Live review: Motley Crue, Alice Cooper at Summerfest

Making rock 'n' roll dangerous again
By Peter Lindblad

Motley Crue - The Final Tour
Being that it was the Fourth of July, Motley Crue didn't skimp on the pyrotechnics on the second night of what is being billed as the glam-metal ne'er-do-wells' final tour.

Getting a late start, technical problems reportedly being blamed for the delay, as the crowd was still being herded in right around the scheduled concert start time, Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee appeared onstage at Summerfest in Milwaukee after a full blast of loud, dazzling fireworks announced their arrival.

Alice Cooper had already worked his dark, twisted magic on the audience, giving Cooper fanatics exactly what they wanted – a mock electrocution gone horribly wrong, Cooper shackled in a straight jacket and tormented by a demented nurse, flares shooting from Glen Sobel's drumsticks, a boa constrictor draped over Cooper's shoulders, and, of course, a final beheading staged with a guillotine.

The act may be familiar, but like the Harlem Globetrotters' old bag of tricks, it's still a fun, vaudevillian treat for the senses, and the band's tight, rousing renditions of Cooper classics like "I'm Eighteen," "Under My Wheels," "Poison," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Feed My Frankenstein" – complete with a 20-foot singing monster – and "Billion Dollar Babies" were performed with theatrical panache, punk energy and vicious playing from a band that now includes new guitarist Nita Strauss. She didn't disappoint, tearing through full-throttle solos and leads that let everyone know there's a new sheriff in town, and when Cooper and company close with a galvanizing "School's Out," he had the whole Marcus Amphitheater in a stranglehold. Cooper was in fine form, acting out every well-worn scene as if he was doing it for the first time, and his durable, switchblade vocals cutting through crowd noise with ease.

Appetites sufficiently whetted, it was time for Crue to come out and bid farewell to Milwaukee with a fiery, defiant send-off. In between explosions, blinding flashes of lights and plumes of fire shooting from every orifice the industrial-designed stage had, the Crue delivered revved-up, razor-sharp versions of "Live Wire," "Too Fast for Love," "Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.)," "Looks That Kill," "Wild Side" and "Smokin' in the Boys Room," among other favorites, including a stomping march through "Shout at the Devil" that shook the Marcus Amphitheater to its foundation. A "Carnival of Sins"? Perhaps not, this set being somewhat more spartan and business-like, though still elaborate and never threatening to detract from the band's rough-and-ready power. Mars' guitar riffs had that raw, down-and-dirty tone that's so delicious, and Sixx did his best to get everyone to believe Crue's hype, his rock-star swagger still as entertaining as ever. If this is, indeed, the end, it's clear they intend to go out with guns blazing.

With flames shooting from Sixx's bass at one point and scantily-clad back-up singers gyrating all over the place, Crue refused to tone down their lusty bravado, not that anyone there would have wished for that. A non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, plus a run through a scintillating new song called "All Bad Things Must End" – culminated by a mind-blowing solo from Mars – the show didn't exactly go off without a hitch, though. Neil's vocals were often barely audible, and Lee's punishing drum work busted up a snare drum fairly early on, leading to Lee not-so-sheepishly admitting that perhaps he was hitting his kit "too f--king hard."

Due to the limitations of the venue's facilities, Crue was not able to haul out its most death-defying maneuver, known as "The Cruecify," where Lee's drum set-up is extended out over the crowd. Nevertheless, with all the fire and ear drum-shattering bangs surely scrambling their senses, Crue seemed to be courting danger at every turn. Say what you will about their music – and critics have lobbed plenty of insults their way, as Sixx so eloquently dismissed in an expletive-laden rant – nobody can accuse them of playing it safe, and on this night, they put on a display of dangerous rock 'n' roll that left the paying customers breathless.

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