Supergroup is a dirty word and tends to align itself with images of desperate commercial ventures cashing in on previous success and perverting the once untouchable concept of fan loyalty.
Hence I had my reservations about Hollywood Vampires, only enhanced when I found out how integral a part within the band was played by A list actor Johnny Depp.
However I was pleasantly surprised by every moment of their gig (minus the main support, the less said about The Darkness the better). Cooper, Depp and Joe Perry of Aerosmith blended a level of showmanship into their music that has seemingly died out with the modern trend of appearing nonchalant being more in vogue than pure voyeuristic excess, a shift in aesthetics that is evidently a great shame when we witness the pure spectacle of these fading stars.
The band is named after Alice Cooper’s early 70s drinking club housed at the Rainbow Bar and Grill and is intended to be a musical pilgrimage with the goal of keeping the music of his dead friends alive. The club itself included members such as Keith Moon and John Lennon and in order to join a new member had to outdrink every other raging alcoholic in the room, no small feat considering the vast majority of the club has died from excess in the years since it’s foundation. They were eventually nicknamed “The Hollywood Vampires” as they never saw the sun and this is where Cooper gained the inspiration for this bands name.
And so a packed Manchester arena hungrily awaited one of the last true time capsules of Rock and Roll hedonism, and Cooper did not disappoint, he strolled out, dressed gothically as ever, twirling his signature cane as demonic guitar riffs and menacing drums were artistically swirled around his entrance. “We’re the Vampires” he spat as they proceeded to charge into some of their admittedly incredibly mediocre but even more entertaining original material. However this was only a small part of the show with the majority of the set list bulked up by covers of Cooper’s friends who are now unable to perform, “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead stood out as an exceptional rendition with Coopers raspy vocals creating a suitably nasty mimic of the legendary number.
Joe Perry took a number of indulgently long opportunities to solo in a way that would’ve been inappropriate and musically selfish in most bands. However within the supergroup format it was enjoyable to hear him show off years of practice and demonstrate that excessive guitar solos, whilst out of fashion, are far from dead. Johnny Depp played primarily rhythm guitar in the early set and was entirely competent at this role seemingly content to allow other members of the band to take the majority of the limelight. Later into the set he took one or two solos upon himself and I was genuinely surprised by his ability, he was far from out of place and anyone that says he only has a place within the group as a result of his acting career and that it is undeserved has either no concept of the difference between good and bad guitar and just makes assumptions or they do know and are just genuinely bitter that someone that isn’t them has found success in two impressive fields. Depp only became an actor to help fund his band in his youth and had reasonable success even supporting the Ramones before fully converting to acting.
The band finished with a cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” with Depp on vocals which was one of the best songs of the night. Then they returned for a brilliantly loud encore of “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper also containing a small snippet of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. Overall in terms of new music the Vampires have little to offer but no one on earth puts on a show like Alice Cooper and you can’t help but admire him as he sings of his “drunk, dead friends” with images of Hendrix, Lennon and Lemmy floating behind the band. The time of rockstars being a different species to us mortals is long past but Cooper keeps the mysticism alive and beautifully carries the stories and lives of a musical generation upon his shoulders.
Photo’s © Steve Hampson