SAN ANTONIO – Motley Crue, Poison and the New York Dolls never claimed to be Rush or the Clash. Jaw-dropping guitar solos? Hah! Political agendas? Huh? Pyro and gyrating stripper chicks? Hell yeah and woo-hoo!
Such was the scene Thursday night at the money-grubbing AT&T Center where a parking fee of $15 (cash only, jackass!) and two overpriced beers (no surprise) robbed concert-goers of $30+ before roadies tuned the guitars. Good thing gas is cheap these days!Back from the dead, figuratively, if not literally, the New York Dolls were well worth an early arrival. If you know Slayer from Stryper, you know Poison and Motley Crue wouldn’t exist without the Dolls’ glam-punk template. Opening with “Personality Crisis,” 60-something singer David Johansen arrived skinny as an eyeliner pencil. His partner in survival, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, wore his trademark floppy hat and a red leather vest as he played the aloof prankster against Johansen’s regal cool. It was odd to see the underappreciated legends playing early to a sparse arena crowd, but the strength of the songs (“Trash,” “Pills,” Jetboy”) mixed with the band’s inherent flash and swagger made it clear the Dolls were an obvious, albeit doomed, precursor to the arena-sized glam bands that followed in their platform heels.
Poison, of course, is always a party with singer Bret Michaels as the excitable keg tender. Opening with the garage-slop glory of “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” Poison came out swinging … and not at each other for a change. As Michaels worked the crowd with flying scissor kicks and finger-pointing eye contact, guitarist C.C. DeVille and bassist Bobby Dall criss-crossed the stage to give their fans equal face time during “Fallen Angel,” “Ride the Wind,” “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time.” Drummer Rikki Rockett (who had been watching the Dolls from the side of the stage) sat high on a riser and kept solid time between his trademark stick twirls. And of course, the place went karaoke ballistic as Bret strummed “Every Rose.”The snobs will always accuse Poison of being more style than substance, but so what? Poison has always been a band of the people and not the critics. That’s rock-n-roll! However, as much as I’ll dodge punches for liking Poison, I must admit I could do without their inclusion of guitar and drum solos, and the two cover tunes, “We’re An American Band” and “Your Momma Don’t Dance” (I’ve also never cared for “Unskynyrd Bop”). Personally, I would have been more wowed with “Cry Tough” or “I Won’t Forget You,” but Poison doesn’t ask for my vote. That said, their audience loves them (me included) and it’s hard to bitch when a band works so hard to help their fans trade 9-5 for happy hour. Thank you, guys! Another beer, please. As expected, Motley Crue hit the stage like gutter rats sniffing for trouble. Still a strong live band after 30 years, Motley is now comparable to KISS in terms of over-the-top spectacle. Opening with “Wild Side,” Motley arrived in all their glorious decadence as towering flames, a flashing pentagram and half-naked girls brought the heat. Bassist Nikki Sixx was sporting a modified version of his “Shout at the Devil” era makeup (think Peter Criss) and remains an iconic figure of shag-haired swagger and middle-finger attitude. Guitarist Mick Mars is still cheating death and gave everything his 90-lbs. could muster. And what singer Vince Neil long ago lost in shriek-ability, he more than made up for with boundless enthusiasm. As for drummer Tommy Lee? Well, the man(iac) is just plain bonkers. Strapped into a 360-degree drum rollercoaster, Pamela Anderson’s former co-star performed some upchuck-worthy loopty-loops torn from the pages of Six Flags. The ride got even wilder for one “lucky” fan who was pulled from the crowd and strapped in for some Evel Knievel stomach-churn.
Motley’s set was apparently chosen by the fans, but it seemed pretty much business as usual. That’s not a bad thing when your catalog includes “Looks That Kill,” “Shout at the Devil,” “Home Sweet Home,” “Livewire” and the welcome surprise of “Ten Seconds to Love.” Sure, I would have preferred “Starry Eyes” or “Toast of the Town” over “Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” but somewhere there’s a Rolling Stones fan who would rather hear “Dirty Work” than “Jumping Jack Flash.” To each his own.
Despite being mugged by the venue (we’re broke-ass rockers, not wealthy Spurs fans!), Motley Crue, Poison and the New York Dolls pulled off one of the year’s best rock shows. It’s not often that all of life’s guilty pleasures come alive under one roof, so do what you can to see this show … and arrive early enough to blow a big thank-you kiss to the legendary New York Dolls.