Motley Crue’s proving ground would be Cleveland’s Gund Arena on a blustery February evening, the capacity of which the bad boys of 80s hair metal haven’t sniffed in close to 11 years. A lot has transpired in that span: jail stretches, marriages gone awry, “amateur” video releases, tragic pool deaths and failed side-careers.
And that’s just Tommy Lee!
The sum of the Crue has always been greater than their parts. Tommy tried to front not one, but TWO solo projects to less than luke-warm fanfare. Vince bloated up and toured the rib cook-off circuit performing abridged sets due to bad sound, personal whim or his own vocal shortcomings. Nikki put together the respectable “Brides of Destruction” but failed with his first attempt, a band called “59” as well as his “Dragonfly” clothing line. Yes, you heard me right...Nikki Sixx has a clothing line. That elevates him to the status of Martha Stewart and Jaclyn Smith. And Mick Mars...well, hip replacements, a crippling arthritic condition and a $10 million palimony suit have been his only headlines.
About the only thing positive to come out of a Crue member was the fat in Vince’s abdomen during his recent liposuction procedure!
But when they reunite, sparks do fly. Literally.
House lights dimmed and three video screen sparked up showing a disjointed clamaytion introduction that showcased the earth, and thus the Crue, being threatened by a large meteor. “The earth is in serious peril,” the swarthy U.S. President spoke in heavy accent! The cartoon Crue emerged with a “great” idea to play a show at the meteor’s point of impact with the collision timed to the band’s encore. It’ll be the greatest, if never remembered, rock show ever. Thinking the better of themselves, Nikki and the boys concoct a scheme to send an extremely well-endowed women up into space (via slingshot) to smash the meteor into tiny bits...saving themselves and earth in the process. This plan fell quite flat (you have to see the animation) and the Crue then turned the event over to their Master of Ceremonies.
A large-faced clown emerged in front of the red and white striped circus tent from underneath the stage and began pumping up the crowd but didn’t have that “Alriiiiighhhhhht, Cleeeeeveeeland...” style that KISS fans the world over know and love. Eventually, music and strobe lights gave way to this clowns shrieking and the circus tents walls came down. BAM! Welcome to the Greatest Show On Earth.
Or on this night only...the Greatest Show at the Gund.
“Shout at the Devil,” the title cut from their ‘83 album blew the doors off the tent as Nikki, Vince, Mick and Tommy showcased just what made them the arena kings of the 1980s. Solid, catchy, no-frill rock with a little bit of parent-scaring satanism and hormone-induced sexuality. The capacity crowd, young and old, threw up devil horns of their own during the song’s refrains lapping up every bit of nostalgia.
Launching into the namesake of their first effort, “Too Fast For Love,” Nikki and Mick traded stage sides while Vince worked the apron giving everyone a big hello. Vince sounded great, his voice able to (but just barely) hit those higher registers and the textbook screams. Looking far lighter than even in “The Remaking of Vince Neil,” he ran back and forth and operated the songs openings and closings. After the song, he thanked Cleveland for showing up and said that the Crue had something for everybody, young and old.
These openers gave us a look at the circus theme. Inside the big top stage were trapeze ladders and really not much more. Tommy’s set was set up on something you’d see an elephant do a handstand on and there were some well placed touches of a ramshackle carnival coming to town rather than the professional Barnum & Bailey experience. Scantily-clad performers twisted and writhed on the ladders and on lowered rings (and on one another!).
Reaching back into the Crue archives, “Ten Seconds To Love” and “On With The Show” were dusted off. The latter was started, stopped and started again due to Mick’s condition/butterflies/lack of practice/insert your own excuse here. Never have I seen a professional band on such a large stage balk on a song in such a curious way. But the upbeat, optimistic version gave way to Tommy audibly screaming “F*CK!!!!” at the song’s conclusion and Vince making the audience aside, “Well, let’s play some songs we KNOW!”
“Red Hot,” “Too Young To Fall In Love” and “Louder Than Hell” were next on the roster. The latter utilized full pyrotechics of multicolored flames during the songs choruses, most likely to dress up this filler from 1985’s “Theater Of Pain.”
Much speculation has been made of guitarist Mick Mars’ condition. His bone disease was initially thought to be non-conducive to a touring regimen for such an active band. But wearing a black Mad Hatter-esque chapeau and some platform boots, Mick nobly navigated his side of the stage, but in a doddering fashion. You just got the idea that he was in pain or uncomfortable performing and that this might be his swan song. If MIck makes this summer’s promised shed dates, it’ll be a miracle.
But the outpouring from the crowd was rather touching. During the solo for “Looks That Kill,” Mick took center stage and the audience eruption nearly drowned out his playing. He had to have been touched. It was a genuine act of kindness.
Set ender, and the Crue’s first legit hit, “Live Wire” brought down the house and brought up the big tops walls. The breakneck pace of this final gem of “early” Crue satisfied the hardcore fans and would ensure that fans of the later, more popular Motley collection would be satiated in set number 2.
After a 10-minute commercial for the movie “Disaster: The Movie” in the same claymation-opener fashion, something as simple as a motorcycle revving brought shrieks and fan’s asses back into the their seats. Nothing post-1985 was performed in set #1, so they knew what awaited them. Motley was back and the circus tent walls fell again as Vince, Tommy and Nikki took the stage on 3 choppers straight out of “Monster Garage.” The pre-song posturing was a little campy as the boys executed their first of many costume changes the night, getting into the feel of the denim-and-leather of 1987’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” album. Title track ensued with the video screens offering a pre-made reel of, well, girls...doing what girls do...if they’re lesbians. This was more like Girls, Girls, Girls Gone Wild.
