Home Gigs Gig Review : The Hollywood Vampires UK Tour 2023 The Utilita Arena, Birmingham

Gig Review : The Hollywood Vampires UK Tour 2023 The Utilita Arena, Birmingham

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Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

Another day, another trip down the awful M6 into Birmingham once more, on getting there I find my little cheap car-park has now closed so in the panic I end up in the Utilita North Car park and pay the price for it being underneath the venue.

Getting in is easy as the box office is relatively quiet, I get my pass and go through the searches to get in. Its early doors so the activity is just starting to build.

Queues haven’t yet formed at the Merch or Beer outlets. The band of us merry togs slowly grows to a point we are out numbering the security on the door. We have been told this is where we need to stay until collected. The times seem to have been put back as the support ‘THE TUBES’ have moved back from 7pm to 7:30pm to 8pm

We are finally collected and walked down to the pit, our heads hanging like doing the morning ‘walk of shame’ home. Another check of passes before being allowed in and then we’re left waiting again, staring at how tall the stage looks from our vantage point.

THE TUBES are an American Rock band from San Francisco, having been formed in 1972 from the amalgamation of two previous bands who moved into the area. They released their self-titled debut album in 1975 from which the single ‘White Punks on Dope’ was released into the charts. It’s become a staple in the bands set list over the years, and has probably become their best-known song.

With eight studio albums in the bag, along-side several compilations and live recordings, the band have a decent amount of material to search through. The set list consists of only six songs, as the band start off with ‘Mr Hate’ from 1981’s The Completion Backward Principle.

Its jaunty bounce starts as the brightly clothed band fire up. Fee Waybill has eventually joined the band on stage, looking like he’s raced in from the bus, still wearing his grey mac. He grabs the mic and starts to belt out this opener. Roger Steen is dressed in a bright orange suit as he cut loose with a tight solo on his Suhr as the words “Mr Hate” are repeatedly sung.

From the same album we get ‘Talk to Ya Later’ another bouncy happy sounding number as Fee Waybill removes his coat and gets down to business, he flings his arms open as he adds a bit of show biz pazazz to his delivery.

The band around him are tight, they are wearing different colour suits, have they shared a changing room with Showaddywaddy? Atom Ellis in his red suit and flat cap is having a great time, the photographers are crowding around as he throws the shapes whilst thumping out a solid beat during ‘What Do You Want for Life’, his time with ‘PSYCHEFUNKAPUS’ obviously come to the front, as he rocks out the thunderous funky bassline.

Steen takes over as the song continues. Sadly, the crowd seem a bit bewildered and I kind ‘a get that, this is a very American band that hasn’t released anything from the studio since Genius of America in 1996. Waybill’s voice is sadly not what it used to be and at times he struggles, you can feel the crowd wince as he does.

Never the less the band continue with ‘She’s a Beauty’ from 1983, it’s another familiar sounding tune, think J Geils Band or the Cars, Starship, that sort of vibe.

I’m familiar with the band as a name but I haven’t seen them live before so It’s an interesting choice as the undercard. ‘White Punks on Dope’ is the only number I can say I am familiar with, although not at the front of my memory as its from back in 1975, I can remember talking about it in the dinner queue at school. It’s a glam number that has lost none of its fun and relevance today, finishing with a musical breakdown of some scorching guitar licks from Steen and a cavalcade of thrashing drums from Prairie Prince, dressed in pink behind the kit.

They finish the set with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ by the Beatles. It’s an up-beat fun wedding dance version fast and furious and again the vocal is weak as Waybill tries to capture the youth of 1978 where they released it on the Live Album “The Tubes: What Do You Want from Live”. It’s a great number and they have had a good go but listening to the folk around me I think Waybill has had better nights.

So, it’s another very quick turn-around as we get ready for Alice and the boys of The HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES, the band are named after Alice’s very own drinking club from the 70’s. This was a collection of the good and famous who would meet and drink until they passed out.

As the show goes on Alice names a few of those people, of which pretty much all have passed now except Alice, who saw the light and turned his life around with the help of his good lady wife. Listen to Planet Rock as its mentioned as part of the preamble to his nightly show.

The lights drop and we are introduced to the band with a myriad of video clips of the fab four, Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Tommy Henriksen and of course Johnny Depp. A wall of smoke blocks out the view as the band come on stage to massive cheers, this is what the crowd are waiting for.

They open the proceedings with an original song, ‘I want My Now’ from the Album Rise released in 2019. Cooper, clad in a velvet coat parades back and forth, Henriksen is cutting the shapes as Depp stays over on stage right wearing his trademark reggae beanie. Perry is head down and riffing hard as Sobel slams out a solid drum beat, a great start to the show.

