Vampires On The Loose!
Featuring Alice Cooper, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and movie legend Johnny Depp, the band was named after an exclusive fast-living, hard-drinking gang of rock stars that included John Lennon, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson and Cooper himself, who raised hell at L.A.’s infamous Rainbow Bar & Grill during the 1970s. With Tommy Henriksen leading a crack backing band as MD, the Vampires’ set showcased a cool mix of six originals from their star-studded début album, selections from the Alice and Aerosmith catalogues, and well-executed covers of rock favourites by the likes of The Doors, AC/DC, The Who, Motörhead and the Sex Pistols.
While Cooper paid tribute to many of his long gone compadres on ‘My Dead Drunk Friends’, Depp – a nifty guitar slinger – moved into the spotlight to front one of the show’s biggest highlights. Six months after gracing the Wembley stage as a special guest of Marilyn Manson, another Entec client, the man who made Captain Jack Sparrow a household name sang an emotional rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and brought the house down.
The Vampires’ 2018 touring schedule kicked off on May 17th with a handful of casino shows in the USA and Canada, before flying to Moscow for the start of a two-week European tour. When the tour arrived in the UK, the impressive line-up was further boosted with the addition of punk pioneers The Damned and glam rock revivalists The Darkness as support acts.
Calling the shots as the head of the entourage is Houston-based David Davidian, a renowned lighting designer who applied his know-how to directing video for the likes of Rush, Peter Frampton and Rihanna before moving into tour management and entering the Vampires’ world at the invitation of their manager Shep Gordon.
How did he and production manager Sean McGovern come to choose Entec for the UK tour? “I had previously met [MD] Noreen O’Riordan as a result of a different project and instantly warmed to her and the company,” replied David. “The feeling I had was that these people would be great to work with, so when we had the opportunity to do something with the Vampires, I went straight to Entec for a full production service and they’ve done a fantastic job. I couldn’t be happier.”
For lighting designer Joel Reiff, working with the Vampires is a dream gig. “I’m learning towards a classic rock show design in some ways and that means making sure that the audience are well lit at certain points,” he said.
“Using ‘old school’ 8-Lite Molefays delivers just the right kind of punch for those moments. Alice is the embodiment of classic rock’n’roll and although we have moving lights, they don’t have to move all the time – it feels right to resort to retro here and there.”
Also the LD for both Alice Cooper and singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, Joel explained that the Vampires routined their set for a fortnight behind closed doors at SIR Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles while he remained at home, programming his design in WYSIWYG. “We had one day of full rehearsal in Verona, New York, but without lights. The first time I saw any was at the first gig, the following day. Until then I didn’t know what the rig actually looked like!
“Surprisingly, we are really on a budget, so in a lot of venues it’s a case of ‘throw and go’ and I’m getting the best out of the equipment I have at hand. We try to add things so that we can get as close as possible to our regular show. I’m largely choosing fixtures that I like, just as any LD would do, or will clone easily to other fixtures.
“That’s why I didn’t ask for [Clay Paky A.leda] B-Eyes, for example, because although I can get great looks, that is a very specific product. I mean, we’ve been playing places in Eastern Europe where you’re really rolling the dice when it comes to meeting equipment riders.
“What I do know, however, is that Martin MAC Viper Profiles, Auras and Clay Paky Sharpys can clone very easily. That knowledge made my choices simple and, of course, Entec is able to deliver on all counts.” The west London rental house’s abundant package included 28 Sharpys, 26 Vipers, 35 Aura XBs, 19 Solaris Flare Q+ 36° LED units and six Lycian follow spots.
“I like the Flares,” commented Joel. “They’re bright and can be used as strobes or for a nice LED burst, so being multi-purpose they cover me quite well and that’s pretty important.”
The Vipers happen to be the only ‘snakes’ on the stage. “Alice still has a few of his trademark snakes but travelling overseas with them isn’t always easy and he hasn’t brought one on the road so far this year. Maybe he’s retired them… I’ll have to ask!”
Assisted by a three-man Entec lighting crew, consisting of Simon Chandler-Honnor, Lee Stennett and Jonathan Dawson-Butterworth, Joel’s long-time choice of desk is the MA Lighting grandMA2.
“It just does everything I need and I probably only work with about 10% of what it can achieve because it’s an unbelievably clever piece of kit. I brought my own MA2 with me for the European trip and booked an MA On-PC Wing as part of the Entec package.
Joel added: “This is actually the first time I’ve rented from Entec and although it’s just been the four UK shows, it’s all been very positive. They have excellent gear and obviously maintain it well, and they are great people. The crew and Noreen, in particular, have been spot on all the way through.”
Sharing space on the lighting riser for the UK shows were The Damned’s LD Will Smith and Andy Jones who lit The Darkness.
For FOH sound engineer John Shipp and monitor engineer Peter Thompson, this tour has been their first experience of working with the Hollywood Vampires. While Peter comes highly recommended by the one and only Donald Fagen, who knows great sound when he hears it, John’s main gig since 2012 has been with Aerosmith and he claims that he has Joe Perry to thank directly for being hired to mix the Vampires.
