For a band who for the past three decades has been synonymous with drugs and debauchery, Mötley Crüe’s swan song performance at Rogers Arena Nov. 21 was a decidedly well-behaved affair.
There were folding seats set up in front of the stage rather than a mosh pit, sales of overpriced beer were cut off only a few songs into the set, and fans – many of them well into middle-age like the band members themselves – had all been throughly frisked for contraband before being allowed in. There wasn’t even a whiff of smoke, illicit or otherwise, in the air during “Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” although this could simply be because fans have mostly all upgraded to vaping.
Mötley Crüe, who famously chose their name after someone described an old band of guitarist Mick Mars as “a motley-looking crew,” are now more of a mottled crew, with the ailing, 63-year-old Mars now a virtual dead ringer for the host of Tales from the Crypt. Presumably any drugs they’re on now are by prescription rather than slipped to them by Dr. Feelgood types.
It’s hard not to be cynical when it comes to farewell tours because they so often seem like a cash grab and, once the tour is finished, the band will suddenly announce it’s getting back together. Their glam-rock compatriots Kiss, for example, have been saying goodbye for more than a decade, and it’s not like this the first time the Crüe have called it qüits. But then again if any band should be expected to come back from the dead, it’s these guys seeing as how bassist and chief songwriter Nikki Sixx has literally done so himself, an experience chronicled in their hit OD anthem “Kickstart My Heart.” This time Sixx, Mars, singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee have signed a legal document making if official and in order to keep any of them from performing under the moniker again, and “The Final Tour: All Bad Things Must Come to an End” is meant to truly be curtains for the Crüe.
After an entertaining, prop-heavy opening set by the great Alice Cooper, whose own biggest hits were back in the days before the headliners had first discovered the appeal of hairspray, lipstick and pentagrams, the PA played the children’s song “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. It was a cute, contrasting touch before the band came out with the thunderous “Saints of Los Angeles” and followed up with their classic crowd-pleaser “Wild Side.”
While Neil’s vocals couldn’t always be heard over the music and the strange shawl he wore couldn’t hide his considerable Molson muscle, he could still mostly hit the highs he did back in the band’s glory days before Kurt Cobain and friends turned hair metal into an overnight anachronism. He also seemed out of breath on “Primal Scream” and was off-key on the silly power ballad “Without You,” but his ever-tight bandmates had his back throughout the night. He also got a well-earned break mid-set when Sixx took a time-out to tell the tale of how they first got together — although many in the audience were likely familiar with it after having read The Dirt, a hair-raising 2001 biography detailing their decades of decadence that is being turned into a movie by (naturally) Jackass director Jeff Tremaine — before launching back into action with their version of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.”
Mötley Crüe has always been as much about the spectacle as the music, and it has to be said they delivered the goods. Lee bashed the skins while revolving in a customized kit travelling along a roller coaster track high above the crowd, Sixx’s bass guitar doubled as a flame thrower, fireworks and ear-shattering explosions helped punctuate “Shout at the Devil,” and two busty, acrobatic backup singers/dancers displayed both plenty of flesh and enthusiasm.
There was even a surprisingly poignant moment during the encore when the band, who had since relocated to a second stage in the middle of the crowd, played “Home Sweet Home” with Lee now on piano, and screens showing a montage of old images and clips. Vancouver was originally meant to be the last stop on the tour, and this is the city where the band recorded their breakthrough 1989 album Dr. Feelgood. The Marble Arch, a former strip club on Richards Street, even got a shout out in their celebration of strippers “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
“We’re gonna miss you guys,” Neil told the crowd at the ballad’s finish. The moment likely would’ve been even more poignant if this was, in fact, the end. It’s worth remembering the band members are all recovering addicts, and addicts typically have difficulty knowing when to give something up. Instead, Mötley Crüe opted to add yet another show in neighbouring Spokane before packing up and flying off to Japan for a yet another few more dates.
“This is not farewell,” Sixx shouted earlier in the night. “Our mission is almost over, but our music is going to haunt you until the day you die.”
We’ll just have to take their word for it they’re not going to be back in town for one last fix in a few more years.