Alice Cooper returns to Manchester Arena and this time he has brought some friends along to give that extra bite!
The Hollywood Vampires are by all accounts a legendary drinking group from the 60’s, most of them now passed over to that stage in the sky, but former member Alice Cooper has decided to reinvigorate the band of brothers and sisters to celebrate their dead in the form of a rock and roll supergroup, consisting of various different members along the way. Tonight’s incarnation features Joe Perry from Aerosmith fame and A-Listed Film Star Johnny Depp, who is more used to wearing a pirate costume as Captain Jack Sparrow than walking the boards of an arena wearing a Les Paul guitar.
But first we are all to be damned! Watching The Damned that is, and despite some technical hitches with Captain Sensible‘s guitar we have a rollicking good time with the punk legends. Tracks like New Rose, Smash it Up and Love Song are mixed with a new track Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow from their brand new album Evil Spirits.
Dave Vanian looks very eloquent in his coat and slicked back hair. No longer having that strong wisp of white weaving through his long locks anymore, and the green tinged lighting is very dim for those towards the back of the hall trying to catch a glimpse of this punk royal family. Good job there are video screens either side of this huge stage.
Captain Sensible is wearing his normal Dennis the Menace outfit and matching red beret, he provides some much needed guitar oomph to enable those few at the front to try and pogo holding the barrier. A very early start for them, rock and roll is apparently seated these days – particularly if your main act is in their mid 70’s!
Next on the eclectic bill are those Lowestoft cheeky monkeys The Darkness – revered by some and severely dismissed by others, I’m very much in the former camp and feel that you need a great frontman in a band to get the crowd going. Justin Hawkins is that man, he wastes no time in getting the audience on his side with his call to arms, high pitched voice and finely tuned guitars. Brother Dan Hawkins is equally hairy mopped but he’s the man in black tonight, the yin to Justin’s yang, and other than standing on the monitor occasionally – he’s pretty much rocking on the left of stage whilst his brother bounds around like tigger on steroids. Bassist Frankie Poullain prefers to play it safe at the back wearing his 70’s bright gold disco suit and pimp afro and tash.
It is a great visual combination and with Queen’s Roger Taylor’s son on drums, there are some comparable tunes to that great band – Hawkins could more than match Freddie on falsetto and campness.
Starting off with Solid Gold and the chorus “and we’re never gonna stop, shitting out solid gold” its comedy lyric sums up their attitude to the music industry and themselves, never to be taken too seriously and just out for a good time, and yet as good as any live classic rock band right now. Hits followed with Growing on Me and Love is Only a Feeling from that debut album Permission to Land which is now unbelievably almost 15 years old. However, thats nothing compared to the pedigree about to be unveiled on to the stage next.
A supergroup of megalithic proportions as Joe Perry from Aerosmith is the first to emerge from the side of stage. Each person taking a few seconds of individual cheers and many whoops when Johnny Depp makes an appearance particularly from a group of ladies firmly fixed to the barrier. Depp has a little smile to himself as he leans into the very far left of the stage although tonight he looks pensive at times, as if this is an acting role he is least familiar with.
Alice Cooper wastes no time in showing exactly who the main man is by wielding a magic wand like cane menacingly over the very front row, spinning the stick and pointing at anyone who takes his fancy, the 70+ year old has a look of a vampire and not one you want to cross. Kicking off with I Want My Now – one of the few original compositions to be played tonight and then following with another Raise the Dead . The rest of the set is made up of mostly covers celebrating those rock stars we have lost along the way in the last few decades, and some by all accounts were members of this exclusive drinking club. To become a Hollywood Vampire you had to out drink everyone else and whilst I’m sure Johnny could probably have a good go, my guess is that the others have had their day of drugs, drink and debauchery. Alice is known more these days for playing the odd round of golf than going out on an all night session.
Joe Perry is looking cool in his shades and leather jacket, playing a battered Fender with the paint splintering away from the guitar as he plays. A couple of Aerosmith songs are in the setlist tonight most notably Sweet Emotion, which sounds incredibly weird without Steven Tyler‘s vocal assault on the track. Having said that there is no mistaking the superb angry Cooper, who seems to be outliving all his peers and still rocking a full leather outfit and stomping around the very front of the stage.
Unafraid to tackle some of the classic rock hits like Motorhead‘s Ace of Spades, The Who‘s Baba O’Reilly and AC/DC‘s The Jack, these Vampires tore up the rule book, I’m only surprised they didn’t do a little Zep or Queen. Cooper taking most of the lead vocal parts and during the sea shanty like Dead Drunk Friends images of all the big rock n roll drinkers who have gone before them are flashed on to the screen.
We get a stirring version of I’m Eighteen but this isn’t an Alice Cooper show, there is no additional stage props or guillotines here, just the talent on stage and a group of friends producing some of the best live Classic Rock anthems you will hear. Are they just a covers band – who cares! Does Johnny Depp really add anything other than glamour to the mix – Yes he does. Johnny provides the badass attitude and is probably the most daring of all the vamps in Manchester tonight. His stirring rendition of David Bowie‘s Heroes will live long in the memory. As images of Bowie through the years cascade in black and white on the screen, it is evident what that loss meant to people all over the world, whether you are a Hollywood Vampire, a security person at the arena tonight, or an A-List Movie Star. Either way many tears were shed here and Depp’s understated vocals were perfect for that track.
Encore was the Cooper classic Schools Out, with a little added Pink Floyd Another Brick in the Wall for good measure. Realistically this is a one off project and only the second ever UK date. All members have their own bands or musical endeavours, but when it happens again, and the Vampires come back to play once more, make sure you are there to witness it because its fangtastic (Ed – really sorry about the Dad joke).
All words and photos by John Hayhurst
John also has his own Photo Website called Snapagig