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HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES at the Manchester Arena, Manchester on 17/6/18

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Heading towards the Arena and one of my fears about this show is confirmed straight away, as I spot someone dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow. Is this just going to be a Johnny Depp love in? Has he strung along two icons of rock in Alice Cooper and Joe Perry to fulfil a rock star fantasy? And with a limited material of their own, are they just a glorified tribute band?

We’ll find out later, but first up are British Punk pioneers The Damned. They are warmly received, but bar a few reliving their youth at the barrier, I felt many weren’t familiar with their material. Still, they put on a good set, which featured many of their biggest hits such as New Rose, Eloise and Smash it Up.

The Darkness are kind of stuck between being a credible band and being a bit of a joke. I doubt you’ll score many cool points attending one of their shows – but you are definitely going to have fun. Justin Hawkins is a brilliant frontman– his vocals are great and distinctive, and in between songs he engages the crowd, playing on his over-exaggerated cocky persona. You kind of forget how many good songs they have – Growing on Me, Love is Only a Feeling, One Way Ticket – and of course, they finish with their massive hit I Believe in a Thing Called Love.

“We are the Vampires” announces Alice Cooper as the band take to the stage as if they needed an introduction. Kicking off the set with two of their own songs – I Want My Now and Raise the Dead, there is a noticeable presence of fans here to scream at Johnny Depp, but it’s not overbearing. He frequently acknowledges them, but does so in a genuine, understated way and not as I had expected, trying to hog the limelight.

My Dead Drunk Friends is about the legend of The Hollywood Vampires – a celebrity drinking club set up by Cooper in the 70’s at the Rainbow Bar in Hollywood, California. Gaining membership was easy – you had to out drink the other members! Cooper is the last remaining member – Founding members including Keith Moon, Micky Dolenz and Harry Nilsson have all passed away – and this a tribute to them.

We get a run of covers – The Doors, AC/DC, Motorhead and The Who – and this is where the Vampires face criticism, but for me, it was really cool to see such talented musicians – including the bands back up live artists – play the songs they love as much as we do. And to be honest it’s where the band shines, a couple of original songs are thrown in here and there, but the crowd reactions are loudest for the covers.
Of course, Cooper and Perry have their own material to fall back on, with their version of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion a highlight of the whole show for all the true rockers in the crowd. The most intriguing part of Hollywood Vampires is what Johnny Depp can add to the band, other than his star power. For most of the show, he’s kind of in the background, adding backing vocals here and there and being more than competent on the guitar, but he’s allowed a chance to shine on The People that Died, and more impressively, performing lead vocals on David Bowie’s Heroes. It’s a surprisingly touching performance, with the trio all sharing the mic for the last chorus.

School’s Out closes the show, and watching Alice Cooper patrol the stage in his top hat and cane, you struggle to believe he’s 70 years old given the performance he’s put on all night. The last remaining Vampire still has plenty of life left in him.

I’m not even a film buff but the presence of Johnny Depp alongside his legendary bandmates made this feel like a really special show. Dismissing them as a covers band means you entirely missed the point. The Hollywood Vampires achieved what they set out to do, honouring artists that as rock fans we hold close to our hearts, and put on an incredibly fun show.

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