Hollywood Vampires + The Darkness + The Damned
Sunday 17th June 2017
It was a rare, but welcome night out for Mrs Platinum Al and myself in good old Manchester. Tickets were booked and we were off to see the big rock show. It promised to be an exciting evening, but I was unsure whether our expectations would be met.
First off the bat, our old chums The Damned! This was a real bonus for me, though the handbrake is also a fan after all these years of putting up with me playing their records. However I was a tad nervous, wondering how these esteemed gentlemen would go down with what appeared to be a more traditional rock crowd. And in such a huge venue.
Now I know I’m biased, but we were both impressed by The Damned’s performance. The band didn’t shy away from the large stage; they actually looked quite comfortable up there. I was quite a way away, mind – I think our seats were in Stockport.
Opener “Street of Dreams” was a moody yet raucous number that’s become a bit of a live favourite of mine over the years. Follow that with classic “Neat Neat Neat” and you’re off to a hell blazing start. Just as the stars align and every single person in the huge arena is going “Oooh, they’re quite good, aren’t they?” we get a minor mishap with Captain Sensible’s guitar packing in and the moment seems lost…
Not to worry, before you can say “is he the bloke who sang Shaddup You Face?” the band, old troopers that they are, are back in the game. Dave Vanian steers the ship over stormy waters and is in fine, confident voice all through.
The icing on the cake – for me, at least – is the return of Paul Gray, a sight I’ve not witnessed since Sheffield, 1991! Paul’s bass rumbles and sounds triumphant, particularly in the “Love Song” intro. Fantastic. There’s just a drop in volume during “Ignite”, other than that, Paul is a ninja master.
Pinch’s drums are perfect, you can hear Monty (and see him bouncing about); so other than a couple of technical issues The Damned performed superbly. The set is far too short of course, but I was relieved that they seemed to go down well. From where I was sat, the arena seemed mostly full, so they didn’t suffer from support-band-empty-hall syndrome either.
I felt like I was watching my child in the school play; happily no-one forgot their lines and The Damned get a gold star.
You can certainly say that I got value for money for this gig, what with three bands on. However I was feeling a little short changed after The Darkness performed. Admittedly, I am biased in favour of The Damned. Yet I’ve seen The Darkness before, at Download festival a couple of years ago, and was much more impressed.
Not that the Hawkins boys don’t give it a fair shot; a short tight set is delivered in inimitable style with splurges of Justin’s trademark wit and swagger. Perhaps it’s just that the set is lacking some bigger numbers in the first half; following “Growing On Me” with “Love is Only a Feeling” as the third song is too much of a comedown so early on.
The crowd don’t seem to mind though, it all goes down very well. Let’s be honest, most of ’em are happy because they’ve heard of The Darkness and haven’t got a clue who The Damned are. Or, shock horror, don’t like punk rock. For me, with no “Black Shuck” in the set, and a mediocre version of “Barbarians”, it’s good but not great from the Darkness.
I still can’t bring myself to dislike ’em, regardless. At least The Darkness tried to bring loud, exuberant British guitar rock into the 21st century, and aren’t a wanky indie band.
There followed some musical chairs for Mrs Platinum Al and me, as we secured seats much nearer the front. This pleased the other half immensely, she would now have a much better view of the headliners (or one of them, at any rate).
And so the Hollywood Vampires took the stage, and the Big Rock Show was in it’s final phase. The air of tense expectation was only mildly subdued by the band’s arrival, as the audience were keen to experience what they could serve up. Would this be a vanity project for ageing rock stars and their pirate actor buddy? Or could they deliver something tangibly worth their collective prowess?
Led by the preposterously cool Mr Alice Cooper, the Vamps rattle through a few of their own original numbers at first, as if to prove a point. Yes, they can play – and they can write, too. It’s super confident and great fun – every song gets a chance to shine on it’s own merits.
The bulk of the set is a succession of expertly reproduced cover songs, each dedicated with respect to a fallen rock comrade. Songs range from The Doors, to Motorhead, to AC/DC – with my favourite being a great version of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”.
Joe Perry delivers a spine tingling “Sweet Emotion” complete with the extended intro that builds magnificently. It’s a master class in rock star awesomeness, though Joe seems very much enjoying himself in a humble manner.
Despite the attention thrust upon him by a vast number of fans in attendance, Johnny Depp manages to not only look the embodiment of cool, but actually performs brilliantly. He appears very much in his element as part of this massive spectacle, indeed his rendition of Bowie’s “Heroes” is one of the highlights of the night.
It’s one of several moments that manages to evoke the ghosts of heroes past, as accompanying images are shown on the screen onstage. It’s not altogether subtle, but rock’n’roll rarely is. Instead the audience cheer their appreciation and nod sagely as our heroes are exhumed for us to behold.
Finally, Alice declares “School’s Out” yet again, as the whole show reaches it’s climax. Cooper is an absolute delight, the demented circus master and ring leader of this crazy gang. He is unbelievably cool and amazing at what he does: a true legend.
In the end, despite any doubts, it’s been a hell of a ride. Despite whatever misgivings anyone may have had regarding authenticity, the Hollywood Vampires delivered an excellent, well performed show that was pure fun. It was so much more than just athe world’s biggest covers band. Abandon your cynicism, this was rock’n’roll for the sheer joy of it. Which is what it’s all about, right?