Pyrotechnics and Aqua Net could normally be a combustible combination but thankfully no one's spandex caught fire when Alice Cooper and Motley Crue rolled through town Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Co-headliner Cooper pulled out all the stops (and props) with a head-spinning romp through the highlights of his catalog. The guillotine, electric chair, and boa constrictor all made appearances alongside impeccable renditions of his greatest hits, proving that vaudeville is still alive in the form of Cooper’s campy heavy metal act.
Given Cooper’s penchant for using live snakes on stage and the showers of sparks that punctuated his set, I would bet the ASPCA's representative and fire marshal spend a lot of time together backstage and are pretty good friends by now.
Dubbed “The Final Tour,” Motley Crue went out with a bang (literally), employing all manner of fireworks, hydraulics, and flash. Opening with "Girls, Girls, Girls," the band seemed to get off to a sluggish start, but it’s understandable given the audience was still catching their breath after the pageantry of Alice Cooper's set.
Unfortunately, a few songs in, Vince Neil fell victim to the lead-singer-wants-to-play-guitar-syndrome (see: Anthony Kiedis, Mick Jagger). I'm sure Neil is a fine guitarist, but I wouldn't know because a) it was too low in the mix, b) it added nothing to the songs and c) Mick Mars. After that detour, Neil got around to doing what he does best: shouting at the devil.
Admiringly, Motley Crüe showed a progressive streak in its evolution since forming 34 years ago, no longer treating its dancers as mere eye candy and allowing them microphones to sing backing vocals, signaling a boon in the women’s equal rights movement.
The band turned the stage over to bassist Nikki Sixx so he could give the crowd an amusing pep talk.
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Contrasting singer Vince Neil’s stereotypical gruff and guttural rock and roll voice; (i.e. “Ahhwhoooooo!” “Yeaaaaaa!” “Helllooooo Phoenix!,) it was rather endearing when Sixx spoke with a sincere, boyish voice.
Relating an anecdote from his childhood, Sixx explained the Crüe’s credo of persevering until you attain your dreams with a story about coveting his grandfather's pocket knife so much so that he continually stole it until his grandfather gave him one of his own. Continuing the motif with a visual aid, Sixx pulled out a foot-long Bowie knife and waved it around, driving the point home to follow your dreams and huge knives are awesome! It was inspirational and the audience ate it up, although stealing something until somebody gives it to you is a morally questionable sentiment. But if you came to a Motley Crüe concert for a lesson in ethics, let's just keep that between us and I promise I won't tell your parole officer.
Adopting a faux Johnny Rotten sneer, Neil then led the band through a rousing rendition of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK,” a cover originally released on their album Decade of Decadence in 1991. I originally took it as a cheap grab for relevance in the post-Nirvana musical landscape, but in concert they showed an earnest affinity for the song.
It was then that I stopped scribbling snide comments in my notebook and put my pen down, loosening up and enjoying the spectacle of Nikki Sixx wielding a flamethrower attached to his bass guitar and keeping my smirk in check as I wondered if drummer Tommy Lee might have a Spinal Tap moment, getting stuck as he played an impressively intricate drum solo while spinning 360 degrees on a “rollercoaster” over the length of the crowd.
Closing with their ballad “Home Sweet Home,” the crowd’s emotion was palpable, leaving me a bit misty-eyed and melting this cold, analytical heart. Motley Crüe was here to entertain, and for two hours they transported the crowd from the cruel reality hovering outside the arena. A moving reminder that sometimes we need to let go of artistic pretensions and just have fun.