coopertik@ Newcastle City Hall, November 27 2009

As a youth Alice Cooper was considered talented enough to win a college scholarship on the back of his long distance running. That natural level of endurance has served him well.

Who could have imagined Alice, at the height of his late 70s excess, would still be walking, let alone running, well into his seventh decade on this brutal planet? And yet, like a rampaging can of human Red Bull, he possesses energy enough to fuel one of rock’s theatrical triumphs night after night after night.

Perhaps inspired by such an unlikely role model, Def Leppard’s Phil Collen is another old stager fitter than a proverbial fiddle. His ripped chest making its obligatory appearance from beneath a frilly blouse towards the end of a blistering support set, the former Girl guitarist once again proved he’s all man. Of course these days he’s all Man Raze. 

Earlier this week Collen told rushonrock that Leppard were taking a 12-month break and yet for the workaholic Londoner that means his new band can finally take centre stage. Man Raze’s debut album Surreal actually sneaked into our top 20 albums of 2008 but a series of false starts for a fabulous record mean it’s still yet to be heard by rock’s masses.

This tour is set to change all that with tracks like Turn It Up, Skin Crawl – from the band’s distant 2005 US EP – and It’s Entertainment mixing Leppard-style sheen with punk-inspired brawn. It’s a heady mix which really works thanks to the pounding rhythm section that is Simon Laffy and Paul Cook plus Collen’s exquisite work between the frets. In his day job this most understated of musicians rarely gets the respect his talent deserves – Man Raze is the vehicle for Collen to remind the rock fraternity that he really is as good as it gets.

Indeed it’s very rare these days that Alice’s hand picked band of metal perfectionists from across the Pond is outshone. During the past two decades the king of shock rock has surrounded himself with gifted guys half his age and twice as hungry. Yet Collen’s display as a guitarist left Damon Johnson and Kerri Kelli looking average at best. As a vocalist and frontman, however, Collen just couldn’t – and wouldn’t – compete with the man himself.

Swinging an array of sticks, crutches and weapons with the aptitude of a man famed for his minute golf handicap, Cooper cajoled and caressed his City Hall crowd as only Cooper can. Any show which opens up with Schools Out, Dept. Of Youth and 18 cannot fail and it didn’t. In fact this was, by some stretch, the Coop’s finest performance in the North East of England since he wowed a Whitley Bay ice rink audience on the Trash tour.

Killed within 15 minutes, the ultimate entertainer survived the guillotine only to fall foul of a giant syringe, a noose and, finally, a series of spikes through the entirety of his battered and bruised body. To experience death four times within an hour and a half is some going but to survive requires the constitution of an ox – or at least a former long distance runner.

A suitably sinister version of Welcome To My Nightmare, shrouded in dry ice and framed with ice cool riffs, preceded Cold Ethyl and Poison in rapid succession. Packing in the hits is a pre-requisite of any Cooper performance but if there’s one criticism of the Theatre Of Death show it’s that too many of the gold standard tunes aren’t given enough space or time. Still, as a crowd-pleasing tactic, playing all of the favourites all of the time has served the grandaddy of stagecraft well over the years.

Including a series of musical interludes and songs which can be sung seated means Cooper never appears anything less than 100% for every second of every minute he’s on stage. It’s ridiculous to imagine a man fast approaching his mid-60s can sustain a 90-minute display without rest but with four decades of experience under his studded belt, the master of illusion comfortably gives the impression that he could play a set twice as long.

Wrapping up with Under My Wheels it’s more a case of Cooper reinventing the wheel in 2009 – and doing an insanely successful job. And sandwiching the meat of his back catalogue within two pin sharp versions of School’s Out is one of the most inspired moves of this magnificent individual’s stellar career. Could he manage it one more time in 2011 or 2012? Probably. And playing to 2,000 screaming Geordies has just got to be better than playing golf.