So legend has it, hidden away in the loft of the notorious Rainbow Bar and Grill on the Sunset Strip, Alice Cooper once ran his own all-night drinking club. John Lennon, Marc Bolan, Harry Nilsson, John Belushi and Keith Moon were among the regulars, included by virtue of their stamina; the bar staff nicknamed them the Hollywood Vampires. In 2015, as one of the few left alive, the now-teetotal Cooper assembled his own supergroup under that banner, drafting in Aerosmith’s guitarist Joe Perry along with, rather strangely, Johnny Depp, to pay tribute to his departed friends and heroes. That same year, the trio released their a self-titled album of rock covers, plus two new songs.
Along that theme, on Wednesday night, on the last UK date of their European tour, the band were backed by montages of dead rock and screen stars, while among their setlist was the aptly titled My Dead Drunk Friends, a self-penned shanty with chant-a-long lyrics that appeared in a pirate font on the big screens.
This track was one of only a few on on the setlist that weren’t cover versions. Hollywood A-lister or not, Hollywood Vampires are, for now, essentially an arena-sized pub karaoke band, borrowing hits from the likes of Love, AC/DC and The Doors. But, of course, there was poignancy in their choices. Touring bassist Chris Wyse gave a rasping performance of Motörhead’s Ace of Spades as images of Lemmy loomed over him, while Depp’s gentle rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes, one of two numbers on which he took lead vocals, was lit up by a sea of mobile phones capturing the moment.
Depp has remained a doggedly regular face among the rock glitterati, despite never really being a respected musician. He’s appeared in videos for Tom Petty and Paul McCartney, on stage with The Roots, Marilyn Manson and Shane McGowan, as well as playing slide guitar on Oasis’s 1997 track Fade In-Out.
But despite his Hollywood status, Depp was far from the star attraction here – principally, he remained side-of stage. He is a competent guitarist, and certainly looks the part: at age 55, wearing a puffy white shirt and black waistcoat, a bandana and chains hanging from his neck and belt-hooks, he is evermore morphing into Keith Richards. But, on stage rather than screen, exuberance and showmanship clearly do not come naturally to him – he never spoke to the Wembley crowd. When Cooper introduced each member of the seven-strong touring band during the show’s final minutes, he had to yank Depp out from his hiding place behind an amp.
While Hollywood Vampires may be a chance for Depp to dip his toe into the rockstar dream that he’s held onto since he was a teenager, for Cooper, it is clearly for fun. And this really was his show. Swinging his black cane and snarling, the patriarch of glam rock introduced his 1971 breakout hit I’m Eighteen by declaring himself “a vampire that did not die”. And after watching this septuagenarian close the show with the bombastic School’s Out, you wonder if he really might just outlast us all.