New York – There are several good reasons why Motley Crue didn’t play the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, and most of them were on display as the reunited ’80s rockers assaulted Madison Square Garden for the first time in 21 years.
Having reigned as the Bad Boys of Rock ‘n’ Roll for most of the decade, the California quartet saw their decadence crown snatched away in the late ’80s by Axl Rose and Guns ‘N’ Roses. Motley’s own fortunes ebbed, the victim of substance abuse, supermodel divorces (drummer Tommy Lee managed to lose both Pamela Anderson and Heather Locklear in the span of a few years) and creative burnout.
They snatched the crown back Thursday night, and wore it proudly for 2 1/2 hours of power chords, profanity and wardrobe malfunctions.
Before the first note was played, an animated video showed the band trying to launch a very Anderson-like blonde into outer space with a slingshot, only to be foiled when her breast implants exploded, covering the guys with silicone. When the video was over, three strippers, clad in thongs, black fishnets and little else, simulated sex acts on the stage as a dwarf emerged from a small wooden box to rile the crowd up.
A red and white-striped tent rose from the floor as the original four members – Lee, vocalist Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars – hit the stage amid fire jets and red lights, ripping into “Shout At The Devil” as 20,000 fists pumped skyward. Wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt and a pair of baby blue bell bottom jeans, his bleach-blonde hair held back by a headband, Neil then reached back to the band’s first album for “Too Fast For Love.” Each time the verse containing the line “Do you remember?” came around, the audience roared back, “Yes I remember!”
The band sounded tight considering they’ve played just a handful of dates since reuniting after a six-year absence. Lee and Sixx formed a rock-solid rhythm section beneath Mars’ chunky guitar riffs and fingernail-pick squealing solos. But the circus that literally surrounded the band got almost as much attention as the music – and at times overshadowed it. During “Ten Seconds To Love,” a song about having sex in an elevator, the strippers gyrated on ladders on either side of the stage, then climbed down to the stage, writhed on the floor and crawled across one another as Mars played a solo.
During “Girls, Girls, Girls,” an ode to the nation’s top strip clubs, the girls again faked sex, this time while straddling a silver hoop 20 feet above the band’s heads. And as Sixx noodled on his bass, one of the strippers played with a sparking torch, bending over and aiming it between her legs before turning it on Sixx, who was then engulfed in waves of sparks – probably the only time in rock history that a heavy metal band made a bass solo interesting.
Unfortunately, Lee couldn’t say the same for his solo turn. His drum solo began as a plodding beat while a leering, synthesized voice urged the audience over and over to do lewd things. His face slathered with white clown makeup, he then rose 30 feet into the air on a cable and started whacking tinny cymbals and bells to a hip-hop backing track. maybe he was trying to show his street cred, but he ending up sounding more like a sugared-up three year old banging on pots and pans with a wooden spoon.
Eventually Lee got bored with his solo (although the audience had long ago beaten him to it), grabbed a camera that had been filming the band and urged girls in the crowd to bare their breasts. When his first choice demurred, Lee led the crowd in booing her, but he quickly found five others who were only too happy to oblige, including a trio who had been downing plastic cups of champagne with strawberries before the show started.
If this wasn’t subtle enough, Lee then thrust the camera down the front of his pants. Thankfully the screen only showed black. But with his homemade sex tape with then-wife Anderson still circulating on the Internet, chances are it was nothing most of the audience hadn’t already seen.
The circus motif was nothing new; Kiss used an almost identical stage setup on their 1998 “Psycho Circus” tour, and W.A.S.P. was using big-top stage sets as far back as 1987 on their “Inside The Electric Circus” tour. But the Crue made it their own, appropriating the look of the Ringling Bros. logo, but proclaiming their production “The Loudest Show On Earth” if not the greatest. And as promised, the volume on Mars’ guitar increased noticeably on “Louder Than Hell.”
The crowd roared in recognition at the piano intro to their biggest hit, the prototypical power ballad “Home Sweet Home,” and sang along lustily to the rapid-fire “Kickstart My Heart” and the finale, a cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The U.K.,” featuring all the circus performers onstage at once. The strippers ate fire and walked on stilts; the dwarf belched fireballs and rode a unicycle, and even the roadies, dressed as evil clowns, squirted fire extinguishers at the crowd.
Sixx summed it up best when he asked the crowd, “You know why we do this stuff, don’t ya? ‘Cause somebody tells us not to.”