I don’t write gig reviews, I gave it a go several years ago and found I was not good at it. I found that I tended to review the entire experience beyond just the performance of the band. This included everything from the range of beers available at the bar to the ease of getting a train home. For me gigs go beyond simply going to watch a band, they are about partying with my friends, maybe having a little too much to drink and any number of factors that can affect the enjoyment of the evening.
However, last week I found myself with a spare evening in London and browsing the local gig listings saw that Hollywood Vampires were playing at Wembley Arena. I was sceptical of the whole concept of a covers band paying tribute to deceased rock musicians as well as conflicted about supporting a project with which Johnny Depp was involved after some of his recent PR disasters. However, The Damned and The Darkness were the support bands which ensured there would be a high fun factor about the evening and Vampires frontman Alice Cooper always puts on a great show, so I put my scepticism aside and hopped on the Metropolitan Line to Wembley. Having arrived just only a few minutes before The Damned opened the show meaning I didn’t go through my usual process of going to the pub and getting buzzed before the show and being an all seater gig meant I was able to relax and enjoy the show with very few distractions and as such the seeds of attempting a gig review were planted. Let’s see how this goes…
Opening act The Damned came out to an arena that was still mostly empty yet still managed to blast out a high energy punk-rock setlist that would put bands half their age to shame. Guitarist Captain Sensible kept proceedings light hearted seeming perfectly comfortable sharing banter with the sparse crowd. The opening slot of a large arena gig can often see a support bands sound get lost in the cavernous space but The Damned’s experience shone through and they never once sounded like anything other than a headline performance. The only mis-step of their set being when frontman Dave Vanian ventured out into the crowd attempting to engage with an audience who were mostly unfamiliar with his work.
The Darkness may no longer be drawing crowds to the same degree they were when they headlined this venue for three consecutive nights in 2004 but it appears nobody told them that. Opening with “Solid Gold” from their latest album and blasting through an abridged setlist comprised almost entirely of material from their first and last albums. Although their role as support band tonight means they cannot bring out the flaming guitars and giant flying breasts they had during their time as an arena headline band but that just free up frontman Justin Hawkins to share a bit more banter the audience and ensure the crowd is fully warmed up by the time Hollywood Vampires take to the stage.
I wasn’t particularly familiar with the opening few songs of the Vampires set, a couple of their own originals paying tribute to their “Dead Drunk Friends” and a couple of cover versions of which the originals I have only ever heard in passing. Cooper commanded the stage with his usual style and humour whilst Depp’s early contributions seemed to be mainly aesthetic with him seemingly playing the role of a modern-day guitar wielding Jack Sparrow at extreme ends of the stage. I have ever been the biggest Aerosmith fan, but Joe Perry’s talent was simply mesmerising with this new setting seemingly freeing him up to really show off. Once they broke into cover of The Doors “Break on Through…” it was non-stop big hits. With Perry and Tommy Henriksen both on guitar, Depp did seem musically superfluous for most of the set and at times when he was jamming with his bandmates it almost appeared as if he was receiving guitar tuition from the seasoned pros. He clearly has musical talent but possibly not to the degree of playing a venue of this size. That being said, for the two songs he fronted on his ability to portray an English accent served him well. His version of Bowies “Heroes” has been pretty well documented but for me his singing on the verses of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” is where he really shines, his lack of musical experience lending itself well to the DIY punk sound of the original. Sadly this cover was let down by the rest of the band jumping in and glamming up the chorus, stripping it of that punk sound. Judging by the T-shirts on display the audience was mostly made up of Alice Cooper fans and they were rewarded with polished versions of “I’m Eighteen” and “Schools Out”. What really shone through from the whole night is that, Depp aside, Hollywood Vampires are a group of musicians at the peak of their abilities covering songs that they clearly love. What initially seemed like a middle-class audience just looking for some nostalgic entertainment on a Wednesday night were all up on their feet dancing and singing along at the tops of their voices.
People go to watch cover bands to have fun partying to familiar songs. Yes, it’s not Bowie, Lemmy or Jim Morrison singing to us, but we don’t mind if it’s being done well. Essentially what you get with Hollywood Vampires is the world ultimate covers band.
Ok, maybe a bit long winded but there we have it – my first and probably last ever gig review.