Hollywood Vampires @ Utilita Arena, 11th July 2023

From the outset you can tell this is going to be a unique rock event that has landed in Birmingham, ‘The Home of Metal’, and the audience are certainly excited for the entrance of the rock and acting icons who have combined forces to create Hollywood Vampires.

Out of the darkness and with a hint of the sinister enhanced by Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, red lights and excessive dry ice, the masters of their craft appear.  Joe Perry’s inimitable guitar playing launches I Want My Now, supported by Tommy Henrikson and Johnny Depp (yes, THE Johnny Depp) on guitars and in the centre is ‘The Godfather of Shock Rock’, Mr Alice Cooper delivering his macabre vocals.

Tonight’s set includes a number of The Vampires original songs and a collection of covers based around the theme of dead rock stars both of which blend seamlessly and evidence the song writing skill of the four. Unsurprisingly, Alice Cooper’s performance is exemplary, striding around the stage brandishing a cane, casting a gruesome spell upon the audience with his skill of entertainment that truly could Raise The Dead as their next song proclaims. 

The covers start with the Alice Cooper track, I’m Eighteen which is odd to see without the usual stage antics of Cooper’s solo tours however illustrates its calibre as a song. The Hollywood Vampires then take on The Doors’ Five To One and Break On Through that sees the enthusiasm of the audience rise higher, Cooper provides an raucous vocal rendition that Jim Morrison would have been impressed with as Joe Perry relishes the guitar solo.

It is the cover versions to honour dead rock stars that impress the crowd the most and the band have selected some rock’n’roll classics that they know will delight. The tribute to Johnny Thunders, You Can’t Put Your Arms Round A Memory, sees a dramatic change in tempo as Cooper picks up a guitar, Chris Wyse moves from bass to an electric cello and Joe Perry takes lead vocals, giving the song a similar sensitivity to that of the original. One of the finest is a rendition of the fabulous Baba O’Riley by The Who. Unlike The Who classic, The Vampires have chosen to start with straight chords on an acoustic guitar before kicking into the ostinato of the introduction part way through. In honour of the great Keith Moon, Glen Sobel undertakes a drum solo as the rest of the band watch on in a respectful manner. 

The set is exactly what you would expect from a show of this magnitude, large fangs dripping with blood hang from the ceiling and screens display an array of images throughout including cartoon skeleton versions of the band members and during People Who Died, a selection of rock’s finest musicians who have passed away including Kurt Cobain and John Lennnon.

People Who Died is the first time we see Depp take the lead vocal line, he is clearly a competent guitarist and his singing voice sounds exactly as you would expect; with a deep, soft, laid back drawl that cuts through the instrumentation perfectly. It becomes more and more apparent that he is the reason many of the audience members have shown up tonight, and he doesn’t disappoint. Joking with the crowd as to whether anyone likes a tipple before singing As Bad As I Am before turning his hand to an honourable rendition of Bowie’s Heroes which has also been recorded on The Hollywood Vampires album, Rise. Depp delivers a tribute to his dear friend, Jeff Beck, who died in January and after holding aloft Beck’s white Stratocaster hands it to Joe Perry who delivers a blistering guitar instrumental.

Joe Perry makes guitar-playing look so easy with his aloof attitude and signature lean back and at one point, during Walk This Way, playing the guitar behind his head. Being an Aerosmith fan, I loved both Bright Light Fright and Walk This Way. The opening riff of Walk This Way seemed to raise the passionate response of the crowd even higher with many singing along and dancing.

After The Train Kept A Rollin’, The Hollywood Vampires took a bow but chose not to leave the stage but go headlong into the encore of the Alice Cooper masterpiece, School’s Out with a brief segue into Another Brick In The Wall. Oversized balloons are unleashed over the audience and if they ended up on stage they were suitably burst by Alice’s cane as he prowls around looking for inflatable prey.

After this crescendo of what seemed to be the finale, many exited the building quickly as The Hollywood Vampires left the stage but the band returned to take us to even giddier heights. The Black Sabbath luminary, Tony Iommi joins them for a blistering delivery of Paranoid, proving that Birmingham will always be ‘The Home of Metal’. As the band take their final bow, you can see how much enjoyment they are having performing in this format.

The Hollywood Vampires are a collection of musical icons who have a darker side to their personalities but they know how to entertain and clearly relish the opportunity to do so and I am certain every artist that was paid tribute would have appreciated the prestigious salute. 

Reviewer: Toni Woodward

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