Review: Hollywood Vampires – Wembley Arena 20/06/18

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.

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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.

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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.

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Ok, maybe a bit long winded but there we have it – my first and probably last ever gig review.

Reeding the book first…

I am not going to sit here and preach that you should always read the book before watching the film or TV adaptation. Personally I like to develop my own mental image of characters and locations in a book before seeing how a film maker has chosen to portray them. I find if I read the book after the film I cannot help but picture things as they appeared in the film. This preference is a bit of a double edged sword however, I have found that my enjoyment of an otherwise good film can be negatively impacted if it deviates too far from my impression of the source material.

I must stress this is not a hard and fast rule that I stick to, there are some instances where I am only casually interested in the film, not enough to dedicate the time to the book or where I simply cannot get into the book. A prime example of this being Game of Thrones, whilst I enjoy the TV show for the fantasy soap opera it is, I simply do not get along with George R. R. Martins style of writing and find the books a chore to read.

This brings me to the actual point of this entry, a book I recently read in the down time between flights during my recently holiday debacle and how it partly inspired me to start this blog. The book is Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”. I chose to read this after a number of people whose taste in fiction I trust spoke well of it and after seeing the, frankly ridiculous, trailer for the film which launches next week. I expected a light-hearted romp full of geeky references (something for which I am an absolute sucker for). In many ways that is exactly what I got but there was also something mildly depressing  about it which I could not quite put my finger on. I am not going to tell you how this book will change your life (it won’t!) or wax lyrical about its hidden depths. If anything it could have made far more of its underlying themes. It did however make me question the manner in which we chose to portray ourselves online. We can chose to be anyone we want to be, some people may make up an entirely fictional persona but many of us chose to portray a version of ourselves we aspire to be where we have total control over what others see of us. I sit within a generation that did not grow up with the internet as a factor in our everyday lives and even once “going online” did become the norm the internet was still developing into the tool it has become today and few of us had any notion of the fact we could one day live out entire alternate lives online (God I feel old writing like that). What really resonated with me was how much of ourselves we chose to omit from our online personas, whilst reading the book I experienced first hand the often awkward experience that can occur when our digital and analogue lives. I have a friend who I met online and whilst I have met them a few times in person it has always been planned well in advance and as such I (and I suspect they) have been able to plan what we wanted to talk about and do together, there has never really been any spontaneity in our interactions. I don’t mind this as in truth I have always been somewhat intimidated by and envious of this persons talent and ability to effortlessly cool (not that she is aware of this ability which is what make her so damn cool). A few days ago I actually saw this person from a distance and could not bring myself to go over and speak to her. She appeared to be going about her daily routine on her way to work, dressed smartly and emitting the air of confidence of somebody doing something they do every day. I on the other hand was at the tail end of what was at that point a 28 hour journey, having not slept or showered and only consumed a single cup of coffee in that time. I platonically love this person, we regularly text and chat online about the many things we have in common and talking to her is often a highlight of my day. Usually in any other circumstance I would jump at the chance to spend more time (however brief) in her presence but seeing her in her everyday professional persona made me realise how little I actually know about her and question whether ignorance is bliss and ask do I really want to know about the stuff she doesn’t share with me? Of course I didn’t want her to see me in my sleep deprived scruffy state either having previously taken great care to present myself as somebody I hope she would be proud to call a friend and now seeing myself as somebody the polar opposite of her offline persona. I don’t think she spotted me (if she did she had the same instinct I did to turn the other direction). I have not told her about this blog (yet) but if she ever reads this I hope she takes no offence and understands my reasons for avoiding her. For the record we did have a pleasant and totally unrelated text conversation a couple of hours later.

But to refocus on my initial point regarding online personas, does any of what we chose to include or leave out really matter? We are still living in a world that remembers life before the internet. In the future portrayed in Ready Player One peoples online personas are accepted with the same, if not greater, degree of legitimacy as their offline selves. Soon people won’t remember a life without the internet and whilst that comes with certain dangers it also allows us the opportunity to create a world in which people do not have to be defined or restricted based on the level (or lack) of privilege they are born into. In part that is why I created this blog for myself. Whilst I acknowledge I am far more privileged than many that doesn’t mean the real world always allows me to present myself as I always want to. I am not looking to deceive anyone reading this about who I am, I merely see it as a way to explore ideas and parts of my own persona that I have struggled to fit into areas my offline life, be it professionally, academically or socially.

To quote a passage from RP1: “We’d connected on a purely mental level. I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend. None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation.”

I feel like I have started to ramble at this point but I hope that this post, along with my previous two entries, helps anybody who may stumble across this page understands the motivations and intentions behind me starting this blog. Over the next few days and weeks I intend to start populating the page with a bit more interesting, and less narcissistic, subject matter. For now here is the trailer for the upcoming film for which the book started this whole train of thought

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A slight change of plan…

I sit here in a bit of a haze.

Right now I should be sat drinking a beer on Copacabana beach. Instead I am sat in my living room with no idea what to do with myself. Long story short I booked a holiday to see my favourite band, Pearl Jam, performing a concert in Rio De Janeiro tomorrow. Sadly bad weather and even worse luck brought my bucket list holiday grinding to an abrupt halt in Frankfurt.

