After catching nearly a dozen live dates, PopMatters' Adam Williams explores the rising ranks of a new class of Crüehead.
After nearly 15 months on the road, the Mötley Crüe caravan took the summer to pull over, rest, regroup, and contemplate its creative future. Summer 2006 found the band's members enjoying the break from their massive Red, White, and Crüe/Carnival of Sins trek and engaged in their own pursuits: Tommy Lee is indulging in the Rockstar reality program and assorted DJ appearances; Vince Neil is chilling out poolside as a bikini contest judge; Nikki Sixx is tending to domestic issues; and Mick Mars � well, the Mars Man has returned to the shadowy netherworld to practice his riffing.
But this respite was only a brief pit stop for the Crüe, as September finds the Mötley machine teaming up with Aerosmith for a short tour, then, reportedly, preparing to record a new album. Not bad for a quartet of rock 'n roll hellions entering middle age (not to mention their third decade of decadence).
The Crüe's 2005-6 global extravaganza traversed the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan, and Mexico; packed venues large and small; and generated massive stacks of money. Most importantly, though, the tour was a powerful statement made in the face of increasingly fickle music industry moguls: artists may come and go, often experiencing less than the industry-standard 15 minutes of fame, but Mötley Crüe will not fade away.
The Crüe is the lone hair band that can still sell out Madison Square Garden. Warrant? Poison? Skid Row? Ratt? Whitesnake? They're all comfortably residing in the Where are they now? file or toiling away on embarrassing pre-packaged '80s-nostalgia tours. As a matter of fact, last I heard, Jani Lane was opening for a puppet show at some theme park in the Midwest. Even the once brilliant Guns N' Roses is a distant memory, despite Axl and his roster of hired help wrapping themselves in the band's banner. In a wasteland littered with the bleached-blonde bones of its contemporaries, Mötley Crüe has survived in spite of itself. Factor in the much ballyhooed presentation of the 2,301st star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame (add up the digits and you get Sixx), and it seems the band has cemented its position as a mainstream rock 'n roll mainstay.
But how is this possible? Critics have continually lambasted the band as unoriginal, marginally talented, and cartoonish (similar criticism was leveled at KISS, though Gene Simmons & Co. have also done quite well for themselves). What's more, group continuity has been repeatedly tested, and Nikki has checked out of this dimension on at least one widely publicized occasion. And yet, despite the multitude of break-ups, break-downs, punch outs, and sundry misadventures, nothing has overshadowed the band's tremendous catalogue, and, what's more, their rabid international fan base now boasts a second generation of enthusiastic Crüebees.
Need proof of the scope of Crüe's ever-growing legion of followers? Search the band's fan sites, and count the number of teenage contributors posting threads. The teeny boppers are mixing seamlessly with the grizzled veterans to form an expanding Crüe collective. Why is that important? It demonstrates that, like Elvis and the Beatles, Mötley has transcended its place as a group of popular music makers and become an act for the ages. Thanks in large part to tell-all tome The Dirt and a couple of infamous video tapes, the band is now an iconic fixture in pop culture, and its tales of debauched excess have taken on mythic qualities.
In the process, the Crüe has evolved into a vital historical reference point, supplanting the mighty Led Zeppelin as the face of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. And as Zep's mystique has gradually faded, the Mötley myth has steadily grown. Looking and sounding as good as in its prime, the whole continues to be greater than the sum of its parts. Mötley Crüe will always be Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, and Mick Mars, until they say otherwise. And as long as the boys are back in town, touring and recording, there will continue to be diehard fans scattered across the world . . . people like me, a dude Crüe'd and tattüe'd for life.
During the past year-and-a-half , I had the good fortune to attend nearly a dozen Crüe concerts, including four in a six-day span -- that last jaunt took me across four states. More than most fans, less than others, the total number would have been higher had it not been for an untimely motorcycle accident -- but hey, them's the breaks . . . literally. Granted, I'm a bit spoiled, as I enjoy my Crüe fix from the front row, and I spent considerable money to get up close and personal. There's nothing quite like having one's musical idols within spitting distance for a two-hour-plus set of amped-up classics.
