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Aerosmith / Motley Crüe
Monday, October 2, 2006
Air Canada Centre
It was the best of bands; it was the worst of bands (with apologies to Charles Dickens).
Rhonda and I made our way to the concert, not sure what to expect from one band and knowing full well what we were in for with the other.
We are long time Aerosmith fans who have seen them live 12 times dating back to 1977. It would be our first time seeing Motley Crüe. I’ll admit upfront that we are not huge Motley Crüe fans; that being said we really had nothing against them either. We knew any number of their more popular tunes; Dr. Feelgood, Same Old Situation, Kickstart My Heart, you know; their classics.
So, off we went. The Motley Crüe set started with a couple of scantily clad women, several rather large explosions and the amplified strains of Dr. Feelgood; so far so good. Mick Mars thrashed away on guitar, Nikki Sixx rumbled away on bass and Tommy Lee anchored the whole damn thing, wailing away on the drums like his life depended on it. And then there was Vince Neil, erstwhile silver throated singer and ring leader of the whole damn thing.
As with any time I am going to see a band live for the first time I had started to do my homework on all things Motley. I had read reviews that said Vince Neil was a rather bloated, drunken shadow of his former self. I had also read reviews that said he “ROCKED DUDE!!!” Let me just say this about that; having never seen the Crüe in their heyday I have no point of reference to definitively state whether he was, in fact, a shadow of his former self.
Right from the word go he let the crowd carry a goodly chunk of the vocal duties during the chorus. I mean, there is getting the audience involved and there is shirking your duties for fear of shooting for and missing those high notes. From a stage presence perspective he was pretty flat, regardless of what kind of energy his entire expletive laced ravings were supposed to inspire.
Now before you go thinking that I am dismissing Vince’s performance based solely on the fact that he fucking swore a fucking whole fucking lot… well, think again… fuckers.
But it has always been a pet peeve of mine when performers feel compelled to cheerlead.
“I can’t fucking hear you, you motherfuckers!!!”
“Well, maybe if you fucking played fucking better we would fucking cheer louder!!!”
And this between every expletive deleted song. I mean, low self esteem anyone?
Ten minutes into the show, Rhonda turned to me and screamed in my ear, “O.K., now we’ve seen Motley Crüe. They can get off the stage anytime.”
Beside the aforementioned Dr. Feelgood just about every other song was unintelligible. Maybe it was all of the flash pots and explosions they set off every three or four minutes that deafened me, but most songs were nearly half way done before I was finally able to discern what the hell it was they were purportedly playing.
I like my music loud. If you are at a concert and can talk to the person next to you in a normal voice then the sound man just isn’t doing their job. When the drummer hits the kick drum I want to feel it in my solar plexus. When the guitarist tears off a blazing solo, I want to feel like the sound is peeling my scalp back and exposing my skull. When a singer hits that high note I want to feel like it has pierced my very soul.
Motley Crüe just played to damn loud. I know, I’m old, I can’t take the real deal anymore… Like hell. When a song sounds like one big mashed up ball of slush and the lead singer’s voice is barely audible above the cacophony, that is, when he can remember the damn words at all, then that is too loud.
That and the pyro; I swear to God that if the Motley one’s took all of the explosives they lit off during their 80 minute set and detonated them at the same time the world would have come to an end.
The only saving grace of their performance was Tommy Lee. Vince was drunk, Mick was catatonic and Nikki was… well, Nikki I suppose. The following day was Tommy’s birthday so he was in fine spirits. When the band presented him with a birthday cake in the shape of a pussy (and I’m not talking cat here folks), he dove headfirst into the treat and lapped it up.
After the Crüe wound up with Kickstart My Heart, Nikki smashed his bass guitar for no readily discernible reason. If it was his response to the culmination of the energy the crowd had been feeding him all night then, well, he has a pretty low threshold for receiving energy. What kind of effect did this display have on the crowd? Some people cheered, others watched in a kind of detached fascination quite possibly wondering what the hell had brought this all on. Me? I just found myself sincerely hoping that he didn’t have a spare instrument. Fortuitously, he did not and their time in the spotlight was over. Done like dinner; Finito. Thank God for small mercies…
“Well, one good thing about their set,” offered Rhonda.
