Mötley Crüe w/Poison, New York Dolls
Wednesday, July 20
Better than: Attending an 18-year high school reunion with a cash bar, albeit one mitigated by the DJ having a music library nearly identical to yours back in the day.
An extremely partial list of pop-cultural events since Dec. 11, 1989, when I attended my first concert, headlined by Mötley Crüe and hosted by the Nassau Coliseum: John Corabi. Behind The Music. Indoor smoking bans. The Pam and Tommy sex tape. Napster. The Dirt. Cell phone cameras becoming the norm. Rock of Love. Skating With Celebrities. Blogs. (So many blogs.) Bret Michaels winning The Apprentice.
Warrant opened that show, which made Mötley, technically, the second band I ever saw live.
I saw Warrant with Poison the next summer at the same venue, and as it turned out, Poison was the second band on last night’s bill. It makes sense that lead singer Bret Michaels has turned into America’s Favorite Hard Rock Star, although that ex post facto logic didn’t make the idea that the cover for Open Up And Say Ahhh was once daring and in need of record-store censorship any less funny in the post-Rock of Love era. Poison’s charm lay in their gentleness, the giggly sex appeal of Bret Michaels, the Catskills-ready comic relief of CC DeVille, the makeup they’d worn in their earliest years that they’d never be able to scrub off their public image, the dumb puns that made the sexuality Michaels sang of OK for afternoon airplay on MTV, if not family-friendly.
Poison’s set was a bit truncated, but most of the band’s hookiest hits were represented; the putative “Runaway” sequel “Fallen Angel”; the ode to the open road “Ride The Wind.” The one “new” song was a cover of “We’re An American Band.” Some of the more familiar tracks had what sounded like curious lyrical shifts where Bret seemed to be putting words (“every rose has its thorn,” among others) into the mouths of others, and agency into others’ actions. Usually women. Now that he’s singing with his daughters on Kidz Bop, him putting some of the sexual bits into the hands of people who aren’t him makes sense, but it was still a bit disconcerting.
The crowd bathed in the band’s attention, with both Michaels and DeVille coming over to say hi to certain familiar faces crowding both sides of the stage, and Dall occasionally doing the same. This had one very bizarre side effect: Whenever one of the three members with the ability to run around the stage ventured over to stage right, a (brunette, well-groomed, business-attired) woman standing right up front would whip herself around; her male companion would then try to get a picture of her with a real-life Poison member as backdrop. This despite there being “no cameras” posters on each of the doors leading into the Coliseum’s atrium. Judging by the looks on their faces while checking the camera’s viewfinder post-shot, only the picture with CC as backdrop worked.
Nobody on stage seemed to mind much about the camera ban being flouted time and time again. Instead, gratitude was the order of the night, with 3/4 of Mötley thanking the crowd for hanging in for 30 years and playing “the area” 50 times; Michaels, during Poison’s set, saying multiple times how happy he was to be back on Long Island (I’ve seen him proclaim the band’s summer shows at Jones Beach as a “tradition” before) and healthy after the brain aneurysm that befell him during his Celebrity Apprentice run; and people crowding the Coliseum’s bars in packs, toasting their friendship and the fact that they could get down like they did decades ago for a single night.
Mötley’s set came out of nowhere, with a barrage of what I legit thought was gunfire interrupting the loping harmonies of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” and leading right into “Wild Side,” the dark, shouty track that leads off the band’s 1987 descent into hell Girls, Girls, Girls. They’d always had an edge to them but Girls was dark, coming complete with a graphic, banned-by-MTV video and a song about strip clubs. It was pretty much the preface to the inevitable bounce-back that was 1989’s Dr. Feelgood, which was dark in its own way but which also had a wink-and-nod cameo about oral sex by Robin Zander and a song about how it was “time for change” in the world. (Not untrue.)
(For the record, my personal pantheon of the first five Mötley albums goes as follows: Too Fast For Love > Dr. Feelgood > Shout At The Devil > the other two.)
The first three songs on last night’s setlist—”Wild Side,” the recent “Saints of Los Angeles,” and the sneering debut-album standout “Live Wire”—coupled with the way the band was announced reminded me that Mötley, back in the day, had been almost the antithesis of Poison, despite the heavy amounts of gloss and shadow both bands wore at their careers’ outset. (The New York Dolls, who opened the night with a punchy, wiseassery-filled set, could have been seen as the band whose old photos would be hung on both sides of their shared makeup counter.) Although you’d have to think that any band whose crowning moment of redemption—”Home Sweet Home”—was such a high point, one beloved by so many, would have to have dealt with some pretty low lows. But people appreciated the band’s sinister nature as well; last night’s setlist was claimed to have been determined by online voting, and its deeper cuts included the menacing “Too Young To Fall In Love” and the desperation-tinged “10 Seconds To Love,” instead of, say, Dial MTV-beloved ballad “Without You” or the crunchy glampop track “Come On And Dance.”
It should probably be noted here that you don’t really go to a Mötley show to hear Vince Neil sing. He’s a charismatic frontman with a wide, aw-shucks smile, but not much of an enunciator; the rapidfire verses on “Dr. Feelgood” were maybe half-sung from the stage, although the audience was more than willing to pick up the slack there and elsewhere. Still, he certainly knew how to bust out Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You,” which the band shoehorned into the middle of the outstanding kiss-off “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).” The mashup was probably unnecessary—”Mad” is a bit lite-sounding, particularly when compared to the rest of the band’s catalog on display last night, but its aw-shit meanness is delicious to sing along with, and its bass line is maybe one of my favorites in all of rock.
