Hollywood Vampires were down one legend after Aerosmith’s Joe Perry’s was forced to stay home and recuperate from pulmonary issues that had caused him to collapse backstage at Madison Square Garden in November.
But knowing his doctors expect him to make a full recovery, the 17th annual Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding concert was as festive as it’s ever been, from an early set set by Proof is in the Pudding guitar hero Conrad Varela to the grand finale.
Ending the night with an all-star rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Run, Rudolph, Run” is a Pudding tradition. This year, that all-star rendition included two surprise guests – Nita Strauss, who had her own show that same night in Scottsdale, and the woman she replaced in Cooper’s band, Orianthi.
This was after a crowd-pleasing headlining set by the Vampires, featuring Cooper and Johnny Depp, who commands the stage with the presence you’d expect from looking at him while bringing more than swagger to the table on guitar.
If you’re looking for flash, he’s no Strauss (or Varela). But he’s great at the kind of guitar he plays, which is more in the Chuck-Berry-filtered-through-Dave-Davies blues-punk tradition.
The Vampires opened strong with the muscular post-Stooges forward momentum of “I Want My Now,” following through with the equally raucous “Raise the Dead” and “As Bad As I Am.”
They’re more a band now than they were the first time they played Pudding in 2016, with more original material to share.
And they kept the focus on the strength of that original material as they made their way through “The Boogieman Surprise,” “My Dead Drunk Friends” and – “just to you show we’re not a one-trick pony,” as Cooper introduced it – “Welcome to Bushwhackers,” a song that had more of a Sun Records rockabilly flavor.
Then, they got back to their roots with a handful of covers, from “Baba O’Riley” by the Who, complete with a synth loop, to David Bowie’s “Heroes,” with Depp really making a case for himself as a front man, Cooper playing blues-harp on “The Jack” by AC/DC and bassist Chris Wyse assuming the vocal spotlight on a raucous “Ace of Spades.”
They closed their proper set the way you’d close your proper set if you were them, with “School’s Out.” After all, as I heard Cooper tells his bandmates while discussing setlist order during soundcheck, “Generally, you can’t do anything after ‘School’s Out’.” True enough.
Then they brought everyone back for an endearingly sloppy rendition of “Run, Rudolph, Run” with one guitar solo after another.
Nearly five hours earlier, the concert began with a song by the Rock Teen Center’s percussion ensemble, the Solid Rock Bucket Brigade with the Teen Center’s music director Court Stumpf on guitar.
For 17 years, the Christmas Pudding concert has raised funds to underwrite the building and now operation of Cooper’s the Rock Teen Center, an idea Sheryl Cooper recalled taking shape at her kitchen table more than 20 years ago.
As such, a portion of the night is always given over to reminding ticketholders why we’re here, from the video testimonials to heartfelt speeches, and raising funds in a series of auctions. This year’s auction items included a wardrobe case of Cooper’s full of actual costumes worn on stage, and an autographed guitar by Depp that fetched $31,000.
That connection to the Rock Teen Center is further underscored by a handful of performances by acts connected to the Center, from the Bucket Brigade to the Solid Rock Dancers (with special guests Footklan) and the winners of the Alice Cooper Proof is in the Pudding content.