Upcoming Dance

Just on the cusp of the band’s latest release, Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1, Sixx: A.M. is already knee-deep into a full-fledged U.S. tour, last night stopping at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall before playing some dates in Europe. Not surprisingly, the band played their nearly two-hour set before a packed house of eager fans putting forth a well-balanced song list, taking key selections from each of their four albums including a handful of their newest, slightly untested material.  

Bassist Nikki Sixx has described the new release as an intermingling of 2011’s This Is Gonna Hurt and 2007’s The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, and after giving the new album more than a few listens, he’s spot on. As already evidenced by the album’s first single “Rise”, the album once again carries the band’s now very well-known blend of energy, dynamics and melodic bliss along with meaningful lyrics that deliver a solid punch. Filled with raunchy, yet utterly tasty leads from guitarist DJ Ashba and singer James Michael’s versatile vocal range combined with a unified feel that only comes from a band that has played together for a decade, give or take, Prayers… might just be the best work from the band yet. Its message is simple but poignant – wake up, be aware, do not be complacent and scrap the existing state of affairs we are told to blindly accept. Like the band’s past album themes, Prayers – Vol. 1, produced and engineered by Michael, is also filled with optimistic undertones that truly inspire.  

Sixx: A.M. wastes no time in thrusting lethal blows towards its crowd, kicking off their set with the high-powered track “This Is Gonna Hurt”. James Michael, aptly self-assured as he continuously rises in the ranks as one of today’s best rock vocalists, delivers a true rock and roll performance hitting each note with precision, honing in with finely finessed power whenever called for. At the same time Nikki Sixx supports Michael with his ever-so-striking presence and flashy bass work while DJ Ashba and drummer Dustin Steinke respectively plug away on one track after another. Rounding out the band’s sound is a duo of backing vocalists Amber Vansbuskirk and Melissa Harding, adding a unique flavor to an already appetizing set. 

As previously indicated, Sixx: A.M. plays a somewhat generous dose of material from their latest release ripping into “Rise” early on, perhaps bringing down the thunder more so than any other on the album with an authoritative presentation of “When We Were Gods”. The new material went over as well as can be expected and then some while the familiar sounds of past albums were once again emphatically welcomed by a bursting house of loyal followers. Almost on cue, fans wildly cheered as Michael introduced the poetic and deeply moving “Accidents Can Happen” before Sixx and company jumped into the hard-hitting “Dead Man’s Ballet”, both songs coming from The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack. Theirs is a set that never lets up. From “Goodbye My Friends” to “Stars”, rest assured fans are thoroughly entertained, moved and inspired from the show’s beginning to its fitting encores “Skin”, a song that touches on the acceptance of yourself and others and Sixx: A.M.’s anthem that is full of positivity and hope, “Life Is Beautiful”. 

Seemingly unfazed by the difference in venue size he might be used to, Sixx genuinely appeared to appreciate every single second on stage now inserted into a much closer relationship with his fans, as did the other band members.  Close up and personal in this fifteen hundred seat or so venue, Ashba, Sixx and Michael clearly reveled in the experience, undoubtedly receiving a reciprocal vibe by the Sixx: A.M. faithful. With Motley Crue now in Sixx’s rearview mirror and no longer a side project of his, it will be interesting to see how Sixx: A.M. evolves. So far, based on volume one of the new two volume release and a commanding touring presence that is both youthful and mature at the same time, there is no reason to think that Sixx: A.M. wouldn’t be able to headline their own arena tours sometime in the near future – if they so desire. With a following that has already existed, and is continuously growing, thanks to the band’s electric material, it should be noted that Sixx: A.M. is NOT a band riding off the successes of their previous band affiliations. Rather, they are the full package – songs, image, musicianship and message, created by insightful musicians that happened to have previous music notoriety. Nonetheless, wherever they play – however many fans they play in front of, one thing is certain – Sixx: A.M. is a highly-passionate band that plays each show with heart and a sincere love for music. 

Currently, one of the best bands on the touring circuit, Sixx: A.M. has again made it look easy by putting out yet another album that rocks through and through. Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1 is filled with thought provoking songs compiled by a veteran presence that has been there done that, has had life failures and successes, has learned by its mistakes and now shares its hope with others. In other words, it’s real. 

