Aftermath: Cruefest at Toyota Center

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Photos by Troy Field

We all knew it was coming, and sure enough, after Motley Crue piledrove its way through “Sick Love Song,” rail-thin drummer Tommy Lee crawled out from behind his kit (including the most massive kickdrum I’ve ever seen) and, after greeting a 15-year-old fan in the front row (“What’s up, bro?”), let the sold-out Toyota Center know he had something on his mind that couldn’t wait another second.

“Where the fuck is my goddamn titty camera?”

Mommy, what's a "titty camera?"

It didn’t take him very long to find it, and Lee spent the next several minutes training his lens on several women in the audience who, politically incorrect though it may have been, were more than happy to oblige. At least they all looked over 18, and Lee’s bout of spring-break cinematography even gave some people a chance to practice their parenting skills; one father near me with his six or seven-year-old son on his shoulders made sure to turn him around.

After a fusillade of pyro worthy of the 1812 overture, the Crue opened with a devastating “Kickstart My Heart,” followed with the equally intense “Wild Side” and kept up this nonstop glam-metal barrage for about the next 90 minutes. Mack Brown would have been proud of the sea of horns prompted by “Shout at the Devil,” and guitarist Mick Mars whipped out a dead-on rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” as an introduction to “Sick Love Song.”

The very Dr. Feelgood title song from this year’s Saints of Los Angeles – the original lineup’s first album since Dr. Feelgood – was an encouraging sign that Mars, Lee (who needs to eat something), singer Vince Neil (who doesn’t) and bassist Nikki Sixx have finally figured out they have much more rewarding ways to spend their time than appearing on stupid reality shows.

If Lee’s quasi-pornographic interlude wasn’t enough of a hint, the ripping new “Motherfucker of the Year” was conclusive proof that the Crue has hardly mellowed with age. Mars and Sixx still look like twin merchants of death, albeit cleaned-up merchants of death, and although Neil’s microphone cut out during “Don’t Go Away Mad… Just Go Away,” the crowd picked up the slack admirably.

“Same Old Song and Dance” – which provided a helpful lesson in the history of burlesque on the video screens – “Looks That Kill,” “Girls, Girls, Girls” (I was always a little mad the Crue didn’t throw a shout-out to the Men’s Club or Rick’s into its litany of adult-entertainment palaces, but oh well) and “Dr. Feelgood” (fuuuuuck) closed out the main set in rapid-fire succession, before the band returned to send everybody home sweaty and happy with the best Beatles song of the ‘80s, “Home Sweet Home.”

“You guys know how to rock and roll,” Neil told the crowd, and it was impossible to argue with him.

Buckcherry is not a rock band, it’s a rock and roll band in a bad time for rock and roll. Rock is serious, artistic; rock and roll just wants to turn it all the way up and rip off the knob. Unrepentant as ever, the L.A. quintet doesn’t appear to care about much of anything beyond booze, babes and blow, nor should they. (Wonder who they learned that from.) The testosterone oozing through hits like “Lit Up” and “Crazy Bitch” had no trouble wafting through the curtains to the Jack Daniel’s club, and the band even showed a softer side (of sorts) on prime lighter ballad “Sorry.” Too bad nobody carries lighters anymore… cell phones just aren’t the same.

There were almost as many Papa Roach T-shirts in the crowd – besides ones sporting clever slogans like “Keg Security” and “I Wouldn’t Fuck You for Practice,” that is – as Motley Crue, and the Vacaville, California pop-thrash quartet had the crowd doing almost as many “Whoas” and “Yeahs” as a typical U2 show. Singer Jacoby Shaddix was very, very happy to be in Houston, as he told the crowd several times, but maybe he was just happy to be anywhere: “It sure is a good night to be alive,” he said at one point.

Papa Roach really doesn’t have a whole lot of range – none of the bands really did - but songs like “Forever,” “Scars,” WWE theme “To Be Loved” and “I Almost Told You That I Loved You” (from October’s forthcoming Metamorphosis; take that, Rod Stewart) were crackling and kinetic, and the energy from both the band and audience was palpable. Another point in Papa Roach’s favor is that while its subject matter is pretty much the same angst-ridden no-self-esteem self-flagellation as any other post-grunge band, at least P-Roach isn’t so damn maudlin about it. Shaddix isn’t a half-bad rapper, either, and when the band closed with 2001 breakthrough single “Last Resort,” Toyota Center predictably exploded.

It’s entirely too easy to make a cheap pun and call Crue bassist Nikki Sixx’s other band “Suxx A.M.,” but it’s also entirely appropriate. However true to life they may be, the songs from last year’s The Heroin Diaries came off as either revved-up Velvet Revolver retreads or anguished buzz-rock even less compelling than, say, Finger 11. Worse, several songs couldn’t decide if they wanted to be melodramatic power ballads or charging riff-rockers, so they just bounced back and forth between the two.

Sensitivity has a dubious place in metal as it is, but for God’s sakes, if you want to write a ballad, do it, don’t try to hide it underneath a bunch of power chords. I will say this, though: from anyone else, lyrics like “not the first time, won’t be the last, that my heart is failing” would be clichés, but from Sixx they’re simple biography.

Apologies, I guess, to Trapt. While the Bay Area post-grunge quartet was kicking off Cruefest, I was drafted to play bass in “Corrupt,” the virtual band composed of Macarthur High School student Brenda Barcenas, 15, and MHS grads Sanjuana Arcos, 17, and Barcenas’ sister Blanca, 18. The popular multiplayer video game Rock Band had a “second stage” set up outside Toyota Center, and the winner got a chance to play one song before Motley Crue came on and also hang out backstage with Trapt.

We chose Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” and never having played Rock Band before, of course I failed miserably. It’s a lot harder than it looks. (The eventual winners, “Aurora,” played Garbage’s “I Think I’m Paranoid.”) Afterward, Arcos, who had a nice set of pipes, admitted “I didn’t know what I was doing either.” So at least that made me feel a little better. – Chris Gray

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