“God bless the titties of America,” Tommy Lee thunders, to equally thunderous applause, joyously setting back rock ‘n’ roll’s evolution (not to mention feminism) a solid twenty years. The stagnant seas of retarded sexuality have wharshed us up on the shores of Oakland Arena, where we stand in jet-black leather pants (barely breathing) and day-glo halter tops (way too easily breathing) to lustily cheer the improbable, immature, and to this day startlingly immoral resurgence of Mötley Crüe.
And here stands Mr. Lee, drummer and porn magnate extraordinaire, who has said the words “fuckin'” and “dude” more often than everyone you have ever met combined, and now bounds around the stage with a video camera, zooming in on sugar ‘n’ silicone lovelies who absolutely do not hesitate to flash Tommy, Tommy’s camera, Tommy’s big-screen TVs, and Tommy’s whooping stadium crowd. “Whoa!” he declares appreciatively, and we agree wholeheartedly.
It is 1985. Yet it is not 1985. It is Easter Eve 2005. Leave it to Mötley Crüe to throw a party on one of the only days when Jesus Christ is technically dead.
The “Red, White, and Crüe” tour T-shirt heralds “The Band You Thought You’d Never See Live Again” — from the stage, bassist and mastermind Nikki Sixx marvels, “Can you believe we finally got our shit back together?” No, Nikki, we cannot. You and your bandmates should be dead. You, in fact, were dead via drug overdose for a few minutes at one point, a factoid gleaned from the MC biography The Dirt, the most depraved and (thus) riveting work of literature our young century has produced.
Younger generations have come to view the Jack Daniels-guzzling, copious-drug-abusing, groupie-violating rock lifestyle as a myth, an impossibility in the age of political correctness, wusstastic indie-rock, debilitating STDs, an overriding respect for human life, common sense. But Mötley Crüe once embodied it, and now, incredibly, appears hellbent on embodying it once again. The band’s spandex ‘n’ hairspray cock rock is dated, but the Crüe’s entire hedonistic existence is a hilarious anachronism. The Pet Rock of rock.
“Do you wanna go back in time???!!!” Nikki bellowed, and oh, dude, fuckin’ hell yes, we did.
The show sucked. Oh, sure, the fans loved it. The fans always love it. But in terms of converting nonbelievers — the bemused, the merely curious — forget it. And trust me, the merely curious want to love this: a three-hour, full-on arena-rockin’ hootenanny with a Cirque du Soleil Goes Porn theme, complete with midget clowns, flaming amps, and lithe acrobats in spray-on costumes doing midair stripper routines. Everyone needs a little excess, and nobody does excess quite like the Crüe. But Saturday wasn’t quite excessive enough, and the tunes shouldn’t sound as ugly as these guys look.
Issue #1: Vince Neil. Lovely screeching high notes, Vince, but falsetto is all this dude’s got left. Baron Davis could’ve shown more confidence working those lower-register verses of the disastrous “If I Die Tomorrow,” one of two brand-new tunes defensively introduced with a brief Sixx speech about how “Kickstart My Heart” was once a new song, too. Well, Nikki, Vince can sorta sing “Kickstart My Heart” without triggering tonal affronts to humanity infinitely more offensive than Tommy’s loutish boob-chasing. Golden oldies from “Shout at the Devil” to “Too Young to Fall in Love” to “Ten Seconds to Love” (whose chorus sounds an awful lot like Twin sisters of love, which is frankly a better title) suited Vince far, far better, but only because he pointed his mic at the crowd and let the adoring masses sing the choruses. At least consider a full-blown karaoke tour, dudes.
Musically, it all bled together: Tommy pounded out apocalyptic fills so violent he destroyed a snare drum midsong, while Nikki’s bass chug-chug-chugged along nonchalantly, freeing him up to stroll around and spit on the crowd. (Nice.) And Mick Mars, oh, Mick Mars. Thanks to The Dirt and general MC lore, Mick is now typecast as an aging ogre with a debilitating back problem that’s transformed him into a looming Tim Burton-style monstrosity who can barely stand, let alone walk, let alone rock. He screeched through several satisfying whammy-bar solo smorgasbords, but rarely moved otherwise, leaving the goofing off — rumbling around the stage on full-size high-end motorcycles and the like — to his bandmates.
This show is designed for maximum populist pleasure. No overlong stretches of new material, no naked pleas for respect or dignity — the Crüe boys have freely allowed themselves to become public caricatures, from Tommy’s epic tales of never-ending boyhood to Vince’s Jon Lovitz-lookin’, prostitute-slappin’, “Hey, let’s have MC Hammer MC my wedding on reality television” high-jinks. So why is this all so unsatisfying? Because Saturday’s shindig failed in two crucial respects: the power ballads and the drum solo. The former were packed into a lousy medley ($%^#!!) that started off sounding like Erasure ($%^&*@!!!) and concluded with a half-assed, weak-kneed “Home Sweet Home.” Sweet Jesus, how do you screw up “Home Sweet Home,” the triumphant lighter-waving apex of the ’80s? The same way you screw up Tommy’s highly anticipated drum solo: all thunder, no lightning. Lee strapped on a harness and launched himself skyward, then jetted back and forth (“Whoa!”) between two towering platforms high above the stage, but one outpost was loaded with junky electronic drum nonsense, and the other sounded like freakin’ wind chimes. Someone buy him a Mars Volta record.
The evening concluded with a pair of audacious covers: “Helter Skelter” and “Anarchy in the UK,” gleefully pointing out that to the whooping, flashing masses who filled Oakland Arena, Mötley Crüe truly is the Beatles and the Sex Pistols combined, a perfect storm of virtuosity and decadence. Sadly, though, the appeal has become purely nostalgic. The band’s crowd-pleasing hedonism has survived, but the sonic balls to back it up have shriveled like California Raisins. Those who love these guys continue to love them out of habit. Those who look on with amusement grow increasingly amused.
But then again, he who controls the titties of America controls the world, and however much his band bumbled, Tommy Lee left no doubt as to his lordship over the exposed bosoms of America. For that — for that alone, alas — he deserves our respect.