Motley Crüe kicked off Chicago’s Fourth of July weekend with quite the bang. While enduring a brief repose after Poison’s creatively impotent set, sweaty fans grazing on the lawn and those swallowed by the shade in the seated area were tricked into the band’s tomfoolery when a stopwatch recording of “Hot Child in the City” was abruptly ended by a massive attack of firework explosions and bright searchlights as Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars took to the stage and broke into “Wild Side”, declaring this their twentieth takeover of Chicago.
For those who were two beats short of a coronary after the unprepared siege, the band was quick to employ a “Kickstart My Heart”, followed by other notable remedies from the on-call “Dr. Feelgood” that proved there was life yet to the Crüe as they resuscitated their 30-year career in a two-hour fan club set.
In one of many social aspects of this tour, Motley Crüe allowed their legions to vote for an a la carte menu of songs for the evening, which turned into a hit parade (“Saints of Los Angeles”, “Live Wire”, “Shout at the Devil”, “Looks that Kill”) of the best of their catalog. Attendees were also encouraged to send text messages and pictures that ran the gamut of family-friendly to semi-nude, which were paraded on Jumbotrons set up around the stage perimeters. If the band wanted to make one thing apparent, it was that this show was a tribute to the motley cast of devotees who have followed them, 80 million worldwide album sales later, into their gilded age.
Let’s put this into perspective for a moment: when the band began in 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana had just been married, Reagan was president, and MTV had just launched. It’s a rare lifespan for a rock band and one that has retained all of its original members. But then again, who wouldn’t have fun doing their job? Just ask Lee who had a 360-degree coaster built in lieu of drum risers and upon which he rode during a rave-worthy drum solo, only sparing his trademark drumstick spin while hanging like a bat, giving literal meaning to the carnival fun house “Motley Crüe mirror” that Bikini Kill often sings about.
The whole stage getup was merely the costuming of a well-orchestrated set: two choreographed Vegas showgirls, elaborate winding stairs, video montages, fireworks a plenty and of course tight American flag-decorated leather pants. As Neil and Crüe proved when groping the “Too Young” dancers on stage, age ain’t nothing but a number—and if you’ve still got it, hell, flaunt it! Even in the midst of a drawn-out hiatus for a good period in the aughts, the integrity of the band has been so cautiously preserved, Neil with as much range, Lee with as much gusto, Sixx with as much gel and Mars with as much dexterity. This was a professional’s show, nothing covert but nothing misled even as the band gathered around the silver sequin piano to fist bump, giving a Dorothy speech before launching into Webster’s definition of a metal ballad, “Home Sweet Home”. If all of this wasn’t done in one take, we’d guess it was the filming of a spit-shined tour DVD.
It was a far cry from the sound-riddled, gusto-less set from Poison whose own 25-year anniversary seemed a shocking decade short of the battle axe Motley musicianship. When Bret Michaels wasn’t talking about almost dying, he was changing into various options of Poison T-shirts or leaving the stage so the ghostly C.C. DeVille could have space to knock out the amplifiers with his knifepoint solos. First opener New York Dolls fared better with their set, even though the veteran glam metal rockers (who have outlived both headliners with a 1974 birth date and who literally birthed the New York CBGB scene) were sadly mostly unknown to the tunnel vision crowd.
If Motley Crüe came off as a play in opposites, of gender (seen in the dichotomy of “Smokin in the Boys Room” followed by “Girls Girls Girls”); of style (oddly mashing up Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” with “Don’t Go Away Mad”); and of ages as they tried desperately to find their way in the modern technological boom—the one thing that couldn’t be denied was that, whether today or in 1981, a Motley Crüe show was really “The Same Ol Situation” and a damn good time.