Judge Norman Short takes a look at this concert disc by squeaky-clean boy band wannabe Alice Cooper. That's a joke, people.
I'm not worthy!
Thirty years after Alice Cooper (AKA Vincent Furnier) first hit the scene in rock and roll, he is still going strong. July 2000 saw him and his band selling out a crowd in London, with everything they needed to record one fantastic concert DVD in tow. "Brutally Live" is the concert tour of his latest CD "Brutal Planet," though this 105-minute show doesn't disappoint fans of his older work either. Plenty of songs including favorites of mine such as "I'm Eighteen," "The Ballad of Dwight Frye," "School's Out," and "Feed My Frankenstein" are rocked to the roof during an intricate theatrical production that spares no expense or chance to be dark…very dark. The DVD features both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, multiple angles (the "Alice Cam") and is a must for Alice Cooper fans.
Facts of the Case
Despite his trademark eye make-up, outlandish costumes, and horrific themes in his concerts, Alice Cooper is known to be a witty, intelligent and knowledgeable man. A few years ago in an interview, I was surprised to learn that he attributes his success, in the beginning at least, in part to the death of The Doors' Jim Morrison. He claimed that his death left a void in darkness-themed rock and roll, one he and his high school friends who made up the band were ready to fill. "We were into fun, sex, death and money when everyone was into peace and love," Alice explains. "We wanted to see what was next. It turned out we were next, and we drove a stake through the heart of the Love Generation." Yet he claims drugs and alcohol were never problems in the band; they were clean-cut guys who were much more into baseball than the party scene. Today, Alice owns a restaurant that is a combo sports/rock and roll bar called Alice Cooperstown.
Alice Cooper is of course better known for his music than his food and drink. His many albums over the years have sold millions upon millions of copies; several having gone platinum. He is even better known, even notorious, for his concerts, which are theatrical extravaganzas where he is hung from a gallows, decapitated in a guillotine, attacked by giant spiders, and all manner of mayhem happens. His stage shows were far beyond anything else being done at the time, and still today amaze audiences.
I've been a fan of Alice for many years, going back to the early '70s when "I'm Eighteen" was an anthem for young people everywhere. The last I'd heard, he had semi-retired to his restaurant and golf until I saw this gem of a DVD sitting on the shelf. The first thing I realized upon watching it was that he hasn't lost a step. He is every bit the master showman, with the same level of energy he showed 20 years ago. From leather to his later trademark white coat and top hat, he is a commanding presence on the stage, his gravelly voice rasping every note in his inimitable style. His band was terrific, with a strong rhythm backbone and fine guitar work layered on top. It's hard rock in the classic style, where the cacophony of noise is well orchestrated into controlled chaos. This music, combined with the theatrics, is opera of the modern age.
The concert is a full 25 songs, making for a good representative assortment of his music through the years. No tired medley of old songs to make room for every song on the new album, though the new stuff is represented (and mostly quite good). Lights, staging, and the variety of ghoulish gadgetry are all as I remember, and in some cases technology has improved on them. Alice fans will not be disappointed, and those weaned on music sung by people chosen for their ability to dance can learn a thing or two.
Most times I don't expect much from a concert DVD in the picture department, but eagle vision, a distributor I've never heard of, ponied up for an anamorphic transfer. This is something most such discs lack and I always complain of, since the size of the stage and the show demand a widescreen view. The picture is very clear, free of any nicks or scratches, and colors are bright without bleeding. That said, at times the picture does have a fair amount of grain which is the biggest flaw in the image quality.
Of course the picture quality is always secondary to the sound with a concert disc, and it is here that the DVD really shines. This time I really have to give the edge to the DTS track, which is more open, transparent, and has greater punch than the Dolby Digital 5.1. For those without a DTS decoder (shame on you), the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is quite good as well. Both tracks make ample use of the discrete surrounds and fill all the channels with sound. Altogether it makes for a very credible concert experience on a good audio system.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All is not wonderful with the disc however. The only extra content is a bonus music video for "Gimme" that is inferior to the version of the same song in the main concert. Multiple angles are given for about a third of the tracks (a feature I really welcome) but consists of "The Alice Cam" which sticks close to Alice's face for the whole song. More angles highlighting different things or people on stage would be a better use for the feature. It is also missing lyrical subtitles, something I welcome on any concert disc. My only other complaint is that the disc doesn't have an elapsed time meter, so you don't know which number track or how far into the disc you are. Fortunately you can reach each individual song from the main menu or skip back and forth with the remote.
The few lacks in the disc do not nearly outweigh the great sound and above all, the great show. It has quickly become one of my favorite concert discs in my collection. If you like Alice Cooper, I suspect it will find a happy place in your home as well. For those who haven't heard his music, I recommend a rental; he can be a little overwhelming for the uninitiated.
Huh? Get out of this courtroom with these trumped up charges! Case dismissed.
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