‘Raise the Dead Follows’ from the self-titled 2015 debut album which has the crowd shouting back ‘Hey You’ as Cooper sings about heart attacks whilst the band throw shapes galore, Henriksen is down n dirty on the SG on stage left, Perry joins Cooper to belt out the words, Cooper is face pulling, must be the garlic (sic).

Now it’s basically a super group so there’s obvious that there’s is going to be a selection of ‘covers’ played, the first being Coopers very own ‘I’m Eighteen’ from 1972, and I’m guilty of singing along to this, one of my favourite Cooper tunes, I’m sure he appreciated my help.

As we vacate the pit, and are led away to drop our cameras at security before re-joining the crowd, we get Alice walking down the runway to tell the crowd that they are going to play tribute to their drunk friends. The drums slam out as the intro to the Doors classic ‘Five to One/Break on Through (To the Other Side) mash up starts.

The Beat from Sobel is solid, regimented, the hi-hat splashes break the thundering slams, a quick guitar noodle and then the bass of Wyse rocks out in Classic Doors bass style, the keys of Buck Johnson join in, filling the gaps with that ornery Hammond sound.

For a moment it sounded just like Jim Morrison was singing, such was Coopers lyrical delivery, I rush to hand my bag over, grab a drink for the price of a kidney, why the extortionate prices and head back inside.

The Sophomore album, Rise has yet another visit with ‘The Boogieman Surprise’ before switching to the self-titled debut album for ‘My Dead Drunk Friends’. Introduced by Cooper as a tribute to how all his drinking buddies are now dead. The animated back drop shows pictures of Coopers Dead Drunk Friends, and there are plenty.

Ex-New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders 1978 song ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory’ is covered next and keeps with the theme of the show. Johnson tickles the ivories as Cooper declares that ‘Thunder’ passed away far too soon. The crowd are silent as Perry laments this classic ‘Thunder’ song; Cooper is on guitar for this one.

This is followed by the Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ thankfully not the full 30minutes that was destined for the follow up Rock Opera to Tommy. Cooper dedicates this to the whirling dervish of a drummer, The Who’s own Keith Moon. The acoustic guitar intro is played by Johnson as the screen fills with shots of a swirling keyboard and the Vampires logo.

The familiar keyboard intro plays out and the crowd join in clapping. “Don’t Cry, Don’t Raise Your Eye, It’s Only a Teenage Wasteland” sings Cooper as Perry and Depp rock out in front of the keys. Sobel thrashes around on the kit as a mark to Moon’s prowess, he’s spot-lit as he does so, his fast feet never missing a beat, sticks fly as he beats the cymbals and snare, standing up he beats the crashes with stick tricks between each crash. What a great drummer.

The dark and moody intro to ‘Who’s Laughing Now’ takes over as we get another original from the debut album. The buzzsaw guitar rips across the venue as the crowd join in with the “Ha Ha Ha-ha, who’s laughing now”.

A scream and a final flurry the crowd erupt into cheers and applause. Cooper asks for a Vampire spiritual moment as he introduces the Jim Carroll cover ‘People Who Died’ this one is sung by Depp and he does a great job. This post punk song from 1980 appeared in a number of films including Jackass 4.5 and The Suicide Squad. Sadly, Carroll died at the age of 60, while struggling with ill health he had a heart attack and passed away at home in 2009. The crowd love this one, whether it’s a connection to the song or that Depp sang it I’m not sure.

AC/DC gets covered next with the Live version of ‘The Jack’, I’m not sure how many in tonight know this sleazy laid-back version from the AC/DC Live album from ’92, but the song originally appeared on the 1975 album T.N.T. It was inspired by a letter that Malcolm Young got from a young woman saying he had given her a venereal disease, Scott went off and wrote the classic, saucy song. The Vampires version is the less filthy, fit for radio one.

Cooper now introduces another original from the Vampires and dedicates it to Johnny’s father. ‘As Bad as I Am’ crashes out a fitting tribute. Depp is moving around the stage with an Explorer guitar as this one plays out, another banger from the debut album, full of screaming guitar from both Perry and Henriksen. Depp now takes up the singing duties for the Bowie cover ‘Heroes’ and my god I swear Bowie was channelling through him.

Eyes closed it sounded just like the great man. Perry has the E-Bow out giving the song its unique sound, Wyse has an electric upright bass complete with bow as he provides the deep bassline, once again Cooper is on guitar as Depp smashes this one out of the arena. The song finishes with the blue over gold of the Ukrainian flag displayed on the backdrop. Love it! yet another stunning selection to the set.

Depp stays central after that banger, he talks about losing his great friend, the amazing Jeff Beck, only recently. “I’d like to introduce you to a very dear friend of Jeff’s” He says as he reaches over to a white guitar that’s been sat on a stand, on the drum riser all show, and continues “I’m sure Jeff would love to hear his friend Joe Perry play his guitar one last time”! As he hands it over to Perry.

