The Old Scumbags of Mötley Crüe Nearly Burn Down Madison Square Garden

Vince Neil
Vince Neil
photo by David Atlas

Mötley Crüe Madison Square Garden March 16

Two slabs of pure California white trash, their retarded friend on drums, and a snake-eyed, mercenary guitarist more than a decade older than his bandmates: Mötley Crüe were a bunch of scumbags back in the '80s. Their debut album, 1982's Too Fast For Love, mixed the showbiz swagger of Van Halen with the speed and fury of punk rock, offering at least as much "No Future" desperation as anything the L.A. hardcore scene was spitting out. Subsequent releases (1985's weirdly pop-friendly Theatre Of Pain aside) celebrated self-destruction and squalor. They had hit records, but they were not people you would want to live near.

Nikki Sixx, still alive, somehow
Nikki Sixx, still alive, somehow
by David Atlas

These days, though, the Crüe are old scumbags, twenty years past their last really good album. Confessional autobiographies and Behind The Music have tamed them, turned them from thugs with musical instruments into mere C-List celebrities. Going into a Mötley Crüe concert in 2009, the question isn't, Will they play the gig at all? or Will Nikki Sixx OD afterward? It's more like, Can Vince Neil still sing? (Sort of; he's not the drunken, panting embarrassment of a few years ago, but he relies on audience singalongs to a disheartening degree.) Can Mick Mars, now 65 --that's right, he's eight months older than Keith Richards--move at all? (Again, sort of; given the chronic arthritis he's suffered from for decades, he's never been one to run around like AC/DC's Angus Young, but he did seem to make it to his spot unassisted at the beginning of the night.) Will Tommy Lee make a fool of himself? (Oh, yeah: he ambled to the lip of the stage mid-set to pass a bottle of Jägermeister into the crowd, declare his love for everyone in the 3/4-full arena, and ramble incoherently.)

Mick Mars, poor guy
Mick Mars, poor guy
David Atlas

They still put on a show, though. Their pyro filled the arena with so much smoke it was like being inside a burning house, and Tommy Lee's bass drum was so big it could be flipped on its side and used as a coffee table. The set began with a solid three-song blast: "Kickstart My Heart," "Wild Side" and "Shout at the Devil." The first new song of the night, the title track from last year's Saints Of Los Angeles, was well received, but was followed by a lengthy solo segment from guitarist Mars that went surprisingly far out, almost into noise-rock territory, before returning to the blues and a brief quotation of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." After a slowdown like that, the band had to regain momentum quick and hard, which they did, sprinting through "Live Wire," a medley of "Too Fast For Love" and "On With the Show," and a demolition-crew cover of Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock." And on it went, a mix of a few new songs and a bunch of older, catchier ones. A few missteps aside--the video of a smirking, bird-flipping George W. Bush, shown during "Shout at the Devil," seemed left over from the last Ministry tour--it was a solid evening of sleazy pop metal, utterly devoid of the anarchic spirit of the early years. But what else did you expect from a bunch of tired old scumbags? --Phil Freeman

The Old Scumbags of Mötley Crüe Nearly Burn Down Madison Square Garden

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