three consecutive Cooper classics: "School's Out," "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and "I'm Eighteen." The set also included "Poison," "Billion Dollar Babies," "Feed My Frankenstein" and "Under My Wheels."

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The music was accentuated by an assortment of mock fiendish acts, some of which were committed by Cooper (he impaled a cloaked individual with a sword, sliced the head off a baby doll with a sword and tossed a female blow-up doll around the stage), while others featured him as the victim (he was decapitated in a guillotine, impaled in an iron maiden, stabbed in the groin with a gigantic syringe and put in a straitjacket.)

By today's standards, Cooper's shock rock theatrics weren't nearly as shocking as they sound. In fact, the eeriest thing about Cooper's performance was that the 62-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee looked and sounded pretty much the same as he did when he first became every parent's nightmare way back during the Nixon administration.

In addition to Zombie and Cooper, the Halloween Hootenanny also featured "midget wrestling" (The Half Pint Brawlers) and a haunted house attraction called The Clown Asylum.

Photo: Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun. For a photo gallery of the show, go here

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