“Wild Side” from the same album started to show the chinks in the Crue armor. Vince’s voice was sounding strained at times and Mick’s guitar “chugging’ wasn’t keeping time with Tommy’s immaculate playing. In fact, his solo was completely out of time in numerous places. But in true big top fashion, the show must go on.
Stagehands as evil clowns tended to the band members and filled out the carnival scenery. One brought Vince an acoustic guitar and if you know the Crue, you knew what song was next. Playing probably the only three chords he knows, Vince looked back at Tommy (their mutual acrimony well-documented) and questioned, “Are we gonna do this or what...?” All parties convened on foot-tapper, “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).”
House lights dim and the aforementioned sparks really started to fly. Vision Nikki, stage left, playing a very wobbly keyboard while subway steam emanated up through him and on stage right, a lady in armor plating armed with a mechanical grinder, showered sparks in the same way David Letterman’s people do it during the “Will It Float?” segment. This was Cirque De Soleil? So far, it’s been a very naughty and predictable Shriner’s Circus. This effort at performance art ended with a loud explosion and Nikki then telling the crowd that he wanted to blow himself up in a very “Get it?” way. Alright...if you say so. Launching into “Primal Scream” from 1991’s “Decade of Decadence” was small consolation.
Next up for solo consideration was Vince who up to this point in the set was having nothing but problems with the arena’s sound. After running from side to side and invigorating the audience, he would run to the side of the stage and harshly gesticulate his downfall with the soundmen. Unfortunately, this came to a head during the medley of “Glitter/Without You.” This presentation was perfect for the single Cirque dancer twirling from a blue satin ribbon above the stage, this was what that money was going for...a little visual poetry to go along with lesser power ballads. But Vince was so vocally flat on these songs, that even he shook his head in disgust. It wasn’t his voice giving up, he simply could not hear himself.
These two quickies dovetailed nicely into the epic that is “Home Sweet Home.” Tommy played a piano right by his drums and the crowd took over vocal duties from Vince (and he may have been happy about that). But this was the cause celebré...the song that MTV had to retire from the daily countdown because it simply would not go away from the number one slot. Crue fans were as impassioned about this soaring song now as they were then. In a very “Year 2005” twist, lighters have given way to the lighted LCD screens of camera phones...the blue glow emanating from the arena bowl.
A staple of any Motley Crue event is the Tommy Lee drum solo. He’s played at a 90-degree angle (Theater of Pain), to going fully 360 (Girls, Girls, Girls) to finally being suspended high above the arena floor in a flying drumset that reached the back rafters (Dr. Feelgood). Having been around the world and back, this year’s solo piece would disappoint. Starting out playing a slowly-syncopated rhythm, video screens ablaze showing psychedelic trip-images, and the sound-system blaring the words “F*CK!” and “Dirty” over and over...Tommy made love to the audience with his drumming. Then, unpleased came out from behind the gigantic bass drum and greeting the audience in a flurry of F-bombs and obscenity in a way only a Crue fan could love. From here, he flew up to the rafters (with the help of a gaffer’s line) and split time between two percussive settings, flying to and fro in a very Peter Pan way. The first environment was ala “Stomp” with lots of glass, metal and plastic taking the place of a wood, brass and sheepskin drumset. The 2nd was electronica and was played with Tommy’s body...kicking and screaming the entire way into a Nine Inch Nails stupor. Neither was awesome.
With that thankfully over, the balance of the band came out to drop “Dr. Feelgood” on a very bored audience. Concluding that song, Tommy came out again and he and Nikki lamented the lack of seeing any women’s breasts thus far into the evening. So, Tommy grabbed a handheld camcorder from a stagehand and began goading the locals into peddling some flesh. Many obliged and it was all up on the big screen for proof. Nikki told the audience the reason they do that is because people (who, I don’t know) told them not to. From here, he espoused the Motley creed of thumbing your nose at authority, rearing back and biting the hand that feeds...Shouting at the devil, if you will. Everything they do is because people said they couldn’t and they weren’t shy about giving them a collective “F*ck You!”
This post-solo moment set the tone for the final collaborative moments: Another costume change, “Same Old Situation,” new songs “If I Die Tomorrow” (which actually sounds better live than recorded) and the horrible...HORRIBLE...”Sick Love Song.” Set-ender “Kickstart My Heart” was a welcome reprieve from the misguided tedium of the Crue pushing new product.
House lights dim. Band exits stage to the resounding shouts of “Crue! Crue! Crue!” And (gasp!) the hackneyed plot line of the forced encore begins anew. This time all the village idiots come careening out juggling pins, breathing fire and slinking around in suspended hoops...all to the strains of the Beatles “Helter Skelter” done Crue-style. The final act of the carnival was on, which was good...because Vince’s voice was giving out stage left and right. He was reduced to singing the end of the lines instead of full lyrics. It was a valiant effort though. Wearing the jumpsuits of those left to clean up after the circus elephants, Vince, Tommy, Mick and Nikki finished aptly with the lyrics “...f*cking destroy” from the Sex Pistol’s, “Anarchy in the U.K.”
The curtain was raised on the Rock N’ Roll circus and there was plenty of clean-up to be done. And though this spectacle was not without the occasional sputter, what remained is Motley Crue’s distinction as hard rock road dogs and an audience-pleasing live act...for one night only.
With the Crue, nothing else is guaranteed.