I looked at her in, what I hope was my best “And what would that be” kind of look. The thought that anyone who truly loved live music could have gotten anything out of that set was foreign to me.
“I’m much warmer now than when I first came in.”
And here I’d thought all those pyrotechnics had been a complete waste…
Aerosmith took the stage at 9:30 with a blistering version of Toys In The Attic. Compared to the Motley stage, Aerosmith’s set up was downright Spartan; a row of monitors flanking both sides of a modest drum riser with an elevated ramp in back. Presiding over the stage, a veritable revealer of the sanctum sanctorum was a massive video screen.
At the beginning of the tour the set list was pretty heavy on the Geffen era cannon, quite possibly in deference to the hey day of their co-headliners and, more specifically, the audience which said co-headliners would draw. Six tunes in all including Dude (Looks Like A Lady) and Rag Doll from 1987’s Permanent Vacation and Pump’s What It Takes… good songs to be sure but they had been done to death and all of them save What It Takes has never really done much for me in concert.
By the time the show made it to Toronto the majority of the songs were 70’s classics like the rarely played (before this tour anyways) S.O.S. (Too Bad) and a haunting version of Seasons Of Wither from Get Your Wings, Mama Kin and Dream On from their eponymous first album and all the usual suspects from Toys in the Attic, which, along with Rocks, is considered by many to be their finest hour musically.
As an early birthday present Joey graciously stepped aside to let Tommy Lee lay down the beat to a ragged but energetic and completely infectious reading of the Brad Whitford penned Rocks tune Last Child. The whole time Tommy had a sappy, star struck I really can’t believe I’m up here playing with Aerosmith kind of look on his face. Who says that the famous can’t get gob smacked themselves. And when Steven lasciviously commented that Tommy was “the luckiest guy alive” there were few present that didn’t get what it was that he was driving at.
For me, Aerosmith have never failed to please. And any show that they don’t break out that saccharine tome I Don’t Want to Kiss Your Thing; well, let me tell you. I could probably live the rest of my life without hearing that damn song again. Yeah, I know it’s their biggest hit. Yeah, I know that more women have given “it” up after listening to that tune than you can shake a stick at. Yeah, I know. That doesn’t change the fact that the song is just so damn formulaic; and here I bet you figured I was just going to take the weak assed road and say the song sucked, which it does.
The last couple of tours have been extra sweet for me since they broke out a couple of old favorites which I have never seen played live before. On their Rockin’ The Joint tour it was No More No More (a personal favorite). For this tour it was their cover version of the old Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac classic Rattlesnake Shake. The later song is the one that ostensibly provided the reason we have an Aerosmith in the first place, as Steven so gleefully relates to anyone who cares to listen. Which I can totally get behind; you can’t forget your roots now, can you.
Between S.O.S. (Too Bad) and Cryin’ Steven afforded some guy in the audience time on his microphone to propose marriage to his girlfriend. A crowd of 18,000 went pretty damned quiet while this guy poured his heart out to the love of his life. I guess she must have glanced at Steven after the proposal because he replied, “Don’t look at me like that. I could be the first guy to break up a marriage before it ever takes place.”
Looking back on it now that, in a bizarre kind of microcosm, helped to differentiate the two bands right then and there; so at ease with themselves Steven would actually stop a show for all of sixty seconds to allow a proposal to take place; to hand over the microphone, his microphone, to some rube in the crowd. I think Vince would have been to embroiled in swearing at his audience to have noticed. Maybe I just missed the whole Motley point. Maybe that is what being a Motley Crüe fan really consists of; being subjected to a stream of vulgarities, a wall of sound assaulting your senses and blast after blast of explosives. Oh, and the scantily clad women. We should never forget the scantily clad women.
The contrasts, ah the contrasts; when two bands play back to back like this it is so hard not to hold one’s performance up to the others.
Vince Neil came off as some buffoonish rube who could barely remember the words, at least when his vocals were audible above the cacophony. He constantly felt the need to curse, swear and cajole the crowd. Steven Tyler was coolness incarnate; no need to harangue the crowd, no need to cheer lead. Just get up there and sing his fucking heart out. I’ve read a few posts from Motley Crüe fans who chided Tyler for the presence of Teleprompters displaying the song lyrics. The first thought that came to my mind was “Vince could bloody well use one of those”. In reality I can’t honestly remember any time during the gig when Tyler had to use them.
