Motley Crue bids Baltimore farewell until next time

For The Baltimore Sun
Review: Motley Crue proudly rocks gaudy good-bye show in Baltimore.

Motley Crue's latest and potentially last stop in Baltimore on Wednesday night didn't feel so much like a farewell show as it did a farewell-themed show.

Since the original members of the band reformed most recently in 2004, they have produced new music only sporadically while augmenting the bombast of their live show through various approaches.

In the last decade, Crue has hosted the "Carnival of Sins," headlined two "Cruefests," completed a pair of Las Vegas residencies and served stints opening for their arena rock forefathers like Aerosmith and Kiss.

In January 2014, the band announced the two-year "All Bad Things Must Come To An End" Tour, a two-year endeavor that includes 70s shock-rock icon Alice Cooper as the supporting act. By their own admission, however, the Motley Crue isn’t going away. Instead, the band claims that they are simply stepping away from touring.

They’ll be forgiven if this claim proves false. After all, this is a band that has no fewer than four greatest hits albums, each dominated by the same chart-toppers from the '80s.

Fans know what to expect from an evening of Motley Crue — a huge stage production complete with pyrotechnics and an 80s-heavy set of hits. That’s what they came out to see on Wednesday, and that’s what they’ll return for if the band decides to put semi-retirement on hiatus and hit the road at a later date.

Warming up the Royal Farms Arena with a one-hour set, Alice Cooper’s theatrical stage show expertly complemented Motley’s excess aesthetic. A Vincent Price voiceover called the evening to order, with Cooper cloaked in black for "The Black Widow." From there, his six-piece band, featuring 28-year-old Nita Strauss on lead guitar, charged through 70s singalongs like "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "I’m Eighteen," and "Feed My Frankenstein."

Each song in Cooper’s show is highlighted by horror visuals, culminating in the appearance of a psychotic nurse and the iconic guillotine. These once-shocking visuals eventually gave way to a more reserved finale of "School’s Out." Balloons dropped over the audience as Cooper twirled a sword, puncturing a few on their descent for good measure.

Motley's set opened with "Girls, Girls, Girls," as a pair of backup dancers flanked the stage with microphones in hand. It's no secret that Motley supplements their singer with backtracked vocals, as Vince Neil is not now, nor was he ever, the greatest live vocalist. Instead, Neil serves as more of an emcee than the classic centerpiece of a frontman. Bassist Nikki Sixx handles a good deal of the fronting duties, prowling from stage left to right, dressed in bright red and face makeup, delivering a monologue about the band’s 34-year career, and rendering Neil’s sleeveless black leather jacket a subdued contrast.

The show itself was dominated by fire and smoke. Each note-punctuating flame was hot enough for the audience to feel a wave of heat, though few seemed to mind the potential hazards that this brought to a venue in desperate need of modernization. It was all a part of the show, and a high dosage of controlled chaos was hardly cause for concern.

There were a few remarks about the layers of fog that built during the 100-minute performance. Once a hallmark of a hard-rock show, smoking has long been banned from indoor venues, but the fog that Motley uses grew thick in the bowels of the arena, laying heavily in the floor section and even out to the concessions.

The last third of the show commenced with guitar and drum solos, with Tommy Lee, hidden in the back of the stage for most of the night, taking to a roller coaster that brought him and his gigantic drum set over the audience and back. Lee’s drum solos have literally become a roller coaster, the sound of toms and cymbals playing a distant second fiddle to the sight of a man drumming upside down suspended in midair.

Upon Lee’s return, Crue capped the evening off with fist-pounders "Dr. Feelgood" and "Kickstart My Heart." They made their way to a mini-stage at the back of the arena to end the night with "Home Sweet Home."

The small stage provided an intimate setting for the band’s would-be swan song. Still, it was hard not to feel that the ballad was a bit of a come down. A show this proudly gaudy would end more fittingly on a high note, the hard “Whoa!” of “Kickstart” for example, rather than the soft coo of “Home Sweet Home.”

I suppose there’s always next time.

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About the writer

Midnight Sun contributor Jay Trucker teaches English at the Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk. He has written about music for The Sun since 2010. Earlier this month, he reviewed Faith No More.