Mötley Crüe | S.F. | Review | Pics

By: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller

Mötley Crüe, Poison, New York Dolls :: 06.15.11 :: Bill Graham Civic :: San Francisco, CA

Mötley Crüe by Josh Miller
30 years is a long damn time for, well, anything. That Mötley Crüe has maintained their edge, great humor, street level gravity and cut-above musicianship over three decades is fairly amazing. It’s not as if Vince Neil (vocals), Nikki Sixx (bass), Mick Mars (guitar) and Tommy Lee (drums) have anything left to prove, any stone left unturned, any panties un-sniffed or any party favor untried, but here they are, still at it with one of the kookiest, most entertaining stage shows this summer powered by their irresistible stage presence, all-over-it-like-white-on-rice fans and pile of songs that ignite grinding good times.

Less a full-steam carnival than the band’s last major national jaunt with Crüe Fest 2 (see the JamBase review here), the current tour features openers New York Dolls and Poison. The former makes perfect sense and honors a necessary ancestor in Mötley’s DNA, and the latter choice, my guess is it’s a shrewd move in tough fiscal times.

Poison by Josh Miller
Poison is a lightweight biter of what Mötley started in the early 80s, and while a lot of folks at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium were really into Bret Michaels and his chums, all I can really say is they’re more slick and practiced at what they do than when I used to walk out on their early headlining shows at Bay Area clubs like The Stone. If you own a TV or radio, then you’ve heard the songs they played and they sounded just like the day-glo videos of yore. C.C. DeVille was a pleasant hot mess, all over the place and pandering to the crowd’s whoops and cheers, and the whole lot of them sure do move around a lot. As spectacle full of familiar pleasure buttons (for others), their set worked expertly, even if one detected a distinct lack of heart to the whole thing – every element, down to the between-song patter, seemed rehearsed and programmed. There’s a lot of crossover in Poison and Crüe fans, so from their standpoint this was serious bang for the buck, and certainly allowed ticket prices to be a bit higher than the Crüe alone or with just NY Dolls in tow. It makes sense but from a purely musical perspective, Poison is no further up the food chain than they were in 1986 when the cat dragged them in. Also, they need to stop playing covers. Don Brewer should kick them in the shins for what they did to “We’re An American Band.”

Poison setlist
Look What The Cat Dragged In, Ride The Wind, We're An American Band, Your Mama Don't Dance, Guitar Solo, Fallen Angel, Unskinny Bop, Drum Solo, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Talk Dirty To Me, Nothin' But A Good Time

New York Dolls by Josh Miller
However, the Dolls were a nifty surprise. Still beanpole thin and a lot less ambulatory than in their youth, David Johansen (vocals) and Sylvain Sylvain (guitar) knocked out a truncated set, due to the late opening of doors, that opened a lot of eyes/ears to the New York Dolls role in the kind of pop-inflected hard rock they had come to revel in. Classics like “Personality Crisis” and “Jet Boy” retained their belly-sockin’ oomph, and recent tunes like “Kids Like You” off this year’s Dancing Backwards In Heels and “Dance Like A Monkey” off 2006’s One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This proved chock full o’ juice. Few folks perspire cool like Sylvain and Johansen, and they’re surrounded by capable folks, especially shredzilla Earl Slick, these days, which makes it easier than ever to see what a fundamental sound they originated in the early 70s. Come early if you’re hitting this tour and enjoy a history lesson you can drink shots to.

New York Dolls setlist
Personality Crisis, We're All In Love, Cause I Sez So, Talk To Me, Baby, I'm So Fabulous, Kids Like You, Dance Like a Monkey, Pills, Trash, Jet Boy

Mötley Crüe by Josh Miller
With no disrespect to the Dolls (and my views on Poison are established above), the rest of the bill was prelude to the real red meat righteousness of Mötley Crüe, who entered with the roar of an artillery blast, dropping a massive white curtain to reveal another crazed set full of curving stairwells, platforms front and back, a huge rear projection screen, Tommy Lee’s much hyped 360-degree drum kit (as impressive an Acme cartoon device as any band has ever mustered), video screens in the audience-facing stacks and much more. The stage design for the Crüe is inspired, playing to and exceeding the expectations of a fan base that’s seen midgets, strippers, a demented hospital, so much fire and much more over the years. And it acknowledges that they are putting on a show, in the classic sense, in addition to kicking out the jams. There was rarely a dull moment with this tour’s stage craft, constantly fueled by wild imagery, intuitive lighting and a band that brachiated around it with clear delight. Where Poison felt a bit canned in their audience appreciation, Mötley let their masks drop a bit, showing obvious love for what they do together and who they do it for. Lee, particularly, seemed chuffed to be in San Francisco, exclaiming, “Seats fucking suck! We’ve played seated venues the past two gigs and it sucked. This is more like it (gesturing broadly to the writhing throng on the main floor)!” The unrestrained roar that followed his words was like water to a rose for Tommy.

The setlist for this tour was chosen through fan input and focuses on the staples along with quality album cuts (always glad to see anything off Saints of Los Angeles in the mix since it’s arguably the best studio work they’ve ever done - review). It’s not the revelation that hearing Dr. Feelgood in its entirety was at Crüe Fest 2 but it does highlight how much better their songs are than just about any mainstream hard rockers who emerged from the same era save for perhaps early Guns ‘N Roses. There’s oodles of debauchery inside their tunes but also a level of gentle introspection that occasionally presents a sobering image in their cracked mirror. The ride this time is pretty relentlessly enjoyable, the real knockouts like “Primal Scream” and “Kickstart My Heart” falling at just the right moments and the singles retaining their smile-inducing solidity. And the back-up singer-dancers were especially on at this show, proving both a nice musical spice and the appropriate lust-inducers they should be.

Mötley Crüe by Josh Miller
Vince is singing better than ever, and if he’s getting a little electronic help I could give a shit (and nor should any Crüe fan). He sounds great and most of it is his natural voice. His phrasing and bite remain fully intact, and he’s riding a nasty groove from the rest of the band these days. Mars inserted so much dark sweetness into these familiar numbers that one wondered where he’d been hiding all these goodies. Lee and Sixx remain one of the most underrated rhythm teams in rock, but probably could care less about critical accolades at this stage. The sweaty, utterly pleased sea of faces in front of the stage and in the balconies are likely a pretty nice substitute, and the buckets of money also don’t hurt.

The true triumph of Mötley Crüe is their sustained relevance. They are playing to crowded halls everywhere they go this summer, and young bands will forevermore see them as a springboard to a certain kind of rock. They offer folks a really fine, slightly naughty night out where the music, the production and the band’s attitude all show them as the benchmark in their field.

So, guys, how about bringing back Crüe Fest next year? It’ll be the 25th anniversary of Girls, Girls, Girls and all the strippers who worked it to that one originally can bring their daughters! Oh, 2013 will be the 30th anniversary of Shout At The Devil, so you got a built-in sequel some of us would LOVE to see. Just planting some seeds…

Mötley Crüe setlist
Wild Side, Saints of Los Angeles, Live Wire, Shout at the Devil, Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.), Primal Scream, Home Sweet Home, Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), Drum Solo, Guitar Solo, Looks That Kill, Dr. Feelgood, Too Young to Fall in Love, Too Fast for Love, Girls, Girls, Girls, Smokin' In The Boys Room, Kickstart My Heart

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