More than an hour into Motley Crue's final Chicago area show, the crowd's arms are surging forward with fists full of fury as the chant "Shout... shout... shout" singing along to their seminal 1983 anthem "Shout at the Devil". Onstage, Vince Neil covers all corners of the stage, Mick Mars guitar deploys jagged edges, Tommy Lee drums boom and bassist Nikki Sixx is canvassing the stage with a flamethrower attached to his bass guitar as he lights up the pentagram mic stand that hangs from the ceiling. It's a visual assault on every single sense. It would be easy to say the theatrics are there to overshadow the music, but I think that would be a flippant and off-the-cuff remark from someone who doesn't fully understand this band or their legacy. Motley Crue has made a career of pissing people off, including each other. It's for this reason that aside from the Rolling Stones and a handful of other acts they may be rock n' roll's most fascinating story. There's no way they should have made it, survived, thrived, imploded, reunited, implode again, reunite again and go on a victory lap that's more than brilliant marketing but a proper send-off to their completely unpredictable career.
So why announce a farewell tour when other rock bands have failed so miserably at keeping this promise? It probably made financial sense and allowed the band to bust their butts for two years before hanging it up, but I believe they want to leave a mark and a memory in the fans minds that isn't one of disappointment. If KISS had properly retired after their "farewell" tour in 2000 their legacy would be secure, instead they're out on the road to diminishing returns every year and half of their original line-up. Motley Crue may not be perfect in what they do, but their show was a reminder of how they once ruled the world and how now they're going out once again with a take-no-prisoners approach. Tickets are not cheap, but when you lay your eyes on the stage, you can see, hear and feel where every cent of your money went from the staging to the wise choice of an opening act.
I don't think there is any living artist who put out their debut in the 1960s who is as consistently or continually great as Alice Cooper. First and foremost, his shows are every bit as spine tingling and magical as his heyday and despite seeing him numerous times in the last fifteen years, I've never seen a bad show, not even one that could be mistaken for being off kilter. From the musical muscle of his backing band to the theatrics to the actual songs. Despite being a legend with a back catalog that houses minimally five masterpieces, he's released six studio records in the last fifteen years. He's alive, kicking and he gave the Crue a run for their money.
The thirteen song set covered all corners of his career from defining classics such as "School's Out" and "Eighteen" but also late career high points such as "Poison" and "Feed My Frankenstein" to "Dirty Diamonds" from ten years ago. Some die-hard fans took issue with Cooper working with songwriters such as Desmond Child but the strength of those songs holds up decades later, evident by the circling guitar riff of "Poison". With a few thousand concerts under her belt in the last thirty years and more than ten albums of new material, he may be classic rock's most consistent rock star. There's a slithery and sexual undertone to every song accentuated by the interlocking groove of his rhythm section and triple guitar attack. Some may say Cooper stole the show from the Crue but I look at it in a different light, Alice Cooper complements and elevates this circus in every way imaginable. Before he took the stage, more than eighty-percent of the arena were in their seats not wanting to miss a single moment and Cooper didn't disappoint. Hopefully it served as a reminder of what a vital and in-the-moment artist Cooper is and one that warrants a return to the turntable and to future shows.
Tommy Lee's Drum Solo
It was exactly one year to the date that the Crue last played Chicago. Last year it was at the amphitheater on the south side and this time it was indoors. It's always more optimal to see a band indoors compared to the outdoor sheds. The band made a conscious decision to perform this final go-round indoors to utilize the full spectacle of the live show. This is most evident on the use of Tommy Lee's roller coaster drum kit, christened "The Crucifly". Last year some of the older and smaller sheds did not have a roof strong enough to harness the staggering setup but indoors on this final run the band is utilizing it every night. Lee has never shied away from death-defying obstacles but this may be his greatest concoction yet. While having shades of his 1987 and 1989-90 sets which spun and circled the arena, this is an actual roller coaster Lee rides performing along to some of his favorite music. It's the rare drum solo you are willing to watch over an additional song. He spun around, hit every note and gave those in the cheap seats a memory they'll never forget. At my core, I am a lover of the arts where the actual music always comes first, but even I felt the spectacle was a sight to see and behold. Lee whose celebrity persona is larger-than-life is one of the world's greatest drummers. He's so good in fact that Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins hired him to play drums on their most recent record, Monuments To An Elegy. This is a record full of complex rhythm that your average drummer couldn't execute, but Lee sounds right at home and he compliments the record every way imaginable. I've been critical of Lee in the past, but at the final Chicago show he sat behind his kit pounding the snare and bass drums as if he life depended on it. He's a journeyman musician who i will miss seeing hit the skins after this tour. If you are not a fan of Motley Crue, I would still suggest going to the show, just to see the musical magic of him behind the drum kit. The dexterity and ease with which he hits the kit is astounding. He's not John Bonham or Neil Peart but he's untouchable in his own way.
