The intoxicated 40-something mullet head, teetering unsteadily in the aisle with twin $8 beers held aloft, looking for similar creatures to consummate the excruciating “I love ya, man!” ritual; the prematurely aging trailer queen, with a horrifically bad “Theater of Pain” logo tattooed between her shoulder blades, garish blue eye shadow, and flabby, sagging anatomy, squeezed against the GA section barrier, desperate for a fleeting glance from someone … anyone, … on stage, to validate her existence; the rebellious, disenfranchised teen skate punk, flashing the horns and reveling in his moment of empowerment, as he attends his first concert; the excruciatingly uncool corporate clone, trying to melt in with his surroundings, despite the halo of squareness radiating from his pastel golf shirt and pleated khaki shorts; the black t-shirt and denim-clad rocker, raised on a steady diet of loud and raucous, and now looking for a day-long fix of louder and more raucous.
And so it went at the sweltering Susquehanna Bank Center, a quaint oasis situated in the DMZ between Camden, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the venue played host to the traveling cornucopia of volume known as Crüefest.
When the Mötley Crüe machine held a press conference this past April to officially announce the debut of its proprietary festival, the idea made perfect sense: Top tier band hits the road to promote its latest album with four label mates in support. The question however, was whether the fickle and cash strapped public would buy into such a bill. Well, heap some kudos on Nikki Sixx, Mötley’s puppet master and recently appointed el Presidente of Eleven Seven Music, for having the vision and fortitude to hitch up the wagons and lead the charge. With his band’s new album, Saints of Los Angeles making significant chart strides, Sixx and the label’s brain trust needed to cull from their roster a handful of acts that would complement one another, and appeal to the demanding Mötley demographic. Easier said than done, as Crüe fans still recall the utterly dreadful Sum 41 opening for their band during the 2005 tour. But three concert seasons is a lifetime in Musicland, and all has been forgiven as the Crüefest 2008 line-up impressed on this stifling summer Saturday.
In festival format, the lead-off set is a precarious position, usually one that plays to rows of empty seats and general indifference. But significant body count was noted for Trapt, and the band put in a workman-like 30 minutes, while distinguishing itself as an opener who could hold its own. Truth be told, the majority of those in their seats early for Trapt were simply getting comfortable as Sixx AM warmed up in the batter’s box. Nothing less than the personification of avant-rock, the early slot allowed bassist Sixx time for double duty later with the Crüe. Opening with “Pray for Me”, the band powered through a brisk set of material from The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, last year’s surprising, and sophisticated, musical accompaniment to Sixx’s best-selling autobiography. For those familiar with the book and CD, the band’s live versions were crisp and beautiful, with Sixx comfortably anchoring the shadows, while bandmates James Michael and DJ Ashba enjoyed the spotlight. No greater juxtaposition could exist between Michael’s and Ashba’s artistic gifts and their understated personas. The former sang with passion, as the latter tore through power chords with ease. And shortly after leaving the stage, the two virtuosos were seen mingling with fans, while enjoying the day with thousands of others.
And speaking of passion and power, is it too early to formally anoint Jacoby Shaddix as the next great front man? A dervish of enthusiasm and sweat, Papa Roach’s ace face energized the crowd with a resounding effort, even taking the liberty to stage dive into the pit, sing with a fan’s thong stretched across his head, as well as perform an entire song while running through the audience. Veterans of the club circuit, and having served as a Mötley appetizer on a previous go ‘round, Shaddix and Co. brought their own fans, and left with many more. An added bonus was hearing directly from the source, that he and his compadres will be releasing a new album come September, even previewing a new track for all to hear. If the Crüefest premise is to bring quality acts to the masses, then Papa Roach went away with hundreds of fresh friend requests to its MySpace page.
Next up came Buckcherry, still coasting on fumes from their 2006 hit album 15. Sounding note perfect, vocalist Josh Todd spit out the band’s signature hits with enough sneer to hint at vintage Iggy and ’70s era Steven Tyler. As good as he and his ’Cherry boys sounded though, the general consensus was that they were outdone by Papa Roach, and but for seniority, Buckcherry would have been manning the third spot, not the fourth. And like Shaddix before him, Todd announced that his band would be offering a new disc in September, a proclamation that was met with a sea of pumping fists and cheers.
As the day grew hotter, and the buzz continued to build, the four-and-a-half hour wait for Mötley Crüe finally came to an end. Lights dimmed and a black tarp shielded the stage from view, as the pre-Crüe anticipation reached its boiling point. Appearing from the darkness, as the tarp dropped, the band exploded into “Kickstart My Heart”, as the distinctive roar from Mick Mars’ Strat rolled out like a tsunami wave. Within seconds, the set was in high gear, the all-too familiar sight of the Mötley foursome fulfilling their respective roles. Vince Neil’s voice was in fine form, as he juked and jived his way from stage right to stage left, then back again; Tommy Lee pounded away on his kit, with the same bombast as from the band’s early Sunset Strip days. And Sixx? The man is a human tinder box, holding down the bottom, while working the crowd into a frenzy with every step toward the edge of the stage. Within the confines of 90 minutes, the Crüe covered almost every base: fan favorites, greatest hits, and even a pair from the new album. From the yet-to-be-refined “Mutherfucker of the Year” to the thunderous “Looks that Kill”, Mötley’s streamlined baker’s dozen (concluding with “Home Sweet Home”) provided enough decibels and pyro to leave most everyone wanting more. For that though, you’ll have to ante up for another edition of Crüefest 2008, a long day of big noise and metal magnificence that provides concert goers an attractive return on their investment.