The Hollywood Vampires in
Stuttgart, Germany July 2023
A special review written and photographed by David Bronstein
We are at the 15,000 capacity Schleyer Halle in Stuttgart, Germany. Germans do things differently. On this tour I have witnessed terrible heatwaves and terrible rain and both times fans have been left to continue to queue outside. Not in Stuttgart where an ominous warning tells us that fans will be allowed in extra early, why? Well there is a storm coming after a sweltering day outside. But let's fast forward to the Alice moment. Chris Wyse the bassist has just been caught by surprise after his bass solo, he is presented with a birthday cake, and he genuinely looks in awe of it. Alice then goes to introduce the band and as professional as he always is begins with the drummer Glen Sobel he of course who is also in the Alice Cooper band. Basically the non full time members get mentioned first, same thing every night, expect Alice turns to Joe Perry and says "on guitar..." So the beauty of this is that ever sharp 75 year old Alice who has been caught off guard by the birthday cake girl corrects himself but beforehand he laughs. I mean Alice never laughs at least on stage, he is part of our nightmares but here he is laughing away. If this were a movie then he would have broken the fourth wall. When he laughs it is the same laugh we can see in his old interviews from the 1970s when he was struggling with his own demons, but when he laughs and because he has kept himself sober for 41 years and looked after himself he is full of youth, it was a lovely moment. But this was also a special show, perhaps the best one of their recent European run. It helps that by now they have played 23 shows and all of this only over a five week period. But by Stuttgart the band seem tight, they seem confident and they are surely flying the flag for deep down n' dirty rock n' roll. Oh and by the way the security were correct, the heavens opened and by the end of the show with thousands of people pouring out of the arena they were treated to an early shower.
Apart from a couple of television appearances Hollywood Vampires had not played a show since coming off stage at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in California four years ago but on June 8 the band kicked off their latest tour in Bucharest in Romania. Perhaps that was fitting given that the ultimate vampire lair and headquarters in the world the one and only Transylvania is under 150 miles from the venue. While the set list varies from the last tour there are familiar songs in the opening "I Want My Now" and "Raise the Dead". It is a tour that will give us two original Alice Cooper tracks in "I'm Eighteen" and show closer "School's Out". The tour also and rightly pays homage to other members bands and influences so for Joe Perry we get the Aerosmith classic "Walk this Way". One delight for any Aerosmith fan that loves deep cuts and rarities is "Bright Light Fright", this track which is over 40 years old was never favoured by Steven Tyler and had Perry on vocals, and the legendary guitarist seems in his element belting out this one night after night.
Movie star Johnny Depp gets his moment to shine, taking the vocals for not one, not two but three tracks. "People Who Died" a Jim Carroll cover that is dedicated to Depp's long time bodyguard Jerry Judge who died four years ago and is tattooed on Depp's arm. Depp also sings on the David Bowie cover "Heroes", Killing Joke's "The Death and Resurrection Show" and introduces us to Jeff Beck's original guitar on stage as the band pay homage to perhaps the greatest guitar player of all time. Depp and Beck of course became close friends and made a record last year titled "18" and went on tour together. The homages are fitting of course because the story of Hollywood Vampires is remembering the past, the rock stars who have died, mostly by their own hand, but it is also about paying respect to the past and we are seriously watching veteran rock stars, teach the younger ones a thing or two.
"Depp's side of the stage when arena doors are opened are always the first sections to be completely filled up!"
Take Johnny Depp, he looks like a bona fide rock star, he looks like he was born to play rock n'roll arena shows his whole life. However a movie career came calling and Depp has only been a consistent live performer for the past 8 years. You get the sense he loves it, that being a rock star offers more appreciation than a movie star. Every night he gets to see his fans, that only happens when you're an actor at award shows and premieres, or perhaps very awkwardly as you try to run out of a restaurant. One thing that does need to be put to rest and it is usually brought up by questionable music fans is that Depp cannot play the guitar. The evidence is go and watch a Vampires show. If you can't do this go on YouTube, or maybe understand that guitar greats such as Jeff Beck and Joe Perry would not play with someone who can't play guitar, no matter their Hollywood status. There is of course no doubt that Depp's name does sell tickets and it is interesting to see how many young women there at the shows that normally are not there for a standard Alice Cooper show. Cooper has joked that sometimes he goes over to Depp's side to feel the warmth and love, Depp's side of the stage when arena doors are opened are always the first sections to be completely filled up!