As for Mick Mars, my first impressions were that he was rather static for a guitar god. I have since found out that he is suffering from a degenerative bone disease which goes a long way to explaining his lack of mobility. Sadly I can’t really comment on his virtuosity because the mix was so horrendous. God knows he might have been the greatest guitar player to have ever graced the planet. I really doubt it but I was unable to draw any viable conclusions from this night. This I lay at the feet of the sound man. Joe Perry played with heart and soul, imbuing his performance with subtlety when called upon, vim and vigor when the song dictated and an overwhelming sense of passion laced with sublime confidence.
Brad Whitford was even more Brad Whitford than usual. For a band with two guitar players the concept of a lead guitarist and a rhythm guitarist has always been as foreign to these guys as trigonometry must be to an Aardvark. On the surface Aerosmith have always been about Steven and Joe; dig a little deeper and you will realize that they truly would not be nearly as good without the Krawhitham trio of Joey, Brad and Tom. Brad played his ass off, weaving in and out of Joe’s leads but never hesitant to take the lead himself. All done effortlessly and with as much drive as anyone could ever hope to ask.
The rhythm section of Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee, again, were largely lost in the mix. The former Mister Pamela Anderson was certainly the most energetic member of the Crüe but that was largely wasted while he was relegated to the drum seat. The other members of the band seemed downright catatonic by comparison, relying on the explosions to provide most of their energy.
Aerosmith’s rhythm section was as tight as any rhythm section that had been playing together into their fourth decade might be. Better maybe. Ah, but here’s the rub; they had only been playing together for a matter of months. Founding member Tom Hamilton had been fighting a battle with the big ‘C’. Between that and the radiation treatments necessary he was in no shape to tour. Except for a one off performance of his trade mark song Sweet Emotion played in the bands home town of Boston Tom has yet to tread the boards on this tour.
Instead, and with Tom’s blessing, former Joe Perry Project bass player David Hull had been enlisted to hold down the bottom end in his absence. And a mighty fine bassist he is. Now any time you throw a new musician amongst a group of other musicians that have been playing together for so many years could and very frequently does spell disaster; regardless of the new musician’s proficiency at their instrument. And while the absence of the blonde bomber was felt it really did not detract from the show in the least. If anything the enthusiasm that Tommy Lee expended during his one song provided only a hint of the new blood energy that seemed to infuse the entire set.
Should the band can Tom and hire David on full time? Are you high? I suggest nothing of the sort. Let’s just say, on this night anyways, I don’t think David was the only one finding the challenge of playing with a new band invigorating.
So, on the one hand we got to see Motley Crüe trying to convince the crowd that they were still the high school pranksters. Smoking In The Boys Room was a very apropos song for them to record; it embodies everything that the Crüe have been and probably always will be. And you know what? More power to them. As I said at the beginning of this review, who can argue with scantily clad women, booze, explosions and music played really fucking loud. Thing is, I think that the Motley ones really see things in exactly that order. Pity since, as you can see, the music comes last.
Aerosmith on the other hand have always seemed to live by the Joe Perry penned credo Let The Music Do The Talking.
Or, as Steven Tyler once so succinctly put it;
“Some bands are into jerking off; we’re into fucking.”
Kind of gets you right here, doesn’t it?
Dr. Feelgood / Shout At The Devil / Wild Side / Looks That Kill / Live Wire / Same Old Situation (S.O.S) / Home Sweet Home / Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) / Louder Than Hell / Too Fast For Love / Sick Love Song / Primal Scream / Girls Girls Girls / Kickstart My Heart
Toys In The Attic / Mama Kin / S.O.S. (Too Bad) / Cryin’ / Baby Please Don’t Go / Stop Messin’ Around / Seasons Of Wither / Dream On / Last Child / Rattlesnake Shake / Love In An Elevator / Sweet Emotion / Draw The Line / Walk This Way
For more pictures of Aerosmith set go here.