I still haven’t figured it out. I mean, ‘80s hair-metal bands were like poison to me (no pun intended). But here I am, sitting with a buddy (a diehard fan) in the Mecca of arenas, New York’s Madison Square Garden, alongside 15,000 screaming metal fans.
3 Mar 2005: Madison Square Garden New York
Mötley Crüe is headlining (no opening act) after six years of inactivity. Even though singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee mix about as well as mayonnaise and marshmallow, the band has decided, in a very VH-1 moment, that now is the time to reunite.
So what gives?
The first thing I notice is that the crowd is older. No, it’s not like an Eagles or Fleetwood Mac get-together but still, there are few 15-24 year-olds in the audience. People in their ‘30s and ‘40s dominate the crowd—so much so that the Garden has allowed beer and spirits to be sold.
Allowed? Sacrilege! Whatever happened to the time when it wasn’t a great show unless someone (usually right behind you, if not you yourself) threw up? Ahhh those were the good old days, covered in puke and glory. But now, people are too intimidated by age and self-imposed restrictions to let it all hang, or gush, out.
Well, everyone except the Crüe. They, at least, are trying to flesh out the old. The stage show is visually arresting (warning: wear dark glasses to keep your irises from working overtime on some of the pyrotechnics), and no pity is taken on speaker volume. And yet, I still scratch my head
The best way to try to get to the heart of things is to ask why this particular band stood above the others of its ilk. To break down each of the individual components: Neil’s voice is about as strong as wet toilet paper; Mick Mars’ guitar work would be classified as “wanker special”; Nikki Sixx’s bass playing is passable; Lee, musically the best of the lot, combines theatrics, speed, and power to make him an underrated drummer, even today.
Except for Lee, the component parts are not too impressive. But when you put these four individuals together, the sum total is something grander than it’s musical prowess; it’s attitude.
Yes, everyone’s heard about how sex, drugs, drinking, more sex, more drugs, and more drinking became this band’s standard. Everyone respects realism, no matter how slimy it may feel and this band was, if nothing else, REAL! They lived the life, and the afterlife, and managed to tell the tale.
And even though they’ve toned it down a bit, they’re still spouting “reality”—though now that reality is allowing the plastic surgery on your face to be filmed for a reality show (Neil) or your semester at the University of Nebraska, including a stint as a drummer in the marching band, to be taped for TV (Lee).
So they’ve pressed on, and for good reason. The reality that they left behind seemed too messy to revisit. The Neil-Lee wars were far too fiery to keep the band together: Neil was fired and John Corabi came in as a temporary replacement, then Neil returned for one more album. Then Lee quit and, well, it seemed that the Crüe finally met its end.
So what are they doing back together? The catalyst for the return was Sixx, who busted his ass to play peacemaker, pulling out the ultimate carrot-on-the-stick: moolah.
Even though, at one time, these four had more than enough money to franchise themselves, excess did them in. What they all now know is that, ultimately, money talks and bullshit walks. So after recording three new tracks (separately) for their umpteenth greatest hits collection (Red, White & Crüe), the touring aspect came again into play. Which leads us back to March 3, 2005, Madison Square Garden, 8:20pm EST, Section 308, Row F, Seat 1
The lights go out on the circus tent stage set-up, and a film featuring Claymation Crue characters begins to play. And then, to great applause, out to front-center steps a midget.
Not just any midget, mind you, but Mighty Mike! (That certainly made all the difference.) After attempting to get the crowd juiced up, he introduced the band. The curtain rose, and the quartet broke into “Shout at the Devil.”
Musically, the Crüe were tight. On stage, the individual parts meshed together to form a cohesive unit. Standouts in the 24-song set included “Looks That Kill”, “Live Wire”, “Wild Side”, “Kickstart My Heart”, “Home Sweet Home”, and, of course, “Dr. Feelgood”. Even older material like “Red Hot” and “Ten Seconds to Love” sounded charged.
Mars, who has a rare bone disease and is coming off hip replacement surgery, did a yeoman-like job on leads and rhythm. Sixx’s bottom complemented Lee’s work on skins. For a band that hadn’t performed together in over six years, Mötley Crüe sounded like they never went away. But of course, there was a problem.
When a lead singer is paid to perform, he damn well better sing. Throughout the entire evening Neil asked the crowd to sing every chorus line. That constitutes either laziness or pipe problems (or a combination thereof). Why didn’t he just take the night off, if that was going to be the case? I don’t want to hear the crowd alone—this is not karaoke night at the Garden.
The other problem with the Crüe (speaking of karaoke) is that they are one of the absolute WORST cover bands on the planet. “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” is probably the only acceptable cover they do (and they didn’t include it in their set). But the two-song encore was of “Helter Skelter” and “Anarchy in the UK”. Somewhere, Charles Manson is laughing and Johnny Rotten is cringing… or is it the other way around? (John Lennon is simply spinning in his grave.)
The most interesting aspect of seeing Mötley Crüe is that they’re still trying to act like they did 10-15 years ago, unconscious of their crowd’s growing maturity. At one point, Lee held a mini-cam, demanding that girls show their breasts. All but one complied, but it seemed like the only 20-somethings in the building willing to play along were at the front of the stage. It just didn’t have the same reaction that it would with other concerts at other places. There was a definite bridge between crowd and band… the crowd was more (for lack of a better term) mature. The freak stageshow, with the midgets and the scantily clad girls swinging from leather restraints, was more of a curiosity than an arousal.
So I survived. Was I glad I saw Mötley Crüe? Yes. Was the show worthy for both fans and curiosity seekers? Again, yes. If you go to hear the music (and hopefully Neil will do more singing), then it certainly was worth being there. The extras were just that—extras.
But when most bands peter out after 90 minutes, the Crüe’s show lasted about two and a half hours. Of course, they’re in it for the money, but at least they EARNED their money.
Oh, and if you haven’t gotten enough of the Crüe, they’ve already announced a summer tour of various sheds (amphitheaters), so you can get more of a fix. And don’t forget to bring money, just in case you want one of them dapper Crüe t-shirts or spiffy camouflage caps… and in a nod to their past, the merch stand also sells “official” Mötley Crüe rolling papers; talk about seeing your money go up in smoke.
// Notes from the Road
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