 

Published in In Concert

It’s as though the minds behind Motley Crue’s farewell tour, “The Final Tour”, thought of every possible stunt, gimmick and visual spectacle that would blow one’s mind and then compacted them all into a single evening. First and foremost, the band hand-picked the perfect act to send them on their way into their, now famous, permanent retirement – Alice Cooper. That’s right, a permanent retirement as Motley Crue. Not wanting to be yet another band that has a farewell tour every few years, the band actually signed legal documents stating that they cannot play together as Motley Crue again after December 31st, 2015. Guitarist Mick Mars declining health has also played a factor in the band’s decision to call it quits, not wanting to go on with rotating tour musicians in place of the originals. One of the few remaining true hair bands of the 1980s that still feature their original lineup, Crue has decided to hang it up while they can still kick some major ass on the stage – and that they do in this final year and a half tour.

Formed in 1981, Motley Crue has still been going strong despite a couple temporary lineup changes and a lack of relevant releases since “Primal Scream” (an added track on the 1991 compilation album Decade of Decadence) until the balls out, in-your-face album Saints of Los Angeles that hit shelves with a bang in 2008. And yes, despite the reviews of bitter critics, I'd still argue that in between releases Generation Swine and New Tattoo are killer records. Even in those so called musically not so productive years (according to some), the band continued to tour and keep busy in the recording studio, successful or not. Now, 34 or so years from their days of opening for Ozzy Osbourne when “Live Wire” and “Piece of Your Action” were cutting edge rock songs, the band returns to say goodbye to the fans that made them the band they have become. Their arrogance and blatant degradation of women that helped make them famous as rock and roll’s “bad boys” now has slowly mellowed into family life behind the scenes, and their rampant drug use and notorious partying that put them in the music headlines so often has now been reduced to having a few beers, if even that. Still, 1980's rock and roll lifestyle aside – like it or not, it was their music that put them high on the charts and made them household names. It is their music and the impact made in such genre that will undoubtedly get them inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at some point.   

Now it is time for one last hurrah. Once more Motley Crue will remind everyone why they are considered one of the best rock bands of our time. 

Led by bassist Nikki Sixx, now fifty-six, he is joined once again by some of the most iconic bandmates of our generation in drummer Tommy Lee (now fifty-three), singer/frontman Vince Neil (fifty-four) and guitarist extraordinaire Mick Mars, who is either now sixty-years-old or sixty-four depending on what you read. Their mission is simple – to embark on a tour that that will blow minds in every way imaginable - a tour that will not be forgotten.

                  Alice Cooper and his minions

When Alice Cooper and his minions hit the stage, it’s go time. Each band member takes on a personality of their own, almost as if they popped out of the pages of a comic book. Already known for his theatrics, Cooper weighs into the night by kicking his set off with “The Black Widow” and follows up strongly with “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels”, the classic “I’m Eighteen”, “Poison” and “Go to Hell”. Each song a theatrical performance in itself, with costumes, heavy duty props and special effects, we even see a twenty or so foot tall Frankenstein monster emerge then run about the stage during “Feed My Frankenstein”. When a frightening nurse leads a straight-jacket wearing Alice Cooper to a guillotine, the anticipation continues to mount. The nurse urges the crowd to drop the hammer on Alice and with massive shouts of approval – SLICE! The blade crashes down and Cooper’s head falls to the floor before being picked up by the executioner who parades it around for all to see to the tune of “I Love the Dead”. 

Colorful, exciting and shocking, Alice Cooper’s set would have already more than satisfied my taste rock and roll that evening. Baby heads surround Glen Sobel’s drum kit as he wails away while guitar duties are shared by Tommy Henriksen, Ryan Roxy and Nita Strauss, who was a show in herself. Chuck Garric plucks the bass and adds his own distinct flavor to Cooper’s band. Often the band triumphantly gathers center stage led by Cooper, exchanging riffs and showboating for the crowd.  

