On a recent lovely July evening at Red Rocks Amphitheatre -- on which the moonlight hit the rocks in such a way that even the clouds appeared to share the ruddy properties of the Flinstonian architecture -- you could hear the wind rustling the trees. The occasional bird chirping. And you could hear this: "I fucking love all you crazy motherfuckers."
It was Vince Neil, spiritual leader of Mötley Crüe, who was shouting from the center of the stage and looking over the crowd of 6,000 or so crazy people who had made the drive to Morrison for a night of mullett-driven mayhem that included performances from Anthrax and Megadeth. And though Neil and the rest of the Crüe are approaching an age when most men have more hair on their backs than on their heads, the band demonstrated that they still harbor a youthful exuberance for a few of life's more basic themes: getting plastered, getting laid and shouting at the devil if the moment strikes. Unlike departed drummer Tommy Lee (whose hideous new project incorporates white-boy rapping and other such Limp devices in an effort to cash in on current musical trends -- and whose only noteworthy performance of late was captured on a now-widely available video), the Crüe's world is still one where there ain't no shame in wanking on your guitar, 'cause metal still rules and it's 1985 every goddamn minute.
The Crüe's show was an appropriate kickoff to a concert season that promises to be strongly peppered with heavy-metal nostalgia tours: Ratt, Warrant and LA Guns at the Fillmore on July 28 and Poison/Cinderella/ Dokken/ Slaughter at Fiddler's Green on August 17 count among the bigger shows, and it's a pretty good bet that acts like Great White and various members of Whitesnake will slither through town before the summer's end. And though the Crüe is touring in support of a forthcoming album (New Tattoo, as Neil was sure to remind the crowd several times throughout the evening), they know damn well that's not what's leading legions of their faithful to hop into their Camaros and head for the box office.
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Even Freud might be hard-pressed to determine just what sublevel of the human psyche craves this thing called "rock," but Neil knows how to tap right in -- psychoanalysis be damned. It's a skill he's honed over the more than twenty years he's spent as a Rock God, and though he's among a dying breed, he doesn't seem to know it. Unlike Megadeth frontman Dave Mustane -- who grunted and potty-mouthed his way through a lackluster performance ("If you know the words, fucking sing. If you don't [uhhhh...], well, don't fucking sing," was one of his more inspired comments), Neil came off as an obliging and amiable party host. Throughout the night, a noticeably rotund Neil still managed to prance about the stage in that athletic rock-star dance/run that mimics a trick pony during exhibition. (You know the one: knees high, chest up, hair flappin'.) During crowd addresses, he seemed to have some sort of uncontrollable physiological reflex that caused him to shout "Woo!" at inopportune moments, a glam-rocker's Tourette's syndrome ("So it's great to be back in...WOO!..Denver and how are you all...WOO!...doing tonight?"). Neil is an unapologetic, true believer who knows his guests want "Girls, Girls, Girls," and, by gum, he's gonna give it to 'em. He knows they want to see stripper-esque babes on stage. (Two backup singers, the "Crüe Sluts," as Neil referred to them, flanked the upper level of the stage in ever-revolving outfits that evoked all manner of fetishism; among the Backwash crew, the nurse outfits were the undisputed favorite, followed by the biker-chick and naughty-angel getups.) He also knows his fans want to see some shit blow up. (The band's fireworks display was momentarily upstaged when a very large amp caught on fire. Fire is cool.)
For the most part, Neil's bandmates seemed content to let him handle the theatrics. Those who kept their eyes on bassist Nikki Sixx were afforded a little life lesson: If you are an original member of a heavy-metal glam-rock band that ruled MTV for the better part of the '80s, whose name has appeared on more grade-school notebooks than Mead, and whose likeness has been hung on the walls of more double-wides than Elvis, you can go to bed with the knowledge that large groups of people will pay money for the pleasure of being spit upon by you. Sixx knows this. And man, can he spit. Throughout last Thursday's performance at Red Rocks, Sixx demonstrated an ability to project water from his mouth that bordered on Olympic. The crowd -- which included young folks who seemed more acquainted with J. Crew than the Mötley variety, punks, the requisite amphetamines-and-Jerry Springer contingent and an "I'm-just-here-to-laugh-at-this" group -- loved it. Donning a wig that looked like it was meant to accompany a KISS Halloween costume, guitarist Mick Mars bore a thoroughly disturbing resemblance to Cher; when Mars stepped to the floodlights to deliver a prolonged and bizarre guitar solo, the crowd didn't exactly scramble for the chance to touch his boots the way they did for ol' Vince.
There was one little thing that Neil had to clear up for the crowd, and that is just what the hell a freakin' girl was doing behind the drum kit. In a nearly apologetic tone, Neil introduced fill-in drummer Patty Schemel, on loan from her day job as the skinswoman in Hole (a motley crew in its own right). Neil reassured the crowd that she was indeed worthy by relaying a little tale about a time she removed her shirt and danced on the table in a topless bar while the two were out drinking. "How fucking Mötley is that?" he asked. Not very, it turned out: Schemel lacked the power that makes you want to actually clap your hands over your head during the anthemic choruses of classics like "Too Fast for Love," which opened the show, and "Shout at the Devil," which closed it.
Looking over the crowd -- 6,000 crazy motherfuckers with their hands raised high in the air, configured in the universal two-fingered gesture for "rock on" -- it felt for a minute like Neil just might win his battle to revive heavy metal's heart. And though much of what the Mötley one perpetuates is tired, adolescent, macho pap, in a way, you hope he does.