Earlier this year, I wrote about how bummed out that I was that the band Motley Crüe had decided to call it quits after over 30 years in the music business. Motley Crüe was a big part of my tween years and while I hadn’t really kept up with the bad as I got older, I always enjoyed hearing a classic Crüe song when it pooped up on my iPod or when it was inevitably played at one of the bars I frequent. When I heard that Saratoga was a stop on their farewell tour, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going. I’d already seen Motley Crüe live, but I didn’t want to miss out on my last chance to ever see this foursome share a stage. It may not have been a truly historic opportunity, but it was a symbolic one as yet another part of my childhood was no more.
I was also excited for the show because I’ve always wanted to see Alice Cooper perform; Cooper was most popular before I was born, but he inspired a lot of bands that I would enjoy as a kid and his stage act was supposed to be very theatrical. I’m always on board for some ridiculousness during a show – spectacle is practically my middle name – and I was curious if his stage show would fare in today’s current atmosphere. What was shocking and dramatic in the 1970s might seem pretty tame by today’s standards, but I wanted to see it for myself. I’d probably never make the effort to see Cooper perform as a headliner, so this was really the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone – finally see what Cooper was all about and say goodbye to Motley Crüe. I once again recruited my friend Kristin to go with me because not only is she good company but she rocked out to the Crüe back in the day as well.
After being stuck in the back for KISS and Def Leppard a few weeks earlier, we made a more conscious effort to get to the venue early so we could reserve better spots on the lawn. It turns out that Crüe fans are not a punctual bunch as the lawn was fairly empty when we arrived. We picked our spot strategically – not only were we concerned with sight lines, but after our last experience we also were judging our neighbors on the likelihood that they would vomit at some point during the show. We found some people that appeared to be a low risk for throwing up, planted our chairs and waited for the madness to unfold. The crowd was far less entertaining than at KISS, since Motley Crüe fans don’t dress up in costume. There was still people watching to be had, but it was the run of the mill attire that I have come to expect from these kinds of concerts.
When Alice Cooper first took the stage, it dawned on me that all my knowledge about his either derived from Wayne’s World or The Golf Channel; not only is Cooper one of the original glam rockers, but he’s a hell of a golfer. Not two things that you would usually put together, but I think it only adds to Cooper’s charm. As he came down the stairs in his trademark makeup and carrying a cane, I realized how silly it was for a man in his sixties to be singing a song about being eighteen. It’s a fun song, no doubt, but it loses a little something when being performed by a man who hasn’t seen eighteen in a very long time. I was also a little concerned that his stage show was going to be on the tame side; while I was generally enjoying it, he wasn’t doing anything all that crazy or theatrical other than some occasional pyro. I wondered if just the make-up alone was enough for him to be billed as over-the-top back in the day or if he had just mellowed in age, as is his right. I prepared myself for the idea that it wasn’t going to be the insanity that I had predicted.
And then he came out with a giant snake. Then I knew we were kicking it into gear.
The snake in and of itself wasn’t all that scandalous, though as a person who doesn’t exactly dig snakes I was pretty impressed with his willingness to have one draped around his body. But the snake did mark a tonal shift in the evening and things got progressively battier from then on, much to my delight.
As Cooper worked his way through the rest of his song catalog, the stage show started to tell something of a story. Cooper was placed in a strait jacket and alternatively flirted with and fought the sexy goth nurse who was attending to him. A giant monster came out at one point and was working his way across the stage; I really have no idea what that symbolized, but I also didn’t really care. It was unexpected and fun and was exactly what I was hoping for.
Shortly after the monster took his leave, things escalated quickly; everyone attacked Cooper (who was still in the strait jacket) and forced him into a giant guillotine that appeared on stage. Cooper’s “head” was chopped off and one of the henchmen ran around the stage with his “severed head” in his hands, raised like a trophy. Now, it’s important that I stress that this show happened in late August, before the horrific beheadings by ISIS had become routine. I’m curious if this portion of the show has been altered in sensitivity to current events. It is all very campy and theatrical and is done with no ill will, so it didn’t even register with me until after the fact that this could be problematic down the road. Cooper returned to the stage – head fully in tact – to close out the show in a glittery top hat and a barrage of light raining from the sky. His stage show may have started off a little slowly, but it ultimately lived up to my expectations. You could see how Cooper would have captivated audiences in the 1970s with this kind of performance. It was a lot of fun and I was very glad that I got to see the spectacle in person.
By the time Cooper left the stage, the crowd on the lawn had nearly doubled in size; I had been so transfixed by Cooper’s shenanigans on stage that I hadn’t even noticed the steady stream of people who populated the areas around us. Thankfully though there were now a lot more people milling around my view of the stage wasn’t too obscured and when Motely Crüe came out to thunderous applause I was able to see pretty much everything. They kicked things off with a more recent song – “Saints of Los Angeles” – which I thought was a little odd, but it got the crowd excited and moving. It’s not a bad song – probably the best of their most recent album – but I’d assumed that they would have started with a classic song. But they’re the ones who are in the music business and their choice seemed to work, so what do I know.
The Crüe all looked pretty much the same since the last time I saw them. There was so much smoke from the pyro that had been going off that it was actually hard to make out Tommy Lee through most of the set – you could hear the drums perfectly, but there was only the slightest glimpse of the actual drummer in all the fog. Mick Mars has fairly limited mobility because of his ankylosing spondylitis and it is startling to realize that he’s 63 years old. His diagnosis hasn’t appeared to limit his ability to play guitar – he still sounded great – but he kind of looks like the old guy that they propped up on stage. I can’t imagine how much pain he’s actually in, but it’s kind of a weird visual with Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx freely moving around the stage and Mars mostly planted in one place.
The stage show for Motley Crüe was actually a lot more reserved than the last time that I saw them. On previous tours, the stage was covered with video monitors and all sort of scantily clad women. This time around, the backdrop was pretty sparse and there were only two dancers that occasionally made an appearance. Since this was their last tour, I expected more bells and whistles – there had been a rumor of a roller coaster drum set – but in the end it was all pretty pedestrian. They didn’t even encourage women in the audience to flash. They have mellowed in their old age.
Despite the lack of insanity, the Crüe put on a solid show and rocked out like it was the 1980s. They even played a few songs from their early years that I wasn’t familiar with, but that the majority of the crowd obviously recognized. Hearing them play “Kickstart My Heart,” “Dr. Feelgood” and ”Girls Girls Girls” transported me back to middle school dances. At one point in the show, Nikki Sixx had “story time” with the audience and told us the origin of the Crüe. I hadn’t realized that the band had been around as long as they had; Motley Crüe is older than my brother!
For the encore, the band came out on the cups of the lawn to play “Home Sweet Home” which was a nice way to end the evening and by extension, end the band’s career. Knowing that was the last time that I would see the band felt right; they were retiring when they were still able to perform like they used to and before they had dissolved into a parody of themselves. Most bands stick around a few years too long, but Motley Crüe was calling it quits at the best possible moment – they were still popular, but probably didn’t have a lot of gas left in the tank for new material.
And with that, another chapter of rock and roll was closed. While there is always the possibility that the guys will get together again at some point down the road, I tend to believe them when they say that this is it. I’m sure that most of the band will continue to work on new projects in the music business, but I’m willing to bet that this particular incarnation is really over. It was a fun ride, but as their concert poster says, “all bad things must come to an end.” I’m glad that I got to relive my memories of Motely Crüe one last time.
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