Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 | 3:14 p.m.
In one of their most recognizable songs, Motley Crue decries the “Same Ol’ Situation.” The song is about a girl named Cindy “who changed her name to Sin,” appropriately enough as on Friday night the band embarked on a dirty dozen shows at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel dubbed "Motley Crue Takes on Sin City."
The general theme here is Motley Crue finds the same ol’ situation highly unappealing. This is true of the maddening Cindy/Sin, and also of the band’s approach to live performance. This stretch of performances cries for high-flying production, as more than 40,000 seats are to be filled between now and Feb. 19 (Friday's opener was well-attended, but not a sellout in the 3,450-seat venue, though officials are happy with advance sales of the residency).
What’s happening at the Joint is not the same ol’ situation for Motley Crue, not in the least. You know this the moment a little-person version of the band called Little Crue scampers onstage in what frontman Vince Neil has described as “Cirque meets rock.” Many of the band’s greatest hits thunder through the performance, among them “Wild Side,” “Shout at the Devil,” “Looks That Kill,” “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),” “Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Dr. Feelgood,” “Kickstart My Heart” and “Home Sweet Home.”
The often blinding, consistently high-decibel carnival of sight and sound is no mere rock show. Even with some opening-night glitches (the lighting couldn’t quite capture all members of Little Crue, and the sound sometimes seemed, for lack of a better term, muddy and not typically crisp of shows at the Joint), the show was a full-sensory experience. At alternate times, the vast Joint stage was populated by a pair of aerialists performing acrobats in silks, and also hanging high above the crowd from a thick chain; a trio of bustier-wrapped backing singers/dancers; recurring appearances by the quartet of little people (including budding superstar Brian Thomas of Las Vegas) during a mock wedding scene in which the bride is described as being “better than free cocaine”; a visit from a leather-bound emcee who is apparently a woman but who exudes quite masculine tendencies; and, of course, the circus act that is the venerable rock band itself.
Video panels roll out images of bright-red capillaries flowing through a blood stream (during “Dr. Feelgood”), and at the start of the show, the band members, talking of how freakin’ wild this set of shows will be.
As promised during the week by Neil, it is a show that plays deep into the audience and does feature one of the great stage effects in rock history, Tommy Lee’s 360-degree rollercoaster drum set. This is where rock meets Six Flags, and on Friday, Lee plucked a not-so-randomly selected audience member to join him in a few spins around the contraption. This person was Fox 5’s Jason Feinberg, in a planned appearance, introduced only as “Jason” who did achieve the unlikely, which is to ride Lee’s rails without retching.
But it mattered not who or even what Lee strapped into the seat next to him on the high-rising, round-and-round attraction. The crowd went nuts the moment the lights hit Lee in position to fire up the rig, reinforcing the long-held theory that if you roll out a giant prop inspired by a ride at a theme park, you’ve got a sure-fire winner.
Rivaling Lee’s tricked-out kit is a circular stage suspended from the ceiling, on which the band plays a series of acoustic numbers midway through the show. “Without You” was a highlight here. Neil has talked of a point in the show where a visiting performer could be summoned to join the band, and that Cirque du Acoustic moment might well be the spot.
What else? Oh, we have lots of balloons. A dozen or so giant, thick balloons that fall from the ceiling and give the audience something to play with during the extravaganza. This is all good fun, but someone might want to make sure the guys at the sound boards are protected from these wafting orbs. They looked a little concerned when fans started batting them around the venue.
There are the requisite pyrotechnic blasts, too, and the concussive sound reverberates through the venue. Like, over and over. It’s just a lot of boom-booms, maybe a few booms too many. Look at it this way: Explosions in a rock concert can be compared with croutons on a salad. They are great as a complementary ingredient. But after a while, if the waiter keeps dumping handfuls of croutons all over your plate, you have to say, “I have had enough of these croutons!”
But the Crue, it never gets enough. Loud and proud. The songs remain the same, but the stage act is uniformly imaginative and ambitious. Maybe there will be a time to scale back, someday. But that time is not now, not in February 2012 in Las Vegas.