Remember when Mötley Crüe was the most dangerous band on the planet? Fucking, fighting, drinking, drugging; they crashed their way to infamy. The Crüe’s brand of debauched rock’n'roll mayhem landed them in jail, in rehab, and, very nearly, in the grave. Despite all odds, Nikki, Tommy, Vince, and Mick miraculously survived their musical misadventures only to find themselves together once again amidst the grand spectacle of a world tour.
Yet when the 2005 “Better Live Than Dead” dates were announced in support of the latest Mötley release (Red, White, and Crüe) critics scoffed, asserting that the hair, heels, and hell raising went out of style years ago.
“A Mötley Crüe reunion? Ha! It’ll never last…” they chortled, confident that the band would implode as it has before. They blasted the Mötley music as too lowbrow, unoriginal, and lacking in enough substance to fill 20,000 seat arenas. How wrong they were…
Rolling their bus convoy into approaching blizzard conditions, the Crüe stormed the Hartford Civic Center, a precursor to their assault on New York City. Set against the thematic backdrop of a seedy carnival (complete with scantily clad female aerialists, evil clown stage hands, and a fire-breathing dwarf) the boys proved they were indeed “back” with a two-hour set of greatest hits.
There was Vince, fresh from his celebrity make-over, energized and fit; Tommy sporting body art and orange skate-punk shorts, bludgeoning his drum kit into oblivion; Nikki, attired in “Road Warrior” couture, laying down the bottom; and Mick, frail and bent, but still effortlessly pulling metal power chords from the netherworld.
Priming the crowd with an amusing precursory Claymation film, and then opening the set with “Shout at the Devil”, our Mötley heroes blazed through nine songs. Barely half an hour into the festivities, concertgoers were swept away by brutal versions of “Red Hot” and “Looks That Kill”; evidence the middle-aged Crüe still packs a massive punch.
Following a brief intermission, revving motorcycles echoed through the building as a trio of custom choppers rolled on to the stage. Mick ambled quietly out as his compatriots dismounted the bikes to take their respective places. The band then dived into “Girls Girls Girls”. A dozen more hits came, fast and furious, from the crunching “Primal Scream” and “Dr. Feelgood” to the comparatively tender “Without You”.
True Crüe includes a drum solo, and the pot bangin’ Mr. Lee did not disappoint. Going airborne on dual platforms above the stage, Tommy enjoyed his time in the sky, bashing away at primitive theatrical kits, one tinny, the other techno.
After returning to earth and leading his mates through “Same Old Situation”, Tommy ventured forth with the infamous handheld “tittie cam”, imploring female attendees to experience a fleeting moment of big screen fame. Numerous tank-top wearers were more than willing to accommodate Tommy’s exhortations, eliciting cheers and the bombastic drummer’s self congratulatory query of “Who’s yer boy!?”.
With sharp renditions of the new tracks “If I Die Tomorrow” and “Sick Love Song”, the Crüe closed the set with the electrifying “Kickstart My Heart”, which featured Nikki smashing a perfectly good Fender Precision bass. Taking a momentary breather off-stage, the band returned for an encore, consisting of a pair of classic covers: the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”.
Two hours… nearly two-dozen songs… and all four band mates in amazingly good spirits… what more could a Crüe fan ask for?
How about an even wilder, over-the-big-top performance at Madison Square Garden?
Perhaps it was the much-deserved time off; perhaps it was the non-stop New York City appearances; perhaps it was simply the magnitude of Mötley’s first Garden party in twenty years. Whatever the reason, the band took the venerable Madison Square stage and unleashed a performance the sold-out venue had not seen since 2001’s Concert for New York City.
To simply say that this ranks as one of the Crüe’s all-time best shows still might not do the evening justice; same set list, same excitement, same enthusiasm, but an even more spectacular 120+ minutes.
At close range, Nikki’s bass reverberated like a sonic boom, while Mick looked more at ease then in Hartford. Vince sang and ran about with nary a hint of fatigue, and Tommy well, Tommy treated New Yorkers to a very special surprise (even outdoing Nikki who took a misstep and fell off the stage).
Reprising his role as cinematic provocateur behind the controls of the tittie cam, Tommy was chagrinned to zoom in on several female Gothamites who were too shy to show their wares. (Ladies! It’s a Crüe show and Tommy is filming you! Why are you playing hard to get!?). Eventually he found a satisfactory number of exhibitionists, and bounded back to the drum riser.
But that Nikki is a trouble maker, and he prodded Tommy to engage in his own bit of flashing. Standing behind his kit, Tommy proclaimed, “It’s not like you haven’t seen it before!” then hiked down his shorts and waved the most famous Crüe member at his adoring fans. It was an instant that will live in infamy, albeit one that far too many people blinked and missed. Those who did see Lil Tommy take a bow though, witnessed a vintage rock moment.
Watching the band tear through another two hour set it became apparent that there is a reason Mötley Crüe has lasted so long despite their own best efforts at self destruction: They are unapologetic in their approach, exceedingly loyal to their fans, and they are just too damn good to go out quietly.
So now that the dust from Hartford and New York has settled, the Crüe heads off for two solid months of stateside gigs, a June visit to Europe, and then back to the U.S. for an extended summer/fall barnstorming schedule. Vince has already gone on record saying that if all goes well the band could stay on the road for years. If that’s the case, and the boys can get along off-stage long enough to keep it together on-stage, then the Mötley freak show might never end.