Motley Crue + Alice Cooper + Red Hook (Smokin Mirrors)
16 May 2015
Words by Emmy Mack
Emmy Mack went along to catch Motley Crue and Alice Cooper last weekend. But she went along much more than just your average media reviewer. She was actually in the support band and this account of the evening is from her viewpoint of a local band securing a chance of a lifetime.
Here’s what happened…
It’s 7pm and I’m swallowing the urge to vomit. There’s just something about playing to a packed arena for the first time that makes the cheeseburger-shaped Krispy Kreme donut you pinched from the catering room an hour ago want to come kamikaze-ing back out of your throat to create a sugary mess on the loading dock floor.
Tonight will be the world’s most notorious rock n’ roll band, Motley Crue’s final ever show in Sydney. The great shock rock godfather, Alice Cooper, is supporting. And my band RedHook who no one’s ever heard of before, are opening things up in just half an hour, in what will be our first live performance together, ever.
So, you know, no pressure.
Out in the arena, a 32-foot high roller coaster towers above the stage and out across the auditorium: Tommy Lee’s Cruecifly drum coaster in all of its gnarly glory. A crewmember tells us that a few of the backstage boys have had a go on it, and, quite frankly, shat themselves. The throng of fans who start filing into the arena quickly whip out their smart phones, lights flashing like paparazzi as they scramble to document the humungous skeleton of the mechanical behemoth.
At this point, it’s starting to feel a lot like the long walk to the top of a bungee tower. You know, that feeling when you know that what you’re about to do is going to give you the biggest thrill of your life, but it’s also quite possible that you might die. And the higher and higher you get, the more the dread starts to seep in. And finally, once you get to the top and you’re all strapped in, there’s no turning back. Nothing else to do now but close your eyes and dive head first off the edge.
So that’s what we did. As we closed in for a rib-cracking group hug, the lights went down and our entrance music started to play – For Those About To Rock by AC/DC. The crowd let out a humungous cheer and we looked at each other in disbelief – “No, no, what are you all cheering for?” our drummer, Miles, joked “We’re not Alice Cooper!” And as we filed up onto the stage, bizarrely, the cheers only got louder. We swarmed around the drumkit, and as Acca Dacca faded, we smashed in with a massive power chord ring-out that filled the whole arena, before launching into our first song.
And the rest can only be described as a thrilling, beautiful, wonderful blur. The crowd were amazing. They laughed at our lame-ass jokes, they cheered for our songs and they sang along when we asked them to. Almost in a flash, it was all over and we were backstage again, watching Alice Cooper march out in his red ringleaders’ coat and tails, twirling a baton around theatrically as he made a beeline toward the stage.
Two of Cooper’s guitar-slingers, Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss, took the time to give us high-fives and some incredibly generous words of congrats before they followed Alice out to the arena, and we were floored to learn that such legendary musos were also legendary human beings to boot.
We made our way back out to watch from side-of-stage as Alice exploded into the spotlight with Department Of Youth, and before he’d even opened his mouth to sing the first note, it was clear that the Wayne’s World star already had the crowd eating out of the palm of his straightjacket-bound hand.
We’d already seen some of the show’s spoilers during soundcheck, including some of Cooper’s spectacularly devilish props, not to mention his full setlist, but that didn’t stop us from being just as mesmerised as the rest of the crowd by the jaw-dropping theatrics of his stage show in action.
Guillotines, demon babies, zombie nurse dancers, live serpents and fire raining down from the ceiling – the sheer scale of Cooper’s creepshow was like watching an old school Tim Burton movie unfold before your very eyes (you know, before he became addicted to CGI and started casting Johnny Depp in everything). One of the most devil-horns-raiseable moments of the set occurred during Feed My Frankenstein when a giant Frankenstein’s monster muppet came careening out onto the stage and began aggressively miming the chorus with nightmarish conviction.
Yes, Alice’s stage production was pants-crappingly impressive. But it must also be said that, even if you stripped away all of the props, special effects and costume changes, it still would have been dynamite. At 68 years of age, Cooper is still, to his black, crusty, worm-eaten core, a performer, and he has stocked his band with others like him.
While Coop delivered the lyrics to his greatest hits with pitch-perfect aggression, his three – count ‘em three – guitarists and bass player never stopped darting around the stage, wailing on their instruments, interacting with the crowd and, it seemed, having a fucking amazing time doing it. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and I bet more than just a few fans went home nursing an atomic crush on Nita Strauss.
To be honest, it’s nothing short of miraculous that all four of Motley Crue’s founding members have survived til 2015, let alone embarked on a final world tour. Nikki Sixx alone has died and come back to life twice. He has literally one-upped Jesus.
As Crue were about to go on, we got turfed out from side-of-stage by security due to the dangers wrought by the band’s arsenal of pyrotechnics. We had to try to watch the show from backstage, meaning our obscured vision shifted the focus onto the sound, more than the fiery spectacle.
Frontman Vince Neil has been copping a lot of flak on this tour for seemingly not being able to ‘keep up’. His Dude-Looks-Like-A-Lady good looks now gone to seed, the soon-to-be star of American reality TV series Celebrity Wife Swap has been periodically lambasted for his shoddy vocals since the tour first kicked off overseas. But I can’t help but feel like everyone’s been a bit hard on old Vincey. While it’s true he has become overly reliant on backing tracks and distracting, scantily-clad backing singers in his old age, Crue’s founding vocalist can still deliver the high notes when he puts his mind to it and he proved that at Allphones Arena on Saturday night.
Nikki Sixx, meanwhile, has never been the world’s greatest bass player, but his roguish stage presence kept him captivating as ever. While Mick Mars, one of the hair metal era’s most underrated guitarists, used the enigmatic cryptkeeper schtick to his full advantage. The fact that Mars is still shredding guitar at 64 years of age, in the face of crippling health issues, is nothing short of astounding. The man deserves nothing but props.
And Tommy Lee? I think we’re gonna miss him most of all. The Animal himself, whose wild-man brand of drumkit wailing has inspired generations of skinbeaters and, probably, more to come. The human tripod strapped himself in for an extended, gravity-defying drum solo onboard his perilous Cruecifly coaster, which flipped upside down while spitting confetti at the crowd, who were cheering so loud I was worried it might shake the cart off its very hinges.
Though Motley Crue’s heyday arguably ended a few wives ago, they are a band who’ve made such an epic mark on the music world that they can be forgiven for not being at the top of their game in 2015. The band pulled it together and pulled out all of the stops, including Alice Cooper, just to visit us one last time and make sure their final Sydney show was as memorable as possible for their fans. And despite a few complaints about their depreciating musical chops, most people seemed to appreciate the gesture.
I was one of those people. On a personal note, this was one of the most incredible nights of my life. And I think any musician would tell you, being successful in the business as long as Motley Crue have been is something to aspire to. Celebrity Wife Swap notwithstanding.