Sandwiched between Thin Lizzy and Def Leppard, the aging showman leads from the front
The Odyssey Arena is straining under the weight of three heavy metal acts with a collective 119 years of service under their bullet belts.
British titans Def Leppard, US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Alice Cooper and rejuvenated Irish mob Thin Lizzy have joined forces to bring the hammer down on Belfast’s straggle-haired hordes. To paraphrase Leppard, a rock is very much not out of the question.
Up first are Thin Lizzy, at the ungodly hour of 7pm. Unusually for an opening act, most ticket-holders appear to have dragged themselves out of the bar to see them. Over just five short months, new frontman Ricky Warwick has made the group his own, growling Phil Lynott’s lyrics alongside original drummer Brian Downey, classic guitarist Scott Gorham and an assortment of sidemen.
The newest recruit is guitarist Richard Fortus, on loan from Guns n’ Roses – unless you count Snow Patrol’s Nathan Connolly, who squeezes onto the stage for ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’.
There will always be some who dismiss this as a tribute band (or worse), but taken at face value it’s as good as it’s going to get for Thin Lizzy fans. If the performance lacks some of the atmosphere of February’s triumphant Waterfront Hall gig, it’s perhaps because the audience are saving themselves for act two…
For many here tonight, the main attraction is the legendary Alice Cooper, playing his first Belfast concert since 1989. Taking the middle slot, the veteran shock-rocker grabs the Odyssey by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go for a solid hour.
It’s amazing how much he packs in – 16 songs, from 10 albums, covering 40 years, with all the theatrics he can cram onto the front half of the stage (Leppard’s lights and video screens take up the rest).
The Coop delivers hits (‘Poison’, ‘School’s Out’, ‘Elected’), obscurities (2000’s industrial-tinged ‘Brutal Planet’, 1980’s New Wave-sounding ‘Clones (We’re All)’) and the finest stage show this side of the Circus of Horrors.
He romances a corpse during ‘Cold Ethyl’, creates a 12-foot Frankenstein’s Monster for ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ and is beheaded at the climax of ‘Wicked Young Man’. It is as rock should be – dangerous, eccentric and thrilling.
After that, headliners Def Leppard are on a hiding to nothing, but they give it their best shot. Opening with a new song (the so-so ‘Undefeated’) and following it up with a cover (The Sweet’s ‘Action’) is an odd way to start, but they soon get stuck into the hits – ‘Let’s Get Rocked’, ‘Hysteria’, ‘Armageddon It’, ‘Animal’, ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and so on.
But at two hours it’s a bloated affair, and by the time they drag out a keyboard for an encore of ‘When Love and Hate Collide’ around a third of the crowd have headed for their cars.
Still, closing number ‘Wasted’, from Leppard’s 1980 debut album On Through the Night – back when they were more concerned with rocking out than looking pretty – is a nice, raw reward for those who have stuck around.