Once or twice a year something unpleasant comes around. There's only one way to deal with it, you just have to tie your boots, zip up your fly, face the truth...and go to the Hydro. £2 bottles of ginger from the vendies and £30 t-shirts aside, you just have to go to the Hydro.
This time around it was to see Hollywood Vampires, a supergroup often described online as "Johnny Depp's band". However this supergroup are a mighty seven piece and also feature Joe Perry of Aerosmith fame... and some lassy called Alice Cooper. I own their first album and I do think for the most part it's pretty good, so I was all up for checking them out live Especially after Alice Coopers gig at the same venue last year. I'm a fan of his and after seeing him for the first time I thought it really set the benchmark for how an arena gig should be. Other than my love for mad Alice I was also very intrigued to see how Johnny himself was at playing rockstar. I've seen a lot of people say he was rubbish on guitar, and I also noticed a lot of the comments on the Facebook event pages were from fans of his who were somewhat surprised to find out he was even in a band, but they'd still be going to see him. Adding to that, the support bands were The Damned and The Darkness, so I was expecting a good night.
First up were The Damned. Bang on seven the house lights cut and on walked a very oddly dressed group of people. Their jacket and hat combos don't affect their sound but it was the first thing I noticed about them. Captain Sensible himself rocking his big red beret as I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear, Dave Vanian head to toe in black. Black jacket, shirt, gloves, shoes, shades, hair, the lot. I'm a fan of the goth look myself so I was into it. But as soon as I could make sense of the keys players skull print jacket they launched into "Street Of Dreams". What a song that is, and a very strong opener. As soon as they dropped off from its big ending however, the crowd and myself disagreed on the reactions we should give. I wanted to rip my seat out and jump down to the barrier for some fists in the air screamin "Yaaasss, tear it a new wan Cap!" action. But this after all is a hydro gig and the floor seating crowd were perhaps to be considered "polite company". As such the reaction was very weak.
The band themselves have a variety of tunes and sounds in their back catalogue (explaining why one member was all patches and buttons and another looked like Dracula's chauffeur) and the synth-backed goth rock from Phantasmagoria and the like worked well and made sense in the hydro as a large venue. But quickly came "Neat, Neat, Neat" and "Ignite". These tunes lend themselves to high energy crowds who are actually there to see the band, in a standing venue. Obviously the bigger paying crowd to see a band the better, but one song in and I'd made a promise to myself to see them in a smaller, better venue on their next tour.
The band did do their best to engage with the crowd between some songs, whether they wanted it or not. The Captain asking only two songs in "So, who burnt the ABC down then?" part of me thought it was too soon, another part of me felt like a dafty for being surprised at an old punk saying something outrageous. It was another comment he made that stuck in my head however. Addressing the lack of crowd response he said "Don't worry, only two hours till Johnny's on". Sadly, I think this was the loudest cheer they got.
Regardless they soldiered on, smashing through Eloise, New Rose and finishing with Smash It Up. This is the first time I've seen The Damned, and I was very surprised to see how good musicians the original and long time members are. All too often you see classic bands using younger guys and large backing bands to pad out the sound and sometimes make up for their own shortcomings. I'm sure it wont take you long to think of an example of this. This band however, have no need for that. Cap was very much into his guitar work and solos, I hear more so than usual, and I didn't hear anyone go off time or out of tune. This band can play rings around their peers. Think of other punk bands still on the go from the late 70's, how many of them regularly get praised on their instrumental skill? Not many, but The Damned deserve to be. I was very impressed with them, everything they did just seemed right. I'll be seeing them again.
The sound quality was good too, a good friend said it was the best their live mix had ever been from his experience. The sound remained good all night, the bass could have been louder but that's pretty much my catchphrase.
The second act of the evening were The Darkness. I've seen them once before and said I would never see them again. Not because they were bad themselves, but because the crowd were trying to sing along. And the Sunday afternoon mud-stained Download Fest crowd were not capable of that. It was genuinely grating, and irritating to be around. However I didn't mind giving them a second go, after all, how daft is it to patch a band because the crowd were enjoying themselves? Also I was stood just outside the tent they were on in so I never really got to see them.
There we were, lights out, wee cheer, on skips Justin Hawkins and his merry men. I get the impression the crowd reaction for the support has been the same all dates on this tour as without hesitation Hawkins grabbed the mic and said "no no, remain seated, it's fine" very sarcastically. Like I said, consider the crowd "polite company". "Solid Gold" was their opener. I wasn't familiar with this one and it was an ok first song but I would have expected something different. The set itself split about fifty/fifty with songs I knew and songs I wasn't familiar with, with "Growing On Me", "One Way Ticket" and "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" all making appearances.