Bear in mind, I do have bias. Such proximity often breaches the invisible wall protecting the stage, particularly in the more intimate confines of 8,000 +/- seat venues. You think it was cool to have Vince put the mic in my face to sing the chorus to "On with the Show"? Or have the bump-n-grind aerialist girls blow me kisses and wave with familiarity? How about witnessing Mighty Mike, the Crüe's resident fire-breathing mascot, shake his head in amused disbelief at the number of times he saw me down front?
As for the concerts, there's none better. Sure, fans of groups, from the Stones to U2, boast about the greatness of their bands, and I'm not questioning the seriousness of their sentiments. But Mick, Keith, and Bono ain't got nuthin' on Nikki and the boys. Mötley Crüe is the best live act out there, bar none, and there are few gig experiences that compare to 15,000 people singing "Home Sweet Home" in unison.
Prior to many of the 2005 concert dates, the Crüe offered a special pre-gig meet-and-greet for a handful of lucky fanclub members. Sure, the ticket/pass packs were pricey, but have you seen what brokers are asking for decent seats to major shows? And an opportunity to meet my Mötley heroes was impossible to miss. It wasn't an extended stay, mind you, but shaking hands and snapping a couple photos with the boys was a thrill. The best part? Having Tommy check out my tattoo collection and say, "Man, you've got some nice work on you, dude." Coming from the considerably inked Mr. Lee, the compliment was priceless.
Then came Valentine's Day, in the year two-thousand-Nikki-Sixx. Love was in the air as the Crüe took the stage in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Between song breaks, at the mid-point of the show, Nikki stood at the edge of the stage, panning the crowd with his hand-held video camera. As Tommy engaged the audience, Nikki must have heard my exhortations, because he glanced down at front row center, exactly where I stood with a member of my Crüe crew, known in Crüeville as the fabulous Crüebabe. Sixx focused the camera on the tattooed tribute to him on Crüebabe's back. Apparently he was quite moved by the portrait, so he tapped two security guards, and Crüebabe was lifted onto the stage for a personal congratulation. Nikki autographed his inked likeness while Tommy filmed the encounter -- the entire episode aired on the big screens in real time as a massive cheer shook the venue. For Crüe fans, this was the equivalent of finding a Wonka golden ticket; it was as surreal as it was awe-inspiring.
The third part of my Crüe trifecta occurred when I crossed paths with the tour's wardrobe manager after the show in Providence, Rhode Island. She'd noticed Crüebabe's Sixx hat and informed us that she was in need of a replacement chapeau for Nikki himself. Coincidently, I had my hat out in the car, and came to learn that Mr. Sixx and I share the same hat size. So, I passed my Crüe headgear along, reveling in the knowledge that Nikki would be wearing my hat, or rather his hat, for the remainder of the tour. Talk about contributing to the cause.
Amidst everything, though, there's an important aspect of my Crüe adventure that bears mentioning: my many chances to interact with impassioned people, all of whom share my affinity for the band. Mötley's support crew is a faceless lot, performing thankless jobs, but their contributions are vital to the final result. Be it security, guitars techs, stage builders, or event coordinators, the individuals I encountered were always exceptional.
And let's not forget the extended family of dedicated fans. Our collective love for the Crüe is a feeling we also have for one another; we're different as much as we're the same, coming together at irregular intervals and celebrating our band and ourselves. Congregating with fellow Crüe fans is a rare instance of invigorating group-think, and for those who've never experienced such a scenario, you're missing out on something special.
Now, as the fall tour is already here, I've overcome my summer separation anxiety with tickets to six shows, while keeping an eye on one or two more. I can always rely on Dr. Feelgood to cure what ails me, and soon I'll have the chance to run away high, so I won't come home low. Yeah, I know, it's Aerosmith's tour, and Mötley is considered the opening act. Big deal. Crüeheads will get at least 90 minutes of live Crüe, and afterwards get a bonus set from Aerosmith. Not a bad twin bill, but as far as I'm concerned, you can keep Steven Tyler. I'll be there for one reason, and with any luck, the boys will come back recharged and as Mötley as ever, ready to have me down in front row center. See ya at the gig, guys . . .