By the time Mötley Crüe bade farewell to Philadelphia Friday night, the Wells Fargo Center had seen rains of confetti, deafening pyrotechnics, multidirectional jets of flame (including a few shot from a weapons-grade bass guitar), burning pentagrams, scantily-clad dancers, crane arms flying band members high over the audience, and an entire drum kit spinning 360s on a roller-coaster track that extended nearly the length of the arena.
Oh, yeah, there were also four aging rock stars plodding through ponderously loud odes to decadence. But they seemed secondary to the spectacle playing out around them. Perhaps that was appropriate for the Crüe's swan song; even at its best, the band built its reputation more on a single-minded dedication to excess than on its music.
After a career of almost 35 years, the band will call it quits on New Year's Eve, the four original members formalizing their demise with a legally binding "Cessation Of Touring Agreement." I last saw Mötley Crüe in 1987 as a thrilled 13-year-old who months earlier had joined friends in dressing as the band for Halloween. Whether the intervening years have taken their toll on my patience or on the band's conditioning (I suspect both), Friday's show suffered from a distinct lack of energy. No matter how over-the-top the pageantry, the show was hollow, the soon-to-be retirees barely acknowledging one an other's presence while pacing the vast stage.
Frontman Vince Neil sounded especially out of shape. His voice, always a thin caterwaul, was often reduced to a word-slurring screech. Bassist Nikki Sixx gave a perfunctory thank-you speech while guitarist Mick Mars maintained his usual silent, gargoyle-like presence. Only drummer Tommy Lee seemed legitimately happy to be there, largely due to the fulfillment of a lifelong dream with the "Crüecifly," the serpentine track that he rode high above the crowd while soloing to hip-hop tracks.
A decade older than the headliners, Alice Cooper showed the whippersnappers how it's done during his hour-long opening set. The 67-year-old shock-rock pioneer tore through his best-known songs, complete with well-rehearsed set pieces - a dollar-bill-laden sword for "Billion Dollar Babies," a crutch for "I'm Eighteen," the requisite python, straitjacket, and death by guillotine. Cooper never seemed to be going through the motions, playing the consummate showman with a villainous sneer and showing no desire to follow the Crüe into retirement.