Overall I was underwhelmed with their set. I wasn't surprised at anything they did. Everything down to the guitar solos, the bassists YELLOW suit all just seemed predictable and standard Darkness.
I do have to talk about frontman Justin Hawkins though. I'm aff him. Firstly he had a guitar brought to him every so often so he could play the solos. Lead singers who want to be lead guitarists also grinds my gears generally. I mean it's a four piece band and the other guitarist actually seemed better, so I would expect him to rock the lead parts. However wanting to be a lead vocalist who jumps about, and then has a roadie present a shining axe to you when it's solo time? That to me is a whole new level of bawbaggery. Everything he did on stage seemed to scream ego and entitlement. I'll list some of the incidents where he felt the need to berate the crowd (It was along these lines but I'll try to go word for word where I can).
"So rude of you all just sitting there, we're trying our hardest."
"I would say that's disappointing but it's what I expected" (this was in response to the crowd trying to sing back a line to him, and it was somewhat funny. Truth is though I don't think he would have said it if he didn't think he was a gift to rock n roll)
"A gentleman here just shouted "where's that christmas song?" First of all how rude, at least ask for it by name. Although we are flattered you think WE wrote the definitive Christmas song, we want you to think of The Darkness whenever you think of Christmas"
Justin himself also made a sly dig at Johnny Depp, or rather the fact that the crowd seemed to care more about him than the rest of the bands. I wonder if oor John has been a hassle to tour with. I've heard stories about him being a walloper, but how much of that is gossip? How much of that is jealousy? How much of that is bitter rock n rollers not wanting a film star invading their precious underground group of unknown musicians such as Alice Cooper?
And speaking of, it was finally time for the auld Vampires to burst out of their caskets and take the stage for themselves.
Unlike for the first two acts, most of the crowd where I was stood up and stayed up. Although The Damned deserved a crowd who cared I was just happy to have an excuse to get on my feet. The Hydro seating is not built for me. And before you ask, aye the seats are wide enough. All I mean is that for all I'm not skinny, and I rarely malinky, but I do have long legs and big banana feet and it was getting uncomfortable to be pressed up against the row in front.
The Hollywood Vampires are a serious rock n roll outfit with solid musicians in the backing band, including Glen Sobel on the drums who tours with Alice Cooper even when Joe Perry isn't hanging around. Earlier in the review I mentioned some legendary older guys still in the scene could use the help of a very talented backing band, I think Joe Perry is one of those guys. He's not incapable of playing guitar by any means, and he was really digging into his strat and pulling the solos out of them. It just seems like he no longer has what he once had. And that's a bit pish, aye he was part of a band that are considered legendary whether you like them or not, but it's still true. Saying that I noticed Alice slip a few times himself. He seemed to be straining his voice during one song in particular. That could be down to the songs, that could be down to having a bit of an off night, but having seen him last year performing very well I don't put it down to age or lack of skill. One or two minor vocal faults aside he is still an excellent front man. He never slowed down or stayed in the one place for too long until the final bow, and that's why I love him.
The setlist itself was good, including their own material as well as the covers they're known for. One or two wee Cooper/Aerosmith hits snuk their way in there too. "I'm Eighteen", "Sweet Emotion" and "Break On Through" were the highlights for me.
It's at this time in the review I'll need to give Mr Depp his turn in the spotlight, I'm sure he's not used to being out of it for too long. I didn't know what to expect from him, especially after The Damned and The Darkness made their remarks. And the truth of the matter is I think as a guitarist he was unremarkable. By all means he's an alright guitarist, he didn't stink. He just didn't impress me like Tommy Henriksen did. He held his own on stage but he did have two other guitars, a bass, an organ, a massive drumkit and Alice Cooper to weave himself between. He took some lead guitar parts on an "Ace Of Spades" cover and did it justice, but didn't do anything special. Those of you reading this who know me will actually realise that is a good response from me considering I'm a massive Motörhead fan. Oor John did redeem himself however. After leaving me underwhelmed at his lead vocals on "People Who Died" (originally by Jim Carrol) he took the centre microphone for Heroes.
That was when he impressed me. He didn't try to make it about himself, he didn't try to make it his own, he just sang the song. And he did it very well, far better than I could have done but then again, I'm a pish singer.