Minutes before The Hollywood Vampires hit the stage at the Roxy, the Sunset Strip club began its transformation from slicked-up, recently renovated venue into sticky, smoldering rock club. Recalling the club’s roaring ‘70s heyday, there were was little room to navigate, and whatever space remained available vanished by the time rock’s latest supergroup hit the stage.
Formed at the adjacent Rainbow Bar & Grill in early '70s, the original Hollywood Vampires — a drinking club, not a band — held court in the upstairs bar at the famed location. In order to join the rocker fraternity, members had to literally out-drink the current members. Many of the biggest names in rock were part of the unofficial club, including John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Mickey Dolenz, Ringo Starr and Vampires president Alice Cooper. Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, previous Cooper drinking buddies, were posthumous “honorary” members.
Though many of the original Vampires died years ago, Cooper and his pal Johnny Depp floated around the idea for the past couple of years of recording an album that paid tribute to Cooper's old drinking pals. Eventually, after three years, The Hollywood Vampires rose from the dead.
Last week, The Hollywood Vampires, which now includes Cooper, Depp, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, and former Guns N’ Roses members Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, released their self-titled album, which features covers of songs made famous by their fallen Vampire brethren. Last night, the group played their first show and paid tribute to the club’s boozy beginnings, but with one catch: Almost every surviving member, including Cooper, is now sober.
By the time the curtain went up, many of rock’s biggest names were lounging in the Roxy's VIP area. From Steven Van Zandt to Chad Smith, several generations of leather-wearing (and leather-faced) rockers looked on with curiosity. The same goes for the aging music executives who were flanked by leggy models, out in full force to see the relics from the bygone era roll back the years.
Almost immediately, collective interest turned to raucous excitement once the group launched into their original song, “Raise the Dead.” With Perry and Depp’s guitars searing through the speakers (and yes, Depp more than held his own in this crowd), the band then plowed through familiar sing-alongs like The Who's “My Generation,” The Doors' “Five to One” and John Lennon's “Cold Turkey.”
Unlike other supergroups who usually need a gig or two to at least become familiar with each other’s tendencies, the chemistry between The Hollywood Vampires was instantaneous. It was like hearing a band at your local dive playing your favorite classic-rock covers, except the lineup was out of many fans’ wildest imaginations. Crisp and tight from the jump, the Vampires made it clear throughout the 65-minute set that they took the gig and project seriously.
“These are the songs for our dead friends,” Cooper proclaimed during the first break, five songs in.
Rumors of surprise guest appearances that buzzed around the room before the set were soon fulfilled. They brought out Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath for a thunderous version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” which saw Morello play his instrument with his teeth. Perry Ferrell — who actually appears on the album — joined the Vampires for a medley of Nilsson’s “One” and “Jump Into The Fire,” and Zak Starkey — representing his father Ringo — hopped behind the kit for The Who's “I’m a Boy.” But the biggest surprise of the night belonged to Kesha, who traded vocals with Cooper on Led Zeppelin's “Whole Lotta Love.”
By the time everyone came back on-stage for Cooper’s “School’s Out,” with a tag of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II),” the singer couldn’t help but grin. After his years of hard living and substance abuses, the president of the club was one of its last living members.
Before he waved goodbye to the crowd before the encore, Cooper got ahold of a mug that appeared to have beer in it. As he lifted it up to take a swig, members of the crowd gasped — but it was one of those prank props that you can find at any mall. Cooper grinned, shrugged his shoulders and moseyed offstage, reminding the crowd that, while the group doesn’t throw down like they used to, that famous Vampire flair hadn’t dissipated either.
Set list below (note: “Honky Tonk Woman” was on the set list but not played).