After a short hiatus for the Fourth of July, Summerfest was back in action on Tuesday night. It was certainly not the most enticing day of artists on this year’s lengthy lineup, but there was one act that drew equal amounts of curiosity and excitement. Performing in Milwaukee for the first time since its inception, the star-studded and totally “what-the-fuck?” supergroup dubbed the Hollywood Vampires took the BMO Harris Pavilion stage.
While largely unknown to the general populous until their tribute to Lemmy at this year’s Grammy Awards, afterward it became known to the world that somehow a band featuring Alice Cooper, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and A-list actor Johnny Depp was an actual thing. To make sense of this seemingly random formation, a little background is needed.
Cooper and Depp met when they were both cast in the Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, and this is where the idea to create the band came to be. Cooper wanted to start a group to pay tribute to the original Hollywood Vampires, a mid-’70s rock ‘n’ roll drinking club that featured members like Cooper, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and John Lennon, among others. Headquartered at the legendary Rainbow Bar on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, the club became known for its ceaseless love of the drink and an initiation process that allegedly required a new member to drink all other members under the table. Unsurprisingly, alcoholism was rampant within the group, and many of the Hollywood Vampires never made it out alive. Cooper did, and as a tribute to his fellow Vampires, he formed a group four decades later with Depp and Perry (who stumbled into the group by popping in to a recording session while living at one of Depp’s homes).
The trio put out a self-titled album in 2015, featuring a few original songs and a large collection of covers that paid tribute to the fallen, as well as honorary Vampires like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. And now they were in Milwaukee, along with backing support provided by Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses), Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots), Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper band) and Bruce Witkin. As strange as it was, the result was actually pretty terrific. Opening with original “Raise the Dead,” Cooper came out like a grand marshal to an undead parade. The band quickly got in a groove and blasted through a cover of Spirit’s “I Got A Line” before ripping into a two-song set of David Bowie covers. You bet your ass the crowd shouted “Wam bam thank you ma’am” at the top of their lungs during “Suffragette City.”
The side project didn’t break stride as they ran through covers from Hendrix, The Doors, and T. Rex. Its rendition of The Beatles’ “Come Together” was a singalong hit, as Joe Perry worked the crowd into a frenzy during a squealing solo. That was a pretty standard sight for the evening: Perry tearing through solos and Depp ably handling rhythm guitar duties. While it seems like these three guys are from different ends of the planet, they played with the excitement and cohesion of a seasoned band. Playing to each other, playing to the crowd, and singing hit after hit, these may not have been their songs—with the exception of some Aerosmith and Alice Cooper covers—but they made them their own.
One of the most memorable moments of the evening included a pair of The Who covers that included manic Keith Moon-channeling drum work by Matt Sorum and Joe Perry doing his best Pete Townsend impression by smashing his guitar at the end of “My Generation.” As Cooper took that broken guitar neck and hoisted it up in the air triumphantly, everyone in the jam-packed pavilion went wild. Following a feigned end of the set about an hour in, the crowd cheered the world’s most accomplished cover band back to the stage for a couple more songs. Like many of Cooper’s recent solo tours, the night ended with a blistering combination of “School’s Out” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall.”
Yes, there were shrieking girls for Depp, and it was still a little strange to see a supergroup doubling as a tribute band, but it worked strangely well. It was one of those experiences where you scratch your head once it’s over, and wonder if you actually just witnessed what you think you did. In the end, Hollywood Vampires did their job. Cooper wanted to pay tribute to his friends and use the Vampire moniker to help show that the legacy these musical giants left and the music they created will never die. Cooper’s efforts were not in vain. Hollywood Vampires will live forever.
Raise The Dead
I Got A Line (Spirit cover)
Rebel Rebel (David Bowie cover)
Suffragette City (David Bowie cover)
Manic Depression (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Five To One/Break on Through (Doors cover)
Bad As I Am
20th Century Boy/Bang a Gong (T. Rex cover)
Come Together (Beatles cover)
7 & 7 Is (Love cover)
Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover)
Dead Drunk Friends
Stop Messin’ Around (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Ace of Spades (Motorhead cover)
Pinball Wizard (The Who cover)
My Generation (The Who cover)
Eighteen (Alice Cooper cover)
Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith cover)
Train Keep a Rollin’ (Tiny Bradshaw cover)
School’s Out/Another Brick on the Wall (Cooper/Pink Floyd cover)