Nearby John at FOH was system technician Bertie Hunter, a member of Entec’s sound crew alongside PA techs Tom Olorenshaw and Lewis Wareham, while Andy Shillito and Martin Smith mixed The Darkness and The Damned, respectively. The configuration of the PA, mostly a marriage of d&b audiotechnik J-Series and V-Series line array elements, was not too dissimilar to the system fielded by Entec for the Marilyn Manson tour in 2017.
Bertie explained: “While there isn’t such a requirement for large amounts of low end, we are still having to deal with a very loud stage, so we have several fills across the front of the stage – six Y10Ps and a pair of V7Ps – mainly to get the vocals up to the same level as the piercing guitar amps.” Side fills were two C7-Subs and a C7 top per side.
Driven by no less than 48 D80 digital amplifiers, the fully ArrayProcessed d&b system combined 18 J-Series cabinets (J8s and J12s) at left and right for the main hang, 16 V8s for each side hang and eight J-SUBs flown per side to provide low end extension to the rear. With the addition of 22 B22 enclosures in a sub array, the sub dispersion could be felt in every corner of Wembley Arena.
The consoles for the Hollywood Vampires – an Avid Venue Profile for FOH and a Soundcraft Vi7000 monitor board – were provided for the tour by Eighth Day Sound, however, Entec supplied a pair of Profiles for The Darkness and The Damned who employed a flip-flop system through a Lake matrix. At FOH, the Vampires’ John Shipp commented on the console choice: “On Aerosmith, I use a DiGiCo SD7 or SD5, but with the Vampires we have the reality of having one truck and, naturally, there are space issues. We’re playing some festivals where we are not headlining and so you cut the cloth to fit. I’m comfortable with the Profile and I’ve used it on Aerosmith in the past.”
John continued: “All of my processing is done through the Waves plug-in package within the Profile. I do like outboard gear; there are some products from Phoenix Audio and Neve that I often use, and it’s always nice to see a rack beside you, but I made a conscious decision to minimise the package and keep it tidy for this tour.”
As for the music, John said: “This band is essentially the Alice Cooper band so it’s still hard rock and that informs how I treat the mix. There’s not much you can do – or even want to do – to change that out front, so it’s left to the guys on .stage to weave the magic while I just do the balancing act.”
Peter Thompson provided the band with a 12-way mix onstage which he sent from his Vi7000 to a set of d&b M2 wedges as well as Shure PSM1000 in-ear systems used by most of the band with JH Audio moulds. Drummer Glen Sobel wore in-ears in conjunction with a d&b 2 x 18” sub and a butt thumper. Entec crew member Rui Felo mixed the two support acts for whom a generous microphone selection was supplied, including a Shure 55 vintage-style ‘Elvis’ mic for The Damned’s frontman Dave Vanian.
The other suppliers on the UK dates were Stage Truck, Phoenix Bussing and catering firm Eat To The Beat, and as part of its overall production package, Entec was asked to provide a video system and enlisted Transition, the Buckinghamshire supplier with whom they have successfully partnered on many projects. Transition director Rhodri Shaw said: “Our two companies have cultivated a very healthy working relationship over recent years and this was another great opportunity to pool our expertise.”
Transition hired Richard Shipman as video director for the whole of the European tour and supplied a package of screens, cameras and a PPU for the UK portion, with Entec providing all of the video rigging. The upstage display was the company’s newly-purchased ROE Carbon CB5 lightweight 5mm LED screen, measuring 8.4m x 5.4m. For i-Mag, at left and right of the stage, Panasonic DZ21 3-DLP projectors beamed close-ups on to 20ft x 11ft fast fold screens.
Richard cut the show with a Blackmagic ATEM live production PPU, alternating between content from a Catalyst media server, and live captures from a four-man camera crew who operated Ikegami HDK79 EX3 broadcast cameras – two at FOH with Canon XJ95 box lenses and two in the pit with Canon HJ22s.
The Transition crew was led by Carl Stage, who shared LED tech duties with Justin Catita, while Tom Bamford was systems engineer, and Rhidian Edwards and Justin Murray were among the camera operators. Rhodri Shaw observed: “From our perspective, it was quite a basic production but the kudos of working with these incredible artists was huge.”
Aiding PM Sean McGovern with the logistics of the shows was Anna Golden, who Noreen O’Riordan saluted for her tireless work as the interface between Entec and the production team.
Reviewing the tour at the end of the Wembley show, Sean commented: “It didn’t pay to carry production where we wouldn’t be using it so we were very careful about where and when to apply that budget. Although hiring a vendor like Entec has not been a unique situation for us, this certainly hasn’t been the standard approach for Europe. We’ve often used in-house systems and have only pulled in a local vendor when it’s been absolutely necessary.
“From putting together the spec at Entec’s office to having their crew out with us, everything’s been great. They are very efficient, very pleasant and nothing has ever been too much trouble.”
After Wembley, the Hollywood Vampires crossed the Channel to appear at a series of European festivals, including Hellfest in France and Belgium’s Graspop, and as Joel Reiff indicated, it may be some time before we see them once again.
“It doesn’t take a huge imagination to appreciate that this is a very difficult band to get together, what with Johnny’s filming schedule, and Alice’s and Joe’s touring commitments, as well as making sure that these great musicians are available. Therefore, whenever they do convene, it feels very special.”