So the Hollywood Vampires main players are Johnny Depp, Joe Perry and of course the one and only Alice Cooper, however it is worth remembering the other musicians that make up the band. Indeed the second guitarist Tommy Henricksen is seen as a fourth full time member and he is also in the Alice Cooper band. Henriksen who lives in Switzerland full time now is a brilliant and confident guitar player and he is an Alice member, in that he moves around and poses with the guitar with a constant smile on his face, in short he is a professional. Glen Sobel is also in the Alice Cooper band on drums and Alice genuinely rates Sobel as one of the best drummers in the world. That sentence comes with a lot of assurance, you don't get to play with Cooper if you are not at a certain level and Sobel has been with him for almost a decade. He gets to do a drum solo every night which is as ever inch perfect. Chris Wyse may not be widely known to fans, but he did spend some time with British legends The Cult. He offsets the other band members by looking mean, gritty and moody and he gets an amazing chance to solo every night with dry red ice smoke, it looks like he is coming out of hell itself. Finally on the key boards and acoustic guitar is Buck Johnson, who looks like a ball of fun and really shines on some tracks, namely when the band launch into two Doors classics in Five to One and Break on Through (to the other side). Johnson is currently the keys master to a certain Aerosmith.
All in all the tour was a successful one although as mentioned above there were some speed bumps. The first one was when the bands appearance at one of the best rock festivals in the world, Hellfest, was thrown into jeopardy when their gear was held up at the Serbian border. The band were at the festival, the gear wasn't and Henriksen could be seen smiling as ever wondering the grounds of Hellfest wondering what in the hell they were gonna do? Other bands on that day helped out with gear and that included headliners KISS. Indeed Paul Stanley let Henriksen use of his guitar. Two shows had to be cancelled towards the end of the tour because of stage set up and technical difficulties which was unfortunate on the fans, but sometimes these things can't be helped. As a side note with one of the cancellations it meant that Alice could go and see Guns N'Roses perform in Hungary, and this may well have been the first meeting between him and Axl Rose since the pair collaborated on the song "The Garden" for GNR's infamous Use Your Illusion albums back in 1991! Oh how we all wanted Alice to take the stage and belt that one out. It wasn't to be and instead Alice enjoyed the show sat next to his stunning wife Sheryl.
There were lots of highs throughout the six week run and that included Ronnie Wood joining the band in London for a portion of their tribute to Jeff Beck and also the classic "The Train Kept a Rollin". Guitar god Tony Iommi joined the band, where else but in Birmingham as they played the Black Sabbath classic "Paranoid". The song was played after "School's Out", marking the first time that the Cooper classic didn't end the show. After Europe came 3 dates in America on the East coast. These were originally scheduled for the beginning of the tour but Depp had hurt his ankle the month before and therefore these were slotted in for the end of July. No surprise guests here or surprise songs but the final show, the bands 29th of the recent tour and 95th overall took place on the grounds of the original Woodstock festival. If that isn't paying the ultimate respect to rock n'roll folklore then I don't know what is.
This tour rocked, and the Vampires have promised to "Rise" again for more shows. Without being too hasty it would seem that their next tour will be the rest of North America, and maybe a return to Europe. Don't hold your vampire breaths though. Alice starts his own tour on August 5 and that will see him play shows for the next 3 months. Perry will be undergoing Aerosmith's farewell tour that kicks off at the end of the year and Depp will most probably have a movie project or two up his sleeve. But next time the vampires get the urge, don't be afraid to submit, I promise you, you won't get bitten, well not too badly!
David Bronstein, HMS