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Motley Crue at the Palladium 11-14-08

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About three-quarters of the way through Motley Crue’s set at the Palladium, Nikki Sixx paused for a moment to address the crowd.

“Hollywood! It's crazy just thinking about all the crazy shit that went down right here! We started a band here… signed our first record contract here… got real fucked up here… we crashed some fucking cars here…”

Now, forgive me if the first part of that sentence isn't 100% accurate, I wasn’t taking notes at that point, but those last six words are a direct quote, and hearing them caused me to spew an extremely expensive mouthful of vodka and cranberry onto the poor soul in front of me. Luckily the dude was wearing leather pants and didn’t notice. But I seemed to be the only one there who found this at all bizarre. Everybody else just raised their drinks and devil horns and said “Woo!” Rock and roll, baby!

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Yeah it’s true, you guys did crash some cars here, and Razzle, the drummer from Hanoi Rocks, is dead as a result. You really couldn’t come up with a better “How ya doin’ LA” line than that?

Perhaps I'm too quick to judge. Having read Sixx's autobiographical, best-selling book The Heroin Diaries during the last week, it's plausible that, at any given moment, he may not remember that even happened. Or maybe respect for the dead is too much to ask from boys this bad. They're so bad, they should be in detention. For a book whose entire topic is how useless and pathetic hard drugs are, it's obvious that Sixx thinks he is REALLY FUCKING COOL to have done that many of them. It's 400 pages of bad-ass boast posing as grim cautionary tale.

But, admittedly, I found the book, as well as the entire band's memoir The Dirt, a lot more compelling than much of their music. On the Diaries cover is a one-word blurb from Harp that about sums it up: "Lurid." In its pages, Sixx complains mightily that the quality of his songwriting is being overlooked by critics who only want to focus on how many chicks he's screwed, how many times his heart has stopped etc. This lack of respect is cited as one of the reasons he had to annihilate himself daily. And yet, when the band look back at their own lives, trash seems to be the only thing they're interested in either. There's not a lot of music-related content in either volume.

Still, it's apparent that their enthusiasm for what they do is real, and lots of people still feel the same way. While Poison, Ratt and other platinum bands of the era are mostly on the state-fair circuit these days, Crue still headlines arenas. (Caveat: as long as all four guys from the original lineup are there. Attempts to replace lead singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee were pretty poorly received and thus short-lived.) The Palladium gig was packed to the rafters despite an $85 ticket price at one of the least hospitable venues in town. Despite all the news stories about extensive renovations at the old ballroom, it looks and feels about the same as it ever was. Maybe the sound is a little better; it used to be terrible, now it's so-so, no worse than the Forum. The main "improvement" I noticed was that most of the tables in the balcony are now reserved for bottle service, continuing the infuriating LA trend of charging hundreds of dollars for the right to sit down.

The night kicked off with the Last Vegas, who sounded exactly like you would expect a brand-new band with a slot on the Motley tour to sound: Sunset Strip radio-metal circa 1988, denim and wallet chains instead of spandex and hairspray. Inoffensive. Next up was a bit of a change of pace from the Street Drum Corps, described in previews as "a punk rock Stomp!" "A hard rock Adam And The Ants" might be more like it: Burundi-style whumpa-whumpa-whumpa tom-tom backbeat under a pretty ordinary band. In fairness, the Palladium's sound system (which appeared to be at half-power for the opening acts) and the even split of boos and cheers coming off the floor made it a little difficult to discern lyrics or melodies, so I might be inclined to give them another shot on a better night. At least they added a taste of the unexpected.

But Motley Crue, ever since they graduated to arenas with 1984's Shout At The Devil, have always been big on satisfying expectations. So that's what they do. All the biggest hits are played (except Smokin' In The Boys' Room, one of the ones I was looking forward to), along with a couple from the new album, Saints of Los Angeles. And they sound just like the records, sometimes suspiciously so. Some of the backing harmonies and rhythm guitar parts are obviously either on tape, or being played and sung by roadies under the stage. The fact that they stay remarkably in synch with the porno film edits projected on the big screen makes me suspect the former.

The sound in the room is now massive, particularly Mick Mars' guitar, which buries Vince Neil's vocals almost completely. No great loss; the guitar playing is easily the most enjoyable thing about the band, and he sounds real good tonight. There's an old-fashioned rawness about those discordant, spaced-out solos that feels just right. Reading their sordid tales, he always comes across as the odd man out, but really the other three should bow down to him as their secret weapon, their Ace Frehley in the hole.

Tommy Lee, sadly, did not have his gyroscopic drum set fly loop-de-loops over the Palladium floor during his solo (we were arguing before the set whether they would have the roadies wheel it around the ballroom floor, or maybe set Tommy up on a bicycle with a snare drum mounted on the handlebars like the Flying Karamazov Brothers.) In fact, he didn't really solo at all, although he did have a solo segment. He just came out from behind the kit to hand-slap the front row, at one point proudly announcing "All right - we have titties!", then he just started hollering "When I say Motley you say Crue! Motley! Motley!" and slamming out a four on the floor beat under it for about thirty seconds, then stopped and announced the band was starting the next tune.

It was weird, weirder than the gyroscope must have been the first time people saw it. Even Peter Criss PRETENDED to play complicated fills for a couple of minutes when it was his time for a solo, you know? Even if he just hit the drum one time while the digital delays made it sound like he was hitting it lots of times, at least the sound of drums came out of the speakers during the drum solo.

But no one seemed to mind. What they came for were the tunes that got them through high school feeling tuff, and those they received. I've heard it said that the audience needs to work as hard as the performer for a show to really come off. If that's the case, each member of Motley Crue owes everyone in that crowd $85. It was the most forceful audience response I've seen in years. Like 'em or not, they are the real deal, the very root of a new kind of metal that took over America in 1983. They are the head of the dragon slain by Sir Cobain, according to legend. But, like Jason, even in death they refuse to go away. Smart money says there WILL be a sequel, no matter how many pieces the corpse is chopped into before your eyes.

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Photo by Anti for LAist.