Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 8:27 pm | Fair 62º

 
 
 
 

Paul Mann: Hollywood Vampires End Tour at California Mid-State Fair

Allison Cooper takes center stage, addressing the crowd and introducing each song, as the Hollywood Vampires band performs July 25 at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.
Allison Cooper takes center stage, addressing the crowd and introducing each song, as the Hollywood Vampires band performs July 25 at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

There is, perhaps, nothing that personifies the spirit of America more than a state or county fair in the summer. The California Mid-State Fair in rural Paso Robles may be the best example of this classic American experience in the golden state.

The small, agricultural community of Paso Robles sits in a fertile valley surrounded by majestic mountain ridges, farther from any major metropolitan area than most any other community in Central California. Consequently, the area has become a coveted tourist destination, especially in the summer during the 10 days of the fair.

The event is a classic fair complete with competitions for all manner of farm animals, an old-fashioned carnival with rides and games, and copious amounts of comfort food and beverages.

The fair was well underway on July 25 when the Hollywood Vampires came to play the final show of their summer tour.

The band arrived early to linger backstage and do a prolonged meet-and-greet with contest winners and special pass holders. Meanwhile, most music fans were lingering around the main fairgrounds. There was a whole host of activities to choose from. Young children were showcasing their farm animals, striving for the coveted blue ribbon awards. Huge milk cows were being paraded in front of one arena, while others were vacuuming their prize sheep and goats in another, for their competition.

With temperatures nearing the 100-degree mark, most fan patrons found indoor bars and exhibits to find respite from the blazing sun. One exhibit featured local school art and photography contest-winning ensembles, mixed with an array of exotic animals. A hairless cat, a long-armed monkey and a South American armadillo created a big stir. Live music also was plentiful in the main fair area.

Brandy Clark attracted a large crowd for a late-afternoon performance. The country rocker was nominated for a best new artist Grammy last year, but it is her songwriting skills that have put her on the map. Her songs have been recorded by Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Billy Currington, Darius Rucker and Kacey Musgraves. She played a crowd-pleasing set backed by a strong country rock band, while the scent of barbecue wafted through the air.

The Chumash grandstand arena opened shortly before the 7:30 p.m. main event. The arena, which holds more than 14,000 people, featured a near two-week lineup of top pop music talent. The Monday show by the Vampires brought in more than 8,000 people, filling the arena to a little more than half of its capacity.

The Vampires came on stage at 8.30 p.m. ready to rock. There was some concern whether Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry would be up to the task, after his mysterious July 11 collapse during a concert and subsequent hospitalization. But there was no sign of weariness in the master guitarist, who performed brilliantly throughout the set. Whether it was the fact that this was the band's final night of their summer tour or that they were happy to have Perry back, the band seemed to be truly living in the moment, frequently prancing about the stage, chatting each other up and laughing gleefully throughout the set.

The Hollywood Vampires began as a tribute to the many fallen rock stars who used to frequent the infamous Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The brainchild of Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp, the idea actually morphed from a tribute set that Cooper was already performing over the past several years, during shows with his Alice Cooper band. The tribute would feature a mini set of cover songs, featuring dead rock stars, including Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Doors.

He expanded the idea into a tribute band and recording honoring his crazy rock star friends and their infamous adventures on the Sunset Strip. He enlisted the help of Depp. Sorry to the haters, but, yes, Depp can really play guitar. During his performance at the fair, he frequently played lead rhythm guitar with his unique style and finesse. Depp brought along Bruce Witkin, his former bandmate from the rock group The Kids, which Depp joined in 1980. Witkin is sort of a rock everyman, playing bass drums, keyboards and guitar and is also a singer-songwriter.

The band also features Perry on a searing lead guitar and Cooper protégé Tommy Henriksen from the Alice Cooper band on guitar and vocals. The band is complete with a rhythm section featuring go-to rock drummer Matt Sorum from Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver fame and veteran bassist Robert DeLeo from the Stone Temple Pilots. Sometimes Duff McKagan takes over the bass duties.

The band played the same 21-song set list that they have been touring with during their summer tour. The set featured covers of songs from the bandmates' respective bands and a few originals, as well as the extended list of their dead rocker tribute. The band played full throttle during the entire set, bouncing off one another like pinballs in a pinball machine.

Cooper would frequently address the crowd and introduce each song. During the introduction of  “As Bad As I Am,” an original song from the band, Cooper explained that Depp had written the song about his stepfather, before introducing Depp, who launched into a piercing rock rhythm. The group not only played the part of rebel rockers but dressed the part as well. Cooper wore his classic horror garb and had vampire marks painted on his throat. The rest of the band were also dressed like pirates. Depp even sported the same pirate teeth from his infamous Jack Sparrow character.

The band seemed to play with ferocious intent but an uncanny ability to morph into a cohesive unit, making each cover sound like their own original music. Sometimes the group would rework the covers into their own unique and interesting arrangements. For instance, on the classic cover of "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, the lead vocals switched from Cooper to Witkin on the critical high-pitched wails. While Witkin hit the high notes, Cooper switched to a blazing harmonica jam. Any classic rock fan would have to love this set of some of the best rock songs ever made. The band even reached back into the past, with hits like "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" by T. Rex.

The band returned triumphantly with a multisong encore joined by Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen. Whether he was there as backup for Perry in case he could not continue or was just there as a friend for the band's final performance on the tour, it was great to hear him join the searing cacophony of guitars on the classic rock song "Train Kept A-Rollin" by Tiny Bradshaw. The band ended with a classic from the Alice Cooper show, which features a morph of "School’s Out" into Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall."

There has been some unofficial talk of a benefit show by the band in Los Angeles later in the summer, but nothing has been confirmed.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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