Motley Crue hit their spots, miss their high notes

Categories: Concert Review
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First, a special thanks to you, the woman of a certain age in seat 11, row 13, section 118. The one with the teased blond mop, sipping from a jumbo Budweiser and sporting an intoxicating perfume of cigarette smoke and botanical hair spray.

"I'm going to get wild," she declared before the curtain raised on Motley Crue, "just so you know."

If by "wild" you simply meant becoming a fragrant, unwelcome obstruction, who was moved to requisite headbanging only during Crue's ill advised cover of "Jailhouse Rock," then you can safely be made known as a woman who keeps her promises.
Hers was an approach to wildness that permeated the entire show. Motley Crue's fans in 2009 have grown up, and the Crue themselves are beginning to show age. The floor before the stage was still and inert, showing metal horns when prompted, dutifully following singer Vince Neil's commands to "make some noise." Crue's performance and setlist were predictable fair, a wading pool of their greatest hits and a smattering from their most recent release Saints of Los Angeles. There were flashpots to go boom, plumes of pyrotechnic flames timed perfectly to Tommy Lee's kick drum, and plenty of slightly fatigued strutting by the entire posse.

Fortunately for Motley Crue, their greatest hits collection is decidedly broader and more enduring than most of their peers'. The show opened with the infallible "Kickstart My Heart," which, despite Vince Neil's apparent breathlessness half-way in, and his audible fudging of the lyrics, the Crue performed with well-appointed leering glee.

The show slid quickly into two more classic Crue songs, "Wild Side" and "Shout at the Devil." But even three songs in, the performance began to show its seams. An evening of slight but distracting technical snafus began with "Wild Side," when Nikki Sixx's bass amp issued a few jarring belches, and the intro to "Shout At The Devil," one of the more irresistible and dramatic build-ups from '80s hair metal, was truncated to a single measure so that, by the time the crowd recognized the song, Neil was already scatting his way through the first verse.

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It was, by and large, a showcase of the dizzying middles to which Motley Crue have spiraled since their heyday, and the pleasures were derived mostly from the contextualized, lingering thrill of seeing one of the most decadent and storied rock bands in their original line-up. Mick Mars anchored the stage like a crumbled, ruined obelisk, as white as cane sugar, as precariously positioned as a clod of dandelion spores. Sixx spent the show with an amused smirk, so casual that he felt justified in wantonly abandoning his bass lines to saunter around the stage mid-song, his arms at his sides. And Tommy Lee found enough time to deliver a seated monologue from the edge of the stage, bedecked in low-riding cow-spot jeans, that was at once abusive and grateful ("We love you bitch motherfuckers!").

A major slip came in their cover of "Jailhouse Rock," a swaggering, overblown vaudeville of the Presley classic that seemed to scowl upon Crue's unfortunate "Smokin' in the Boy's Room."

"We haven't played this song in 20 years, and we fucked it up the last two nights," cried Neil. "I think we can pull it off tonight."

And so they did, note for note. But they seemed so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they evidently didn't stop to think if they should. It was a road hazard on their way to their final two songs, "Girls Girls Girls" and "Dr. Feelgood." Their sole encore, a wishy washy performance of "Home Sweet Home" that found Tommy pensively tickling the ivories of a graffitied baby grand (in a Minnesota Wild jersey, natch), with Neil, Sixx and Mars crowded around him. It could have been a stirring way to end the show, had they not decided to return to drums and squealing guitar for the song's anemic finish.

The set was haunted by the ghosts of their former selves-- distantly visible in the occasional hip kick, occasionally audible when "Live Wire" reached its dizzying crescendo. But the show seemed to find them punching the clock, as bereft of their former passions as an emptied sharp discarded along Sunset Boulevard. Like a bowl full of Maruchan Smack Ramen, it was the kind of fun that tastes good on the tongue but evaporates as soon as it hits the belly.
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