Perhaps the group – fronted by seminal shock-rocker Alice Cooper, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and actor Johnny Depp – since those shows has done a lot of rehearsing.
Because its concert Friday at Sands Bethlehem Event Center to kickoff its first formal U.S. tour was something else altogether: A polished and surprisingly strong, rollicking good rock band.
At its most basic, it had very much the vibe of an Alice Cooper show – Cooper provided nearly all the vocals and visuals – only with an exceptionally good guitarist. And Joe Perry showed that he remains one of the best.
And then there was Depp. How much he actually contributed to the music was hard to measure, with his rhythm guitar deep in the mix of the other six people on stage (he did play solos on two of the group’s original songs).
But just his presence was powerful. Throughout the night, the sold-out crowd cheered virtually every move Depp made – starting with his leading the band on stage and a small wave on the opening song.
The Hollywood Vampire’s 21-song, 92-minute show was well-designed, growing stronger as it went.
It opened with movie search lights and snippet of film – a not-so-subtle reminder of the band’s Hollywood roots – and the appropriate song “Raise the Dead,” one of just three originals the band did. Of course, its self-titled debut album also has just three originals.
It and other early songs were very much in the style of Cooper’s solo shows – crunching rock, with the Goth-garbed singer posing and gesturing as he sang. And the 68-year-old vocalist sang surprisingly well, as if the new band has energized him.
Cooper even made John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” his own, updating it into his style – helped by an exceptional Perry solo.
Perry also was a star, ripping guitar on Spirit’s “I Got a Line on You,” elevating Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” with good playing and almost single-handedly saving T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” with his muscular playing.
Perry even sang on the Fleetwood Mac blues song “Stop Messin’ Around,” then ripped a solo holding the guitar behind his head.
Mid-show, Cooper explained that The Hollywood Vampires arose from a drinking club at Hollywood’s Rainbow Room. A reference to The Doors – “I used to drink with one of them; his name was Jim Morrison” – led into a mash-up of “Five to One” and “Break On Through” that was laudable in both musicianship and vocals.
Not all of the covers were as great. A pairing of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and “My Generation” were OK, saved largely by Perry smashing his guitar after the latter. A slower version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” with Cooper on harmonica (!) was good, again helped by Perry’s guitar, but not remarkable.
And T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” fell short because it wasn’t a good enough song for the talent playing it.
But the second half of the show was far better; even the two originals. The new “As Bad As I Am” was a Ramones-like blast and “My Dead Drunk Friends” was nicely dynamic, with Depp playing lead. “They’re all gone,” Cooper said of the titular colleagues. “I come from an older, more dangerous breed.”
A pairing of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” and “Suffragette City” was very good, with Cooper wailing.
The set closed with Cooper’s hit “I’m Eighteen,” with the singer all in and Perry playing good guitar. And then a killer version of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” with bassist Robert DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots nailing the bass part and Perry burning on guitar.
Depp, whose only words to the crowd through the show were an early “Thank you so much for having us,” gave a mumbled introduction of the band.
The encore started with a runaway version of Aerosmith’s “Train Kept A Rollin’,” Perry playing feedback guitar, then perhaps the night’s best, a strong, faithful version of Cooper’s “School’s Out,” with a snippet of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”
After a pause, the band came back for a fast and furious cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” that Cooper dedicated to that band’s frontman Lemmy Kilmister, who died in December.
“If we missed any dead drunk friends, we’ll get them next time,” Cooper said. “We’re Hollywood Vampires – music from the grave.”
Truth is, The Hollywood Vampires are more alive than ever.