Can a controversial defamation trial suck the life out of a Hollywood Vampires performance? Based on the shrieks that rippled through the crowd Friday night at the Boch Center Wang Theatre as Johnny Depp — one-fourth of the rock ‘n’ roll supergroup — stepped onstage, the answer is a shrill “no.”
The pall of Depp’s 2022 court case against his ex-wife Amber Heard couldn’t compare with the cloak of gloom that Depp and bandmates Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Tommy Henriksen cast over a spellbound sea of fans. Among these members of rock royalty, creepy remains king, and the band’s monster set delivered nearly two hours of timeless rock covers and originals with all the morbid theatrics of a Halloween special.
Cooper commanded an equally ghoulish and genteel stage presence, promenading with his signature cane and top hat beneath a massive set of inflatable fangs protruding from the ceiling. As Depp, Perry, and longtime Alice Cooper band member Henriksen cycled through blistering guitar solos, Cooper projected his gravelly vocals onto devilish originals from the band’s grimoire, like the urgent opener “I Want My Now” and their necromantic stomp “Raise the Dead.” His crooked pimp strut came alive for the swaggering highlight “The Boogeyman Surprise,” a hammy reminder of who’s the crypt-keeper-in-chief at this macabre cabaret.
Perry and Depp stepped up to the microphone to sporadically diminish the darkness, resurrecting some of the evening’s most memorable covers, from David Bowie’s “Heroes” — with Depp’s mystery accent on full display — to the Aerosmith deep cut “Bright Light Fright,” which didn’t go unappreciated on Perry’s home turf.
Yet for a band that embraced talk of death with nonchalance, and at times even treated the subject like a punchline, the performance often felt like an earnest acknowledgment of the sanctity of life. For every cavalier mention of kicking the bucket — for instance, the flippant original “My Dead Drunk Friends” — there was a salute to rock’s deceased heroes to balance the irreverence. Cooper dedicated a cover of “Baba O’Riley” to the Who’s John Entwistle and “the court jester of rock and roll,” Keith Moon. Depp introduced an instrumental tribute to his former collaborator, pioneering guitarist Jeff Beck, who died earlier this year.
The band’s incongruous airs of mockery and respect later overlapped on a rendition of the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died.” As photos of deceased musical icons appeared on video walls behind the band, honoring everyone from Tom Petty to Lemmy, Cooper, Depp, and Perry chanted the jeering chorus: “Those are people who died! Died! They were all my friends and they died!”
Last night caught a few of rock’s remaining legends staring down their mortality, but Hollywood Vampires needn’t fear the reaper. Based on their lively stagecraft, and even more animated reception from the Boston crowd, it’ll be a while before anyone drives a nail into this band’s coffin.
Victoria Wasylak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickiWasylak.
At the Boch Center Wang Theatre, Friday