Live Review: Motley Crue, Alice Cooper

25 May 2015 | 1:41 pm | Ben E Webbs

"Having special guest Alice Cooper along was a patently bad move, since his band outclasses the headliner in every possible way"

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On my final day of high school, a guy called Les Limpos brought in a mixtape he’d prepared featuring nothing but Alice Cooper’s School’s Out. He played it incessantly as the clock limped towards 3:30pm: the album version, the single version, the live version, the demo version, the acoustic version, the remixed version. For Les its novelty never diminished. Sometime later he accompanied this scribe to a Big Day Out and declared all of it “...shit, except Marilyn Manson – at least he had a show!” 

It’s not hard to draw the line between Cooper and Manson, except the latter could never write a song like Only Women Bleed. The fact remains that for some audiences, music is always secondary to some sort of showmanship. It’s been that way since Elvis first waggled his hips on telly – a relevant point given that last night, Cooper treated the Adelaide Entertainment Centre to substantially more gyration than anticipated.

Alice Cooper is a dead-set legend, not least for his amazing guest spot on The Muppet Show or for teaching us how to correctly pronounce “Milwaukee”. At almost 70 years young, he menacingly prowls the stage, gifts the front row fake diamonds and money, turns into a giant zombie puppet thing and gets his head lopped off by a rusty ol’ guillotine. Meanwhile his shit-hot band play beefy rock riffs that have stood the test of time: No More Mr Nice Guy, Feed My Frankenstein, School’s Out. The nimble guitar intro to 1989’s mega-hit Poison started an audience frenzy that continued throughout the Welcome To My Nightmare mini-rock opera to show’s end. It was schlocky, bizarre, hilarious and fantastic – delivered with aplomb by a man committed to his vision but unafraid to wink knowingly at his audience. In just 55 exhilarating minutes it was over, the full promise of theatrical rock’n’roll fulfilled.

And where does all this leave bands that exhibit only the “show” element of a rock show? Those who rely on flash pots, fireworks and so on, to excite? Well, there’s a name for that, and it’s Mötley Crüe.

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I have to assume that at some point in the mid 1980s Vince Neil and co were a compelling live act, given the millions of records they sold. Certainly their past antics have made for quality voyeuristic hedonism (and copious publishing royalties) but here and now, in 2015, they are fucking abysmal.

This tour is apparently a farewell lap for Mötley Crüe. Having special guest Alice Cooper along was a patently bad move, since his band outclasses the headliner in every possible way. It begins with the mix – Tommy Lee (a great rock drummer) is lumbered with a lifeless and dull drum sound, which for some reason has his floor toms about 500 per cent louder than absolutely anything else coming through the PA. It’s apparent that the Crüe’s signature gang-style chorus vocals are all pre-recorded, for every single song.

Occasionally Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars neglect to even sing/mime along. Then Neil accidentally drops his microphone – not just onto the stage, but into the camera pit! When he is audible his lyrics are mangled into indecipherable, pre-linguistic yelps and squeals.

Eye candy helps distract from the sloppiness – a flame-throwing bass guitar here, a scantily clad dancer with her arse almost out there. To clarify, it’s dance of the strip club variety, not ballroom, lindy-hop or contemporary ballet. The Crüe also attempts (somewhat successfully) to ignite its audience by saying “fuck” as many times as possible. 

We get hits – Dr. Feelgood, Kickstart My Heart, Girls Girls Girls and their faithful cover of Smokin’ In the Boys Room. For reasons unclear they also completely molest the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK, after a short sermon about how great Zeppelin-brand ‘70s rock was. Seriously. 

Yes – Tommy Lee does this insane bit he calls Crüecify where he drums along to a baffling rap-rock mash-up (with snippets of Jay-Z and commercial dance tracks) while he and his drum kit travel along a roller-coaster type contraption high above the audience. It spins him upside-down several times while more blinding pyrotechnics explode. It’s impressive and undoubtedly hideously expensive. But does this show-stealing spectacle indeed steal the show? 

No way! It turns out Les Limpos was right all those years ago when he boasted of having seen Alice Cooper six times in a row. Even Cooper’s drummer was better. I walked out of the Entertainment Centre thinking, “Mötley whö?”