Following that was the drum solo, the time-honored Mötley Crüe show tradition in which Tommy Lee decides to suspend himself or project himself at various angles while still playing drums. In 1989 he propelled himself above the crowd; this time out he rode the “drumcoaster,” a circular track on which his kit traveled, first in a u-shape like the pirate-ship rides at carnivals and then in a full-on 360-degree circle, complete with him being suspended upside-down for extended lengths of time. The music backing him this time out was definitely more electronica-tinged at first, although when he invited an audience member up on stage to join him (female, relatively modestly dressed in a t-shirt and leggings, lauded as “fucking hot” by Lee), it changed to “Rollercoaster Of Love.”
From there the band stormed through six more songs, including “Looks That Kill,” “Girls Girls Girls,” and the aforementioned “Too Young To Fall In Love,” which was illustrated by fan photos. (Most were of people smiling and hanging out, although there were a few boob shots and self-consciously “funny” devil-horn gestures, as well as a photovisual joke involving Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson.) The finale was the ode to self-revival “Kickstart My Heart,” which was accompanied by a Grucci Fourth Of July show’s worth of pyro; the night ended with everyone taking bows and cheering, and even a couple of women crowding the area that led backstage.
But a couple of people were confused that the ending was a real one, and not a ruse to coax applause out of the crowd as prelude to a perfunctory encore, despite the arsenal that had just been set off. As I was leaving I was stopped by a dude in a Yankees shirt who wanted to know what I thought of Mötley’s encore-free set. (“Do I know you?” I asked him. “No, I’m just being random.” Oh.) I told him that I wasn’t surprised, that the band probably didn’t want to kill five minutes waiting for people to clap when they could just play another song. He seemed mollified by my explanation. A half hour later, the dudes standing behind me at the Marriott bar debated the same topic into my ear for a good 10 minutes, but given that they’d spent the moments prior talking about their prospects for picking out inebriated-enough conquests to bring up to their individual rooms at 1:25, I decided to not get involved.
Here is what I might have said, though, if those guys hadn’t been so Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: “Maybe the lack of an encore and the dissipating idea of “mystery” when it comes to rock—the Twitpics, the reality shows, the confessionals that percolate from blog to blog—are related somehow. Why deal with the bullshit of putting a veil around yourself when there are connections to be made? Better to just play a song and let the music broker the connection instead of some false anticipatory period—especially if you know what’s coming anyway.” They might, at least, have gotten the “romance is dead” message.
Critical bias: The first time I was ever made fun of by a record store clerk, I was buying the “Unskinny Bop” cassingle at the Titus Oaks in Hicksville. You could say it was a formative experience.
Overheard: “How are you people on Long Island digging that German Pope? … OK, let me ask you this: How do you feel about pills?” Oh, David Johansen, never change.
Random notebook dump: At nearly every turn I was greeted by Nassau Coliseum staffers wearing shirts that read, in all-caps, “VOTE YES AUGUST 1ST.” The idea is to float a bond that would give the Coliseum and its surrounding area an upgrade, which was understandable; especially in the context of attending the Prudential Center on Tuesday night, Nassau Coliseum seemed like it had been preserved in amber from the night 21.67ish years ago that I attended my first Mötley show, with a smoky haze, barely lit stairs that my depth-perception-challenged self had a few scares on during the New York Dolls’ set, strawng accents full bore, and banners for the Islanders, the team that brought Long Island such glory in the ’80s (both during the Stanley Cup years and the night of the Easter Epic) and that, if people vote NO on August 1, might move to, of all places, Kansas City. It’s the type of place where you notice that Dippin’ Dots have been the Ice Cream Of The Future for a really long time.
It would be a shame if Long Island lost the arena, and by extension the Islanders. When I was growing up, the area, for all its be-track-suited faults, seemed like a sort of hermetically sealed outgrowth of New York City—I remember when we got our first K-Mart and what a big deal it was. Its malaises were probably jumpstarted in the ’90s when Grumman packed up and left most of the area; they were definitely accelerated by its seemingly innate tendency to inspire its spawn to head westward, whether to New York City or some other more-hospitable-to-the-non-entrenched burg. (The “graying” of Long Island is such that the Saturday section of Newsday‘s Part II section has been rebranded “Act II,” for people in the later stages of life.) Of course, much of the country that isn’t working in finance or for some overheated Internet company is currently suffering from those same ills. And public financing of arenas in this fiscally perilous time is a dicey proposition. But wouldn’t building a new arena (and a new minor-league stadium) create jobs, which are so necessary these days? And wouldn’t losing the Islanders—c’mon, that name!—and a place for Long Islanders to celebrate be a pretty big psychological blow?
These are obviously big questions, albeit ones that I’m very tempted to let sentimentality and my idea of “fun” sway me on. Although who doesn’t let their biases fuel their habits? After all, while perusing the local paper before the show, I saw that Amy Fisher would be stripping in Farmingdale in the coming weeks. Not my idea of fun, really, but someone’s.
Look What The Cat Dragged In
Ride The Wind
We’re An American Band
Your Mama Don’t Dance
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
Talk Dirty To Me
Nothin’ But A Good Time
Saints Of Los Angeles
Shout At The Devil
Same Ol’ Situation
Home Sweet Home
Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) / Fuck You
[Guitar Solo] / Looks That Kill
Too Young To Fall In Love
10 Seconds To Love
Girls, Girls, Girls
Rock & Roll Pt. II / Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room
Kickstart My Heart