It’s hard to believe The Hollywood Vampires’ album has been around for three years. When you have Alice Cooper assembling the ultimate supergroup on a record to pay homage to passed legends, damn right you’re going to check it out. Add in The Darkness and The Damned to a tour and it’s going to raise heads all across the UK.
The Damned take to the stage to warm up the crowd trickling into The Hydro. With an early kick-off during the middle of the week, there’s already a respectable number of people in their seats. Battering through their short set, there’s still plenty of time for in-between song banter. Much of it is trite, there’s a “too soon” joke about the O2 ABC but they do garner a chuckle when they declare The Hydro a good venue. Whilst the band are tight which can only come from enduring for as long as they have, there’s definitely a sense of them being past their prime. As “New Rose” and “Smash it Up” brings the set to the close, the punk contingent are satisfied but they leave largely to a polite audience.
“Solid Gold” opens The Darkness’s set with the phrase “We’re gonna blow people’s fucking heads off” and as a mission statement/tongue-in-cheek “fuck you” to the music industry, they do exactly that. With the crowd on their feet from the start after some teasing from frontman Justin Hawkins, the four-piece are intent to rev up the crowd for the main event.
Much like The Damned, they pick from the best of their own catalogue and with enough laughs in between, they continue to prove they’re one of the most entertaining live bands you’ll see. Although “That Christmas song”, as it was described by a heckler which Hawkins quickly disposed of, didn’t receive an outing, favourites like “Get Your Hands Off My Woman”, “One Way Ticket” and “Growing on Me” did.
As they balance the pastiche of glam rock with the swagger of hard rock and combine it with technical excellence, it’s another storming performance from them and there are several people with daft grins on their faces by the end of typical closer “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”. They’ve done their job and there’s more than a few people going home as they’ve seen what they came along for. They’re back in a few weeks at Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival and I’m sure it’ll be another afternoon performance much like this one: raucously entertaining with the skill to back it up with.
As Bella Lugosi’s “Dead” and a snippet of Christopher Lee’s opening monologue from the album brings the crowd to their feet once more, several legends take their cues, followed by Johnny Depp. Then, one of the sole remaining Hollywood Vampires (it was a drinking club in rock’s most hedonistic days) reveals himself, complete with his signature cane. Alice Cooper is half in character for the duration of the gig. He’s more than happy to chat between songs and introduce them rather than his usual sneer and snapping from one song to the next, treating the crowd as if they should be grateful to be in his presence.
There’s no props other than his canes and riding crop but the leather and mascara remain. As such, it’s an opportunity for Alice to prove he’s one of rock’s top frontmen and can easily command a crowd without the theatrics. The biggest elephant in the room comes in the form of Joe Perry, despite a smaller stage than he can usually be found on nowadays, there’s simply a vibe coming off him of “cool”. But it is Joe Perry after all and he’s obviously relishing in the opportunity to play some of rock’s staple songs. Effortless in his decades of playing, he plays off well with Tommy Henriksen and it’s here where the tightest part of the band sits.
With Alice having a couple of musicians that he’s used to working with for years in the shape of Henriksen and drummer Glen Sobel, they may not be quite the household names who originally worked with him but they’re skilled enough and are used to working under rock’s original villain. Meanwhile, Chris Wyse holds down the bottom end on bass guitar and occasionally upright bass and has his own moment of glory by doing Lemmy proud with an “Ace of Spades” cover.
It might be rock karaoke with “I Got a Line on You”, “The Jack”, “Five to One/Break on Through (to the Other Side)” and “Train Kept A-rollin’” as a tribute to those who passed, the living got a look-in too with Aerosmith covers “Combination” (led by Perry) and “Sweet Emotion”. Whilst Alice may be the lead singer, he’s more than comfortable to switch to backing vocals for several moments during the set and let someone else lead. His own catalogue isn’t neglected either with “I’m Eighteen” featuring and the encore unsurprisingly comprising of “School’s Out” interspersed with “Another Brick in the Wall” like he’s been doing at his own shows for years (complete with balloons and popped with his knife).
There’s also original material such as “My Dead Drunk Friends”, “Raise the Dead” and “As Bad As I Am” from the debut and teases of the new material in the form of “The Boogeyman’s Surprise” and “Bushwackers”. And with songs like “Baba O’Riley” and “7 and 7 Is”, it begs the question if more covers will feature on the next album.
Of course, the question on everyone’s mind was regarding Johnny Depp. “What’s an actor doing in a rock supergroup?” After watching him, I’m still asking that question. More intent on prancing across the stage Jack Sparrow-style (to the point where you’re convinced he can’t separate character from reality, though he does play that character in every film anyway) and posing for the audience, it seems he’s there just as a “draw” and because of his friendship with Alice and Perry. His guitar was definitely plugged in as you could hear it (a surprise for the Hydro, admittedly) but his sloppy at best contribution didn’t add anything.
Perry and Henriksen had it more than covered and when you have one of rock’s most iconic and influential six-stringers backed by an excellent rhythm guitarist: spare prick at a wedding springs to mind. Then, of course, there was his attempt at David Bowie’s “Heroes” which, unless you’re Motörhead, should just be left alone. Meanwhile The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died” limps to its finish as well, his voice flat and limp and neither of the original impassioned songs are given their fair due. It’s impossible to even remotely take him seriously as a musician or singer for a minute.
Not many bands could get away with doing a show like this but the fact you have Alice Cooper overseeing this gives it that added authenticity. He knew most, if not all of the deceased people who featured on the screen during the performance. Whilst his voice may not be suited for most of the songs, he’s twisted them into his own where he can and letting others do the heavy lifting where necessary. It’s not a night for mourning icons but instead a celebration of the songs they left behind as Alice and Joe Perry pay tribute to fallen brethren. Backed by a wonderfully skilled band (and Johnny Depp) and in spite of the Hydro’s infamously bad acoustics, it’s not a shock that this was a good night.
Photos by Sean Larkin Photography