When Motley Crue was at the height of their popularity I was in my formidable tween-aged years and only in the wildest parts of my imagination could I possibly envision what attending one of their concerts would have been like.
I figured it was somewhere between the mud wrestling scene from “Stripes,” the local biker bar during happy hour, and “Night on Bald Mountain” from “Fantasia.”
As for Alice Cooper, I was aware that he existed but never dared to look into it further. He was like the VHS covers in the horror movie section of the video store that I would always look at but would never in a million years have the guts to actually watch. Just knowing he was out in the world kinda freaked me out.
But then I got older and The Crue was defanged by grunge and teenage antipathy. I still respected how hard they rocked and dug the songs, but they were more associated with fist-pumping burnouts in t-top Camaros than anything I considered “cool.”
In regards to Alice Cooper, thanks to “Wayne’s World” and my classic rock phase (which technically has never really ended) I came to realize that he was putting everyone on and that the dude just wrote solid rock songs and loved putting on a show. I also felt super-smart at parties after Marilyn Manson hit and I got to point out that he was basically ripping off Alice’s shtick.
This all leads us to 2014 when Alice Cooper and Motley Crue were double-billed in what was being dubbed The Crue’s “”final tour”” (I’m not sure I can put enough quotation marks around that). This proved to be the perfect opportunity to litmus test a lifetime’s worth of evolving musical taste with two of rock’s most iconic acts.
Joined by two intrepid friends and my same ol’, same ol’ ball-and-chain we ventured out to Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis on an unseasonably perfect evening to unabashedly rawk out.
After a high-energy, largely-ignored opening act called The Raskins, it was time for Alice Cooper, and man-oh-man did he deliver. In a tight hour of only his most popular songs, AC never let up, constantly changing outfits and making sure the theatrics were turned up to 11. He sang with a snake, he flung beads, balloons, and dollar bills into the audience, he sang in a straitjacket, he was decapitated by a guillotine, he turned into a 15-foot-tall monster, he sang with a bloody crutch for no apparent reason; the man was a relentless force of showmanship.
His band was talented and fully invested as well, with smokin’-hot lead guitarist Nita Strauss garnering the most attention. The girl can boast some serious shredding skills and what I can only assume are hundreds of nightly marriage proposals.
After Alice strutted triumphantly off stage the roadies came out and began the arduous process of breaking down his elaborate set and putting up Motley Crue’s even-that-much-more-elaborate set.
The Crue have always trumpeted decadence; I mean, these are the guys who wrote “Girls, Girls, Girls” which has become the official strip club national anthem. In many ways, Motley Crue might be the most rock-n-roll band ever, and at the very least they can claim the greatest “Behind the Music” of all time.
Vince Neil killed a guy, Nikki Sixx was clinically dead and came back to life, Tommy Lee and his enormous schwanzstucker laid waste to an entire generation of groupies, and Mick Mars with his face-melting, guitar-god prowess, and eyes that can pierce your soul is one of the most terrifying human beings to have ever walked the earth.
With all this at play, the Motley Crue stage show is as gloriously insane as you would hope. There’s FIRE! and EXPLOSIONS! and SLUTS! (I in no way use this term to intentionally demean or insinuate promiscuity regarding the scantily-clad dancers and background vocalists who are no doubt fine, upstanding members of their respective communities and surely represent the Motley Crue Tour with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism) and SLUTS! and FLAMETHROWERS! and the repeated use of the word “MOTHERFUCKER!” and even more EXPLOSIONS! I was transported to 14-year-old-boy heaven.
The band still sounds tremendous and they ripped through hits like “Dr. Feelgood,” “Smokin’ in The Boys Room” and the perfect “Kickstart My Heart” with pulse-pounding intensity.
Unfortunately, Vince Neil’s vocals left a lot to be desired. Dude could still hit all the notes, he just sounded winded as his voice would drop in and out over the course of a song. Fortunately, there was enough spectacle and raw tune-age to paper over his shortcomings.
At any rate, it was impossible to say that the Crue didn’t deliver and it was roundly agreed that our tickets were worth every penny we had spent on them.
But surprisingly enough, when the smoke had all finally cleared it was Alice Cooper who had won the evening.
Oh sure, AC never came close to the dizzying degrees of success that Motley Crue achieved over the course of their respective careers, and his discography pales in every possible comparison.
But there was not a second of Alice Cooper’s set that was wasted and he also never made me feel the momentary pangs of sadness I experienced during the Crue’s nearly two hours on stage when you could see them reaching back to a more glorious past, not quite making it and then working even harder to convince us that they had.
Even though they are roughly 15 years his junior you felt that Motley Crue’s best days were behind them while Alice Cooper was occupying roughly the same space he always has.
It certainly helps his case that Alice has always looked like he was in his mid-60s and that he was never that great of a singer, so it’s impossible to tell if he’s slipped any.
It’s just that on a night when Motley Crue went out of their way to insist that this would be the last time we saw them on a stage, it was clear that Alice Cooper wasn’t planning on going anywhere. When all is said and done, I think I am OK with both of those things being true.