I’m not the first person to have their holiday plans collapse and I am not writing this to complain about it. However, over the past couple of days I have had a lot of downtime to be stuck with only my own thoughts to occupy me. During that time it has became clear to me that I am somebody who thrives on keeping himself permanently distracted and as such my mind is a badly disorganised place in need of a serious tidy up. I’m also not saying that my thoughts are in any way unique or interesting to be worthy of publishing online and sharing with the world. My hope is that by writing things down in a manner that I am happy to present publicly it will help me to collate and clarify my own thought processes. In making this blog readable to all I am forcing myself to ensure I maintain a certain level of readability and hopefully can avoid descending into confusing rants as I am prone to do when I write anonymously and by hosting on a paid subscription site it will hopefully encourage me to continue to post updates (I tried something like this many years ago with different objectives but hosting on a free site I quickly lost interest in the project as other things drew my attention). It would also be great if this occasionally triggers some lively discussions, I am open to criticism and opposing opinions but lets try and keep things respectful, yeah?

I am under no illusions, I don’t foresee this becoming a widely read blog, chances are if you have found this page you are one of my small-ish circle of friends who have me on Facebook. I have no aspirations to become a writer and I am not trying to change lives here. But, I do take some comfort in the idea of potentially leaving something permanent online that if I should be struck by a bus in 6 months will leave something of me for people to read beyond the frankly inane crap I share on Facebook. If anything I write on here should cause somebody to discover a band they fall in love with or even just raise the occasional smile from anybody that happens across something I write then all the better.

If you have already read this far then thank you. If you should decide to come back in the future then let me give you an idea of some of the kind of content I hope to populate this page with:

  • Live Music – I mentioned earlier that I like to keep myself distracted and going to gigs is my primary way of doing that. Some of the best people I know I have met whilst following my favourite bands. I will attempt to post something (however brief) about every live gig I attend but please don’t expect proper reviews, I am a fan not a critic.
  • Fandom – When I find a TV show, film, book that I like I attempt to absorb everything about it. I can quote entire Simpsons episodes word-for-word, I can pick out the tiniest cannon plot holes in every Star Trek series and film and reel of obscure references from all kinds of media. I don’t say this to boast, I know its not impressive but it doesn’t mean its not fun! I sometimes worry that my persona is just a series of pop-culture references cobbled together.
  • Academia – I am currently in the process of writing a masters dissertation about the UKs live music venues and will be posting content relevant to that in order to experiment with ideas and hopefully develop a few new ones from any discussion that arises. One of my hopes for this blog is that it will make writing feel like less of a chore when I have to do it for academic purposes and that it will help me to further develop my writing style
  • The world – It is a ridiculous place and more and more I find myself feeling like I am living in The Place That Sends You Mad from “The Twelve Tasks of Asterix”. I am not planning on writing detailed analysis of world politics or current events (although I cannot promise they won’t occasionally be mentioned) but will occasionally talk about the things that confuse me about the world in an attempt to make some sense of them.

    Finally a few disclaimers:

  • I am a 30yr old white male and I admit to the privilege that I was born with. I consider myself to be liberal minded but sadly can only write from the perspective I have. I do not seek to offend anybody but if anything I say should appear insensitive please know it is simply a lack of understanding on my part and I welcome the chance to be enlightened (but please do it respectfully, its hard to sympathise with somebody else when they are calling you a dick no matter how right them may be)
  • I do not consider myself a skilled writer. I can spell and my grammar is generally ok (with a few bad habits) but I am an average typist, terrible proof reader and not a fan of my own prose. I hope that working on this blog will help me improve my writing skills.
  • I do ramble. As you can probably guess if you are still reading this. Anyone who has ever got into a text conversation with me will know that conciseness is not one of my strong points. Again this is something I hope to improve on as I write this blog.
  • This is a personal blog. Please don’t see it as anything more than a personal diary that I am allowing others to read. I am a fan of looking back through my old online posts and photos in the same way one might look at a family photo album or scrap book. If and when my memory starts to fail me hopefully this blog will allow me to revisit my not-so-glorious glory days
  • I welcome any comments or discussion but keep it civil. If I think you are trolling of just being a dick I might tell you so but chances are I will just delete your comments. I have neither the energy or the inclination to argue online. I welcome different opinions and its fine to tell me you disagree with me and why but let’s actually have a civil discussion about it.
  • If I am writing about people I know in real life I will attempt to keep it as anonymous as possible. I fully expect that anyone who reads my ramblings will have me on Facebook and as such will probably know some of the same people I do. I will try to respect everyones privacy and keep you all as anonymous as possible if I do mention you. First names or nicknames only or if its something a bit sensitive I will give you a pseudonym.
  • I don’t like the name of this blog. I wanted to call it “The Reeding Room” but it turns out that’s the name of a series of christian songs and audio books aimed at young children. I respect peoples faiths but consider myself an agnostic and would rather not have any confusion or crossover of interests there. If anyone can think of a better name I am open to suggestions.
  • I am still learning all the various tools and features of WordPress so probably safe to expect a few layout and style changes whilst I play around over the next few days and weeks.

Thank you for your patience thus far, hopefully you will find my forthcoming entries a bit more entertaining. For now if you didn’t get my Asterix reference earlier here is the scene I was referring to:

-Reed