I was lucky enough to cover the Beck/Depp show last year, and having been a life-long fan of the god father of British guitar acrobatics, I found the moment emotional, I’m not gonna lie. Perry then, gracefully played the hell out of it in Beck style with his fingers starting with Link Rays ‘Rumble’ The wall of honour on the back screen has images of Jeff displayed as the medley continues. Perry at one point is up on the riser completely locked into Becks Bolero as he gives Jeff the tribute the man deserves.

The guitar is replaced back on its stand as Perry now takes up the vocal for Aerosmith’s ‘Bright Light Fright’, a catchy number from their fifth album, Draw the Line, released in 1977.

The intro cymbal crashes make way for screaming guitar and Perry’s vocal. Cooper has changed into a black top as he takes over the mouth organ duties for this early Aerosmith classic. Depp then steps up to the plate to sing ‘The Death and Resurrection Show’ a cover of the Killing Joke classic, someone shouts out “we’re not worthy” as the industrial sound builds. This was part of the set for the Beck/Depp show and is a terrific version. The screens are showing gravestones with past rock stars names on, Lemmy, Bonham, Jim Morrison et al.

Love this version of the song, Depp completely nails the vibe of the song. A favourite of the show then and now.

The back screen cuts to the black and white railway scene from Mel Brooks ‘Young Frankenstein’. Gene Wilder is being encouraged to ‘Walk This Way’ by Eegor played by the late Marty Feldman, this obviously heralds the Aerosmith single ‘Walk This Way’ from the 1975 album Toys in The Attic. Which has the crowd are on their toes as this banger thumps around the arena, some are screaming the lyrics like they’re at a Taylor Swift show. Girls are now dancing in the aisles as the security try to usher them back to their seats. Spoil Sports!

The crowd scream “Walk this way, Talk this way’” along with Perry and co as they sing this coming-of-age classic…

The fast pace is kept up with another cover, this time it’s the 1951, ‘The Train Kept A-Rollin’ by Tiny Bradshaw. Thunderous drums and crushing bass hammer this one along with all the rhythm of a locomotive, the guitars swirl around it as it powers along into another screaming guitar solo. The stage lights have been fantastic throughout as they flash and pulse around the venue. Cooper screams out “Joe Perry” as his six-string assault finishes the song and the set off amidst a cavalcade of screams and applause.

The band reappear and ask the crowd to sing along to another Cooper classic, ‘Schools Out’. The title track to Coopers 5th album released in 1972, I’m pleased to say I have the Desk Themed, ’72 issued original in my collection, a favourite of mine along with Billion Dollar Babies. Cooper is now dressed as the ringmaster complete with Stove pipe hat and cane.

The crowd are singing along and didn’t need the prompt from Cooper. Midway through, large bouncing balls, like those from the TV show ‘the Prisoner’ are now cast adrift from the stage are are soon flying around the venue as the band mash in Pink Floyds ‘Another Brick in The Wall’ played to the ‘Schools Out’ melody. The band get introduced, and it includes Ian Hunter, of Mott the Hoople fame on Tambourine, I never saw that one. Perry gets a huge cheer before he coaxes Depp forward and calls him the ‘mega sexual and highly flatulent”’ “Johnny Depp” to huge cheers, “and”…. “Playing Alice Cooper tonight is ……… ME”! he concludes.

The crowd are thanked once more as the band is joined onstage by the legendary Black Sabbath guitarist and local boy, Tony Iommi for a rousing finale of ‘Paranoid’. The song has a slight galloping gait, lifting it from its Sabbath drone, as the crowd sing every word along with Cooper. The arena is a now a sea of camera phones as the congregation are all trying to get a lasting memory of this magical moment. Each guitarist takes it in turns to ‘hang and riff’ with the great man.

The, with a blinding flurry of lights Sobel crashes around the kit Bill Ward style, signalling Iommi to lead the band into a rousing finish, with Cooper declaring Iommi “An Official Vampire, Now!”. The usual line forming and bow taking follows as the band take their leave of what can only be described as a simply stunning show.

Alice Cooper, ringmaster and amongst the best front men in the business as killed it. I never got to see his tour recently but this has more than made up for it. A stunning show with a great narrative running through it, clever but also a stop and think moment as to how many great rockstars this man has known and has outlived.

It’s a show that you would be encouraged to catch as soon as you can. It’s typically American brash and over the top, but brilliant for it.

A fantastic memory to ponder as I sit in traffic jams and road works on the way home, listening, ironically to Alice Cooper’s show on Planet Rock.

The mans a legend.

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