There was blood, balloons, bubbles, babies, and a beheading - and that was before Motley Crue ever hit the stage during its PNC Music Pavilion stop Tuesday. The Crue, who signed a contract agreeing that this global tour would be its last, had more than a few new tricks up its studded leather sleeve.
I've seen great Motley Crue shows (2005's Carnival of Sins Tour) and I've walked away from Crue shows disappointed (2008's Crue Fest). I was not disappointed Tuesday. The group was high energy pounding through a hit-heavy set with the aid of some of the most deafening, dynamic pyrotechnics to ever heat a stage.
While rock legend Alice Cooper (above) relied on the aforementioned classic dead baby dolls and blood spatter as well as a towering monster ("Feed My Frankenstein"), a maniacal nurse (played by his wife Sheryl for "Ballad of Dwight Fry"), and that trusty guillotine, Motley Crue upgraded its 2014 show with an astounding amount of pyro, backup singers well versed in exotic dance, and a flame thrower strapped to Nikki Sixx's bass during "Shout at the Devil." The production was like another member. There was the gentle rain of sparks during "Without You," that insane flamethrower bass, and giant sprays of fire and alternating gusts of smoke that looked and sounded a lot like fire extinguisher spray (without the foam) used liberally.
Newish Crue still had fans singing along during the opener of 2008's "Saints of Los Angeles." Covers of "Smokin' in the Boys' Room" and "Anarchy in the UK" went over as well as most of the band's originals and the guys seem to have fun playing them.
Sixx took an uncharacteristic break from head banging and body builder poses to share Motley Crue's origin story. We all read "The Dirt," but a refresher was a fitting segue for a final tour. I was particularly interested in the music he and Tommy Lee bonded over during that first meeting. Punks may have spat at the notion of hair metal, but bands like the Crue and Guns n' Roses were as big on the Sex Pistols and Ramones' as they were Aerosmith and T-Rex.
At age 63 (and a decade older than all but Sixx, 55), guitarist Mick Mars' health has long been an issue. His illness (a debilitating form of arthritis in his spine and pelvis) and 2004 hip replacement certainly don't slow down his fingers. He seemed at ease though hunched and thin, working the stage in Frankenstein platforms. His guitar solo, which followed Lee's hip-hop and dance flavored drum solo (more on that), was a mix of haunted house psychedelics, fleet-fingered fret work, and noisy distortion. I wished I could have heard it more clearly.
Clarity wasn't high on the priority list for either band - at least not close to the stage where distorted instruments and voices competed with each other. Lee later tweeted that it was the quietest show of the tour ("What happened? Did it sound bad?...too sweaty?" he asked). He obviously didn't hear the guy behind me screaming his name.
Vince Neil's signature cat-like wail did cut through much of the clutter. Although Neil still swipes at phrases and sometimes misses lines all together, his range was better than I remembered. Sure there were a few backing tracks beefing up the high part on "Girls Girls Girls" as well as the female singer/dancers, but he didn't rely on them.
Lee didn't quite outdo himself with a rig he called the Cobra, which operates like a slower amusement park ride where his lighted drum set rotates as it is elevated on a rig that stretches in an arch above the stage. In an arena the rig extends into a rollercoaster of sorts that reaches toward the back balcony, but in a shed-style amphitheater it stops at the edge of the stage (see photo below). His samples-driven solo did speak of how far genres have blurred since his first spinning, airborne drum rig from the 1987 video for "Wild Side."
There's been a lot of speculation about the Crue's real reasons for calling it quits after this tour - from Mars' health to the members' dislike for one another - but the show didn't feel like four guys cringing through clenched teeth as they pointed out how fabulous the others are. They seemed to be enjoying it as "Kickstart My Heart" drew the show to a close with a possibly unprecedented display of pyrotechnics. It sounded like a war zone and I'm sure several fans walked away a little deafer.If you missed Tuesday's show or want to experience it all over again, The Final Tour, which will stretch well into 2015, will stop in nearby Greensboro and Greenville, SC in October with Cooper (pictured above) and his band in tow..