The Miracle That Is Mick Mars
For the better part of a decade each performance has been wrung with a underlying credibility and it is mostly due to guitarist Mick Mars. By all accounts he shouldn't be here and yet his fierce slashing blues riffs (that's what they are at their core) are the centerpiece of every Crue show. Sure, there's pyro and flying drum kits but it's the guitar that anchors the band, gives it a sense of belonging and is tattooed on its soul. He will never be mistaken for Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck and Eddie Van Halen because he's not viewed as an innovator, but in concert he conjures up the sleaziness of the strip, the taste of blood on a switchblade and the unbecoming rage of rock n' roll. He's the least flashy of the four members but every beneath every chord is a decade of stories that defined his life that his audience is able to use as a guide for their own ride.
Starting right at 9pm, the Rodgers & Hammerstein song "So Long, Farewell" could be heard over the speakers as the lights dimmed. The crowd rose to their feet in anticipation for one last look, one last night of musical debauchery, one last celebration and one final ride. Appearing first on the right hand side of the stage was guitarist Mick Mars, followed by bassist Nikki Sixx on the opposite side before drummer Tommy Lee took her spot behind his drum kit before the motorcycle roar of "Girls, Girls, Girls" commenced the band's final Chicago area show.
The Allstate Arena, located in the suburb of Rosemont, and better known as the Rosemont Horizon to those who grew up in the area has hosted Motley Crue nine times since 1984. In total they have played the Chicago area thirty-one different times going back to 1984 (including several at Alpine Valley in East Troy, WI). The Rosemont show will serve as the band's farewell to the area and those fortunate to be in the thirty-five year old arena saw a show of a lifetime. I'm not sure it surpassed the aggressive 2005 comeback show, the high-as-a-kite 1987 shows or the no-nonsense performances of 1989-90, but there was a euphoric and melancholic vibe throughout that may never be topped. The arena watched on knowing there was no next time and grasped and took hold of each note, each song and every moment as it assaulted their senses.
Motley Crue has never been a band whose mantra has been based on subtlety. The final tour is a smorgasbord of pyrotechnics, flames and mouth-gaping theatrics that make a KISS stage show look like child's play. "Primal Scream", arguably the band's preeminent track was complemented with bursts of fire that fuels the aggressive anthem that unknowingly starred grunge in-the-face back in 1991. Decade of Decadence debuted at number-two, a mere week after Nirvana's Nevermind was released and "Scream" that continues to age gracefully and define the band. The rest of the setlist is a steady stream of hits. All killer-no filler. Only two cuts from 2008's Saints of Los Angeles were from the post-2000 period. Selfishly, I was hoping to include music from all eras of the band such as "Afraid", "Bitter Pill", "Toast of the Town", "Hell On High Heels" or "You're All I Need", but it's hard to complain since the performances were top tier and all were complemented with state-of-the-art theatrics that overshadow every peer they have. There was more smoke, fire, flames and pyrotechnics in their 110-minute show than anything else I have ever seen including Fourth of July fireworks. "Smokin' in the Boys' Room", "Wildside", "Dr. Feelgood", "Looks That Kill", "Live Wire", "Anarchy in the UK" and "Louder Than Hell" featured triumphant melodies paired with the agony and anticipation of life.
Nikki Sixx, who spent the first half of the show in war paint, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Vince Neil engaging and enraging the fans. They never shied away from getting close, making eye contact and even taking a ride at the set's conclusion so those in the rafters could see up close. Two female backing singers joined the band for half of the show but otherwise, this was a show about the four guys who took on the world and won. The show culminated with a finale so explosive the best way to explain it was 1970s KISS meets Cirque du Soleil on crack. The seven-minute version of "Kickstart My Heart", which closed the main set and singed my eyebrows. This was one of the greatest "shows" I have ever seen put on by any music performer and is specifically why you shouldn't let it pass you by because there is no "next time".
The Crue at their best walks a tightrope between the dark and the light. There's a dark careening power to much of the music but the communal atmosphere of an arena often transforms it into light. The band performed at a smaller stage at the back of the arena that elevated above the crowd for their sole encore song. Tommy Lee sat behind a big baby grand piano playing some of the most iconic piano chords to ever compliment a ballad; "Home Sweet Home" was devoid of irony and it didn't matter, this was a band doing what they do best going out on top. In the moment where the last note wrung out throughout the arena, it was about the light. The miles traveled, the highs, the lows, the heartbreak, the discoveries, the loss and the memories of our lives came flooding back as Vince, Mick, Nikki and Tommy took their final bows to the sounds of Frank Sinatra's "My Way". When the final bow occurs on December 31st in Los Angeles, the four members of Motley Crue will walk offstage knowing they shared much together, the good and the bad, but through it all they did it their way and that will be why they will continue to matter even when they're no longer a touring entity.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Motley Crue: The Final Ride
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