Recorded during a concert that was broadcast live on MTV on Halloween Night, 1986, The Nightmare Returns captures the return of a legend to the concert stage. This was one of the first shows on Alice's 1986 comeback tour. Prior to this outing, Cooper hadn't been on the road since the 1981-82 Special Forces tour. During his absence from performing, he'd sobered up after a long battle with alcohol and had just been booted from his long-time record label, Warner Bros, after a string of unsuccessful albums for which he didn't tour. In 1986, Cooper signed to MCA Records and recorded Constrictor, an album that was more metallic than his previous material. "The Nightmare Returns" was the title of the Constrictor tour.
Alice Cooper - The Nightmare Returns
Release Date: August 1, 2006
Label: Geffen Records
Alice's band at the time included guitarist Kane Roberts, former Fifth Angel drummer, Ken Mary, guitarist Devlin 7, keyboardist and sometime guitarist Paul Horowitz and bassist Kip Winger. The last two musicians would go on to form half of the pop metal band, Winger, in the late 80s.
Balancing classic material like "Welcome to my Nightmare", "Eighteen", "Cold Ethyl" and "School's Out" with newer songs from Constrictor, such as "The World Needs Guts", "Give It Up" and "Teenage Frankenstein", Alice blasts his way through a powerful setlist that is punctuated with great theatrics. That's what you'd expect from Alice Cooper and this show delivers it in spades.
A large number of different characters appear on stage with Alice and the band, including Jason, the hockey mask-wearing killer from the Friday the 13th movies, during "Welcome to My Nightmare"; a leather clad dominatrix (complete with whip) during "Go to Hell"; a nurse during "The Ballad of Dwight Fry"; an executioner (who beheads Alice with a guillotine during "I Love the Dead"); and a Frankenstein's Monster that is "created" on-stage during a nifty illusion sequence in the middle of "Teenage Frankenstein."
The stage is littered with assorted props and what appears to be random garbage. Alice occasionally picks up different items from the piles and uses them in the act, including the baby doll for "Billion Dollar Babies" and stacks of cash during "Give it Up". Even a mike stand becomes a weapon during "Go to Hell", as Alice impales a cameraman with one. Actually, Alice appears to always be carrying something during the show -- other than his microphone. If it's not a sword, it's his ever-present riding crop. And, yes, even his snake makes an appearance during "Be My Lover".
Muscle-bound Kane Roberts dwarfs his guitar but rips off solos with seemingly little effort. His massive physique actually becomes part of the show as he capitalizes on his "Rambo"-esque appearance with a machine gun-shaped guitar that shoots sparks during "Eighteen".
The theatrics never overwhelm the music as the band is tight and the performances are solid, even though the songs are all given a typical late-80s coat of paint. Cooper's older material is energetically performed and the then-new Constrictor songs fit right into the mix. My biggest (and really only) complaint is the relatively short running time of the show, which clocks in at a puny 75 minutes.
If you're a big fan of the Coop, The Nightmare Returns is probably already in your collection. If you're just discovering Alice Cooper, this isn't a bad place to start if you keep in mind that the older songs aren't performed quite as they were originally recorded.
Alice Cooper's live act is something that every rock fan should experience in person at some point. The Nightmare Returns is an excellent time capsule of the 1980s version of Alice.