July 3, 2014 at 11:29 am

Motley Crue off to a miserable start on last tour

The tagline for Motley Crue’s latest tour — the band’s final tour, they swear — is “all bad things must come to an end.”

So it was oddly fitting, poetic even, that the tour’s kickoff at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena on Wednesday trainwrecked in spectacular fashion.

It trainwrecked three times, actually, the first coming less than 20 minutes into the show, when drummer Tommy Lee blew out his kickdrum during the closing moments of "Primal Scream." While crew members scrambled to repair the broken drum, guitarist Mick Mars filled the dead air by cranking out an ear-splitting guitar solo at airplane hangar volume (seriously, it was so loud). But the repairs took longer than he was able to noodle, and he eventually stopped and left the stage along with the rest of the band members as house music came up in the arena.

That’s fine, technical problems happen, even though as far as momentum killers go, this was a biggie. But 10 or so minutes later, the band stumbled again, when Mars botched the intro to “Too Fast for Love,” halting the show dead in its tracks again. “You know what’s (expletive) cool? When you watch a band forget their own song,” a frustrated Nikki Sixx bellowed into his microphone. “It’s ‘Too Fast for Love,’ it’s only 35 (expletive) years old.”

By this point, the band members were clearly frustrated, and were shooting glances and gestures at one another on stage. The tour has been positioned as a funeral for Motley Crue, and in the crowd Wednesday it certainly felt like one.

Then just a few minutes later the Crue melted down a third time, when Mars flubbed the intro to the new song “All Bad Things Must End.” The show stopped, again, and Mars complained into his microphone about his in-ear monitors. That marked three derailments in less than an hour, and fans showed their disapproval by loudly booing the band. It takes a lot to make a crowd boo — especially an opening night crowd on a high-profile tour — but the Crue was dealing with more than technical difficulties. They looked sloppy and unrehearsed, and weren’t in anything resembling tour shape.

In a weird way, however, it was a fitting way for the Crue – the legendarily hard partying and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants Los Angeles foursome — to kick off their supposed final go-round. The Crue has never been pretty, and in some ways Wednesday’s show was downright ugly, but there was something very rock and roll about watching the band fall apart on stage. It was messy and hard to watch — and in shriek and winded singer Vince Neil’s case, often hard to listen to — but it was very Motley Crue. The band has always been warts-and-all, and on Wednesday there was nowhere for them to hide. It was like everything they have been through over the years was catching up with them all at once.

The band owned up to its mistakes, with both Sixx and Neil apologizing for the opening night bugs, and there weren’t any technical snafus in the second half of the two-hour, 20-minute show. The show must go on, and it did, even though from early on you could feel the group was just trying to get through the show and put it past them. (The group was upstaged by Alice Cooper, who in his reliably hard-rocking and fun 50-minute opening set came off looking like the old pro that he is.)

Even without the glitches, things were off for the Crue from the jump, when after an intro of “The Sound of Music’s” “So Long, Farewell” (a clever touch) the band opened with “(Expletive) of the Year,” a track from its 2008 album “Saints of Los Angeles.” If it’s really the group’s last tour, and they have the documents that say it is, why not open with a bang with “Kickstart My Heart” or any of a number of other throat grabbers? (Expect a tweaked set list by the time the tour reaches DTE Energy Music Theatre next month.)

The band members also seemed to all be on different pages from one another, and the show felt more like a rehearsal than the real deal. Neil, for his part, looked surprised when confetti started blowing midway through “Without You,” and a bit where he brought a woman up from the crowd to serenade during the song’s final verse was both awkward and rushed.

The show’s production and staging was impressive, with a giant pentagram hanging over the stage and bursts of smoke and flames going off throughout the show. The biggest stunt came when Tommy Lee rode his rotating drum set on a track that stretched over the crowd and led to a satellite stage in the middle of the arena. To reiterate: Lee spun 360 degrees while his drum set moved along a track high above the audience’s heads, and then rode back, backwards, while still spinning in circles. It was impressive, flashy and altogether purposeless, perfect for the flamboyant, 80s excess that Motley Crue still embodies.

After the potent closer of “Dr. Feelgood,” “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Kickstart My Heart,” the band hit the stage in the center of the arena for a closer of “Home Sweet Home,” the band’s enduring hit power ballad. For the band, home sweet home is a long way away; the Crue’s long goodbye includes two upcoming Detroit stops (Aug. 9 at DTE Energy Music Theatre and November 8 at Joe Louis Arena are the shows announced so far). But if Wednesday was indeed the beginning of the end, it looks like the ride home will at least be interesting.

agraham@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/grahamorama

Motley Crue's lead vocalist Vince Neil with drummer Tommy Lee perform at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on Wednesday night. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
Detroit's beloved Alice Cooper rocked hard for a 50-minute opening set ... (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)