Dilettante 33: Motley Crue show, 1998

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Ok hey we’re just a rock band alright? We mean yeah, we culturally appropriated punk, leatherdaddy, and ’80s women’s fashion to try to get famous during the Great American Satanic Panic – but we toned it down and became 100% straight dudes. In a rock’n’roll way of course, with more neutral makeup tones. Ironically that’s when the Dark Lord let us be on the radio.

yeah bad boys. a “crue” of them, who are not orderly but “motley.” believe me it was cooler when you wrote it on your science notebook with the umlauts intact, but became a lot less cool when they forsook devil worship to become another hair metal version of a cartoon wolf going “AOOGA”

Seriously though, “Jackass” director and producer Jeff Tremaine helmed Crue’s 2016 documentary Motley Crue: The End and then went on to direct 2019’s The Dirt, a fictional Netflix biopic about the same. So, SOMEbody who loves meat-head stunts is into Motley Crue, and the mutual bromance kind of sums it up.

For purity’s sake, you could watch Motley Crue’s 1986 documentary Uncensored  but you’d be far better served checking out Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.

Spheeris’ original 1981 Decline of Western Civilization documentary about punk rock was so explosive the LAPD chief ordered her not to screen it in Los Angeles again.

Next, she turned her gaze toward the hair metal scene, and revealed a spandexed hive of narcissists and dreamers in THE most terrible hairstyle choices imaginable. The dudes-in-makeup-ness of it all is breathtaking.

(The Decline of Western Civilization III chronicles some of LA’s gutter punks in the late ‘90s and caused Spheeris to form a bond with one of the film’s kids and sign up to foster 4 more. Awww)

Penelope Spheeris during the filming of her documentary The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years – pictured here with members of Poison. This picture smells like Aqua-Net

Although if your question is “Where exactly did all this gender fluidity in American guitar music start to bleed over from androgynous English glam, before the hair metal scene sort of co-opted it and somehow made it macho again” then here’s All Dolled Up: A New York Dolls Story.

To sum up, by the time we rolled up to this Motley Crue show in 1998 San Francisco, we were already over it, and so were they. It’s all a re-hashing of the (mythical, past) glory days from here.

 

Scroll down or click through to read “The Motley Scrue,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on 12.04.98.

This is the 33rd piece in my “twenty years ago this week” project; Dilettante’s first installment is here.

 

summer burkes dilettante logo sf bay guardian 1997-2001_resized

The Motley scrue: Motley Crüe gives fans a decrepit, demoralizing run for their money

by Summer Burkes, 12.04.1998

 

OH, HOW FAR the flighty have fallen. There used to be a time not too long ago when boys grew their hair long, experimented with Maybelline and Aqua Net, and did a lot of fey prancing and wheezing about “talking dirty to” someone or “coming on” and “feeling the noize.” Now, even with the retro machine spinning in tighter and tighter circles, the Hair Era still seems ridiculous.

and by 'ridiculous' we mean 'we were extremely into it as teens'

and by ‘ridiculous’ we mean ‘we were extremely into it as teens’

Most hair bands, it would seem, have realized that their music was about as substantial as Kate Moss’s left hook, and have thankfully stayed out of the limelight. Still, a few prideless, money-hungry geezers have dusted off their spandex and returned to the road. On their reunion tour the presumably balding Quiet Riot were forced to wear longhair wigs and play to seventeen people at sundry honky-tonks throughout the Midwest.

W.A.S.P. and Ratt fared slightly better, gigging at medium-sized clubs nationwide. But Motley Crüe, the kings of ’80s glam, have proven themselves to be the Rolling Stones of the circuit and reunited with an arena tour, overpriced merchandise, and a lot of half-baked middle-aged sentiments and untrained cultural pronouncements to dull even the sharpest of rock anthems.

In front of the one-third capacity Cow Palace crowd Tuesday, the Crüe looked like slightly older, muted-color, hairspray-less versions of their Theatre of Pain characters, but truly showed their age through tired props and transparent hey-I-relate-to-you propaganda techniques. Exhibit A: their new album, Generation Swine, an obvious stab at attracting a younger crowd through jingoistic Gen-X heptalk.

(Remember when Billy Idol, after unintentionally creating a definition for an entire age group with the name of his seminal punk band, embarrassed himself with a comeback album titled Cyberpunk, attempting to attach another cultural icon to himself but one that he didn’t deserve? Get a pen, Crüe.)

know what, searching on 'motley crue fan art' is fun. this one's by freakydeakydawn

know what, searching on ‘motley crue fan art’ is fun. this one’s by freakydeakydawn

Old standbys like “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Live Wire” made the heart flutter with a wee bit of nostalgia, but any cheap euphoria caused by a classic was immediately doused by an invasively dreadful “new” song, complete with sensitive-pouring-rain backdrop, fanblown hair, uplighting, and pyrotechnics. (Heavy metal formula: When in doubt, blow shit up.)

The outstanding “Too Fast For Love” could not save the listless “New Generation” (a new song) — as we saw from the backdrop screen’s rapid-fire projection of American name brands and stores — from capitalism and all its evils. Lest ye forget, the irony here is that the song is peformed by a washed-up, major-label band that has needlessly reunited 18 years after their inception and charges $35 for a T-shirt that says “Got Brue?” on the back.

Stage props are meant to enhance mediocre or flailing shows; Motley Crüe’s was possibly the first one in history to add to the ignominy of the already-torpid concert and contribute even further to the docility of the crowd.

Market research must have been conducted to put the Crüe back in touch with their fans, because someone told them that certain images, like spacemen and tribal rituals, were ’90s, hip, and now. The end result was less of a rock spectacle and more of a reverse after-school special that might have been explaining to couch-potato parents the alienation and angst that kids today are feeling.

proto-brony fan art by tigerpony

proto-brony fan art by tigerpony

During Tommy Lee’s (admittedly phenomenal) drum solo, nuclear explosions and forest-clearcutting were the theme. Nikki Sixx’s ooh-scary bass solo didn’t even merit imagery, just gigantic words like ‘Abandoned. Torn. Shattered. Fear. Death. Addiction. Father.’ The non-dramatic scene culminated with Sixx disconsolately shattering his bass while the word ‘Bastard’ shouted at the crowd from on high.

After a particularly sounds-like-your-foot’s-asleep song that Vince Neil claimed was “about life and the celebration thereof,” the thank-you-and-goodnights momentarily put us out of our misery. My companion and I booed along with the crowd, until we realized the crowd was saying “Crüe.”

Later, Tommy Lee reappeared on stage, and for the encore, flogged us with a faux-symphonic piano number about his new son with, you guessed it, home videos of his new son on the screen behind him.

The rest of the Crüe came out for a tired cover of “Helter Skelter” with, you guessed it, pictures of Charles Manson and Sharon Tate on the screen. Seeing as how covering “Helter Skelter” is pretty much the antidote to a good concert, we ran from the building.

As we drove away, the strains of “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” bled from the stadium walls. We could almost see the gigantic screened images of … well, you know. Motley Crüe maybe not the best band in the world, but they’re certainly the most obvious.

 

 

This is the 33rd entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).

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