The first time I saw Mötley Crüe, there was a brawl outside the venue. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected, considering it was at the Hollywood Bowl – a venue known more for Chardonnay and Beethoven than for people throwing punches. In retrospect, though, it belonged in the category “Things I Should Have Seen Coming.” That show was so much fun, brawling aside, that I knew I had to try to catch them again on their so-called “Final” tour. After inadvertently double-booking myself for the night of their LA show, I scrambled to get tickets for their Irvine date and corralled a friend to go with me.
Knowing that they wouldn’t go on until 9:30, I headed down to Orange County late and was sent out to a parking lot so remote that I nicknamed it Northeast Siberia. Continuing my trend of semi-hearing opening acts from the hallway or parking lot, I listened to Alice Cooper wrap up “School’s Out” as I trudged through the dirt and drunken crowds outside the venue. It turns out that my mom was right: you really *can* hear the bands perfectly in the parking lot at Irvine Meadows / Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. She said that all the place was missing was a bathroom, but they’ve now added porta potties to solve that problem.
The crowd was the polar opposite of the Lady Gaga audience I’d seen the night before: loud, rude, drunken, chain smoking, pushing, etc. The venue had sent a series of desperate-sounding emails leading up to the event, begging people not to bring blankets, lawn chairs, coolers, or any of the items you normally take to a concert with a large lawn seating area. I’d speculated that they were anticipating a blanket brawl or a food fight, but reality was less ridiculous: they’d sold so many seats that the lawn area was Standing Room Only, and it was completely out of control. The guards seemed to have given up on the idea of stopping people from setting things on fire – what looked like flaming jackets, bonfires, etc., seemed to pop up each time I looked back at the pack just behind me. SoCal audiences have a tendency to stay seated all the way through most shows, but this audience was on their feet the whole night. The huge guys around us rocked out, singing along loudly when Vince Neil reached the “Seventh Veil” line of “Girls, Girls, Girls.” After the prior show, I’d driven home along Sunset and cracked up when I passed the place – it somehow hadn’t occurred to me before that they were dropping the names of real strip clubs, but they’re connoisseurs, after all.
I’ve long had a soft spot for 80s hair bands, dating back to the era when my only access to MTV & videos was at my grandmother’s house and when I already had a feeling that there was something she wouldn’t like about their songs. The word “sleazy” wasn’t in my vocabulary yet. Live, they’re pretty much exactly what you would expect: crude, loud, and rockin’. Mötley Crüe delivers the best stage show of the acts I’ve seen from their genre. They use a simple set with great lighting – rich, saturated colors from opposite sides of the color wheel, etc. Other than Muse, they’re the only band I’ve thought had such great live tech that I seriously considered what it would be like to quit my job and sign up to be a roadie.
Vince Neil may now be twice the man he once was, but he still has great stage presence – as do Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx. Mick Mars, though, may as well have been a road musician for all he stood out. Each one took solo time on stage, though Nikki Sixx devoted his moment to such a lengthy retelling of the band’s history that I thought of it as “Story Time with Uncle Nikki” and contemplated curling up for a nap. They rocked through all their greatest hits and kept my attention through the numbers I didn’t recognize.
Their act was periodically interrupted by huge bursts of pyrotechnics, of course, including the guitar/crotch flamethrower Mick Mars wielded for one number. When you also take into consideration the fact that Vince Neil was wearing a huge codpiece, you have to wonder if they were overcompensating. I haven’t seen the infamous Pamela Anderson video – nor do I particularly want to – but I’m under the impression that it could be hard to measure up to Tommy Lee. And speaking of Tommy Lee… just wow. He’s famous for his drumcoasters, and this show didn’t disappoint. His drum kit was hooked onto rails that went up and hung over the stage. While it wasn’t quite as cool as the looping drumcoaster from the last tour, it was still incredible. Anyone who can keep on drumming as he flips over and over, without missing a beat, clearly possesses the fundamental tools of badassery.
The band was also accompanied by two trashy dancers/back-up singers. While Lady Gaga seemed to have done dance auditions at an upscale S&M club, Mötley Crüe appeared to have found their dancers at a grungy truck stop strip club. Most of their dancing consisted of coordinated hair tossing, and it looked like they’d gotten their outfits during a 2-for-1 post-holiday sale at an “adult” shop. Sexy nurse? Check. Sexy Mrs. Claus? Check. Singing talent? Not so much.
Mötley Crüe closed out the show with the requisite Power Ballad. While we could tell that they were somewhere in the crowd, I couldn’t see anything at first, even when I jumped on my seat. Then, suddenly, they rose up from the middle of the audience on a huge moving platform. I’d first seen that type of fan service at a SMAP concert in Nagoya back in something like 2002, and it’s a technique that seems to be making inroads here, too, in the past year. For those of us who are devotees of the cheap seats, it’s a welcome trend.
By the end of the show, I was drenched in (other people’s) beer, reeked of cigarette smoke, and was completely wound up. It was awesome. I’d missed a few key moments because some drunk had thrown my jacket on the floor and I had to track it down, but it’s okay — I can always see them on their next “Final” tour.