By: Lina Lecaro
The Sunset Strip has seen its share of mind-blowing super group jams over the years: Camp Freddy's rocker-packed holiday hoe-downs helmed by Dave Navarro, the Viper Room's Neurotic Outsiders melding members of both the Sex Pistols and Duran Duran, Steel Panther's stellar sit-ins with the likes of Pink and Miley Cyrus, for example. But just when we thought we'd seen this concept go as bold-name-big as possible, along comes The Hollywood Vampires featuring Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Joe Perry, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and the requisite special guests.
The boozed brainchild of Alice Cooper, the Vampires were more of a drinking crew than a band when they began. Born in the upper level bar at the famed Rainbow Bar N Grill in the 70s, the group then consisted of rock legends John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Mickey Dolenz, and Ringo Starr. They may not have taken an actual stage in those days, but it's safe to assume that being in the presence of, not to mention actually partying with these guys was its own kind of spectacle.
Last night only an alley's distance away from landmark bar next door at the Roxy, the new Hollywood Vampires (none of whom drink anymore, by the way) re-convened for their second time to actually play music live. And the spectacle was only part of it.
This is a real band, not simply a vanity covers project. At least that's how the famous fellas feel about it. They released a self-titled album just last week, and though it does feature some familiar material, there's a meaning behind each tune: they're songs made famous by Cooper's Vampire pals past, all now deceased.
So are these guys any good live? Of course, that's a dumb question considering the pedigrees involved. Each player is an iconic musician with hit records and sold out tours behind them, not to mention countless awards and fans. Depp is the wild card. He's one of the most famous and revered actors of our time, and he can mimic Keith Richards damn well in a Pirate movie. But does he actually have the chops? The answer is absolutely yes. And his style is not unlike his Sparrow pops–he sounded best strumming loose and twangy Stones-style riffs on classic hits such as "Whole Lotta Love," the band's original number "Raise The Dead," and the show's bluesy closing showstopper, "Brown Sugar." Of course having lead guitarist support by Aerosmith's riff god probably helped a little.
To each player's credit, the star-power on stage was palpable but it never felt egocentric. It was simply a bar jam on steroids. Everybody got the spotlight when it was called for sonically, including the night's procession of guests including Ringo's son Zak Starkey on drums; Kesha, who wailed rather impressively on the Led Zep track (seriously, when did the Tik-Talker learn to actually sing?); Perry Farrell's unique take on a couple Nilson tracks; and Sabbath's Geezer Butler and Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello, who came out together hungry, ripping apart Jim Hendrix's "Manic Depression" with thrashing, picking and licking (he literally played with his teeth and lips).
All of the above were guests on Wednesday night as well, and we're told the setlist was pretty much the same, right down to Morello's mouth-play. One big difference made for a fiendish climax to the band's two-day Roxy stint: a surprise appearance by Marilyn Manson, who joined Coop on "Eighteen," adding even more moody menace to the classic, and making the stage practically boil over with brimstone and bombast.
The Hollywood Vampires moniker might sound like a bad '80s glam-goth outfit, but if any group deserves to call itself something so obvious, it's these guys. Cooper invented the ghoul-school of rock, after all, and the rest of the members have always been dangerous dudes with tales to tell and musical talent to spare. Even Depp, and we're not talking about this role in Dark Shadows. We can't wait to see what they bite into next.