At sixty-seven-years old, Alice Cooper may have still his best touring days ahead, especially if his band is as engaging as the one he has now. Thoroughly entertaining in every aspect desired in a ball’s out rock show, Cooper’s show was pure rock and roll bliss.  

In what we could only wish was a longer set, Alice Cooper finishes off the crowd with a power-charged rendition of “School’s Out” that medleys with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”.  Nothing short of amazing, at that point it seemed Cooper may have stolen the night.

A short breather.

After appropriately hearing The Sound of Music’s “So Long Farewell” throughout the stadium, the familiar revving of a Harley Davidson engine thrusts Motley Crue onto the stage with “Girls, Girls, Girls”. Mick Mars, looking that of a New Orleans crypt keeper, strums the crunchy chords as Vince Neil struts forth. Nikki Sixx looks to be in great shape though frontman Vince Neil's slightly chubby frame doesn’t keep him from rocking at full throttle. Tommy also looks to be in peak form as he slams the cans with the same fervor and precision as ever.

Over the years Motley Crue has made a point of creating a stage spectacle to remember for each tour. This is their biggest show by far. Fireworks jet out at some point in nearly every song only to be complemented with massive bursts of fire, laser lights and gusts of streaming smoke. As per usual the band is accompanied by two dancers to sexy up the set and add backing vocals. Twenty-foot flames are even shot out of Nikki’s bass as they kick into “Shout at the Devil”. Like I said, they thought of everything. 

Outside of the pyrotechnics and amazing special effects, Motley Crue puts out a long, flavorful set that includes favorites “Wild Side”, “Same Ol’ Situation”, “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room”, “Live Wire”, “Motherfucker of the Year” and a rocked out version of “Anarchy in the U.K.” complete with a squadron of masked combatants that shoot water into the crowd with high-powered Super Soakers.  

Somewhere near the half way point, an emotional Nikki addresses the crowd, thanking everyone for their years of support - a nice warm and fuzzy moment amidst one of the best concerts in some time.   

And what would a Motley Crue show be without an insane drum solo? Again, thinking of what would be most mind blowing stunt to pull off, Tommy Lee’s entire drum set ascends up and over the crowd half way across the stadium as be blasts along with a series of clips from his fave songs including some Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath and Beastie Boys. Mick Mars immediately follows up Tommy’s antics with a blazing solo of his own before the band kicks it into high gear with “Dr. Feelgood” and “Kickstart My Heart”, a finale number that is definitely one for the books that includes everything but the kitchen sink. In their massive send off number, both Neil and Sixx are propelled out over the crowd as they each man their own pod-like thingy. Mick Mars mans the main stage standing on a riser that raises him a good twenty feet. At the same time, a thirty foot round pentagram burst into flames behind Lee’s drum set while a barrage of explosions take place and streamers fall from the ceiling so thickly one cannot see the crowd across the way. It is a memorable farewell that could only be done in Motley Crue fashion.

 

With yet another ace up their sleeve, the band returns for an encore to a small stage located in the center of the arena for a more intimate version of what Sixx has referred to as the band’s “Stairway to Heaven” in “Home Sweet Home”. Having been to more concerts than I will ever be able to count, I can honestly say that Motley Crue’s  “Final Tour” is one of the best I have ever seen, and speaking with fans after the Milwaukee, Chicago and Toledo shows (yes, I went three times), it seems most would agree. This is it for one of the last true rock bands of an unbelievable era in our music history – a band that carved the way for a countless hair bands - a band that has truly left an impression on the music industry. This is it for a band whose music has passed the test of time and is every bit as significant as it was when first released. Sixx has sure come a long way from hacking bass riffs with London in 1980 then hand-picking a motley assortment of band members (Ding! A Motley Crue!) that could have only made it this far together thanks to the perfect chemistry. 

Watching Motley Crue performing “Live Wire” as an opening act in 1982 at what was then called the Rosemont Horizon, it was apparent I was witnessing what would be a special band. It has been fun to watch them grow musically and as performers ever since and rising above some pretty meaty bumps in the road. I’d guess the band has more than a few good tours left in them, but as Motley Crue members say themselves, “All bad things must come to an end”. And what an end it is. 

 

 

Published in In Concert

 

 

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