It all started out so straightforwardly, with Alice Cooper snuggling his beloved python, getting electrocuted and being decapitated by a guillotine.
Then the 67-year-old shock rocker closed his rousing, theatrical 11-song set on Saturday night with “School’s Out,” having more than adequately teed up the Time Warner Cable Arena crowd for headliner Mötley Crüe.
And not long after that, things got weird.
A little background, though: The Crüe was in Charlotte last August, too, and back then the band was referring to the show as “The Final Tour.” I suppose this means Saturday’s show was the final final tour (which makes me wonder if The Final Final FINAL “Tour” will be here in 2016).
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Now, there’s no denying that lead singer Vince Neil, drummer Tommy Lee, bassist Nikki Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars can still basically put together a show that’s as exciting as the ones they put on in their mid-’80s-to-early-’90s heyday.
Neil (while he’s probably 50 pounds heavier than he was in ’84) can still hit the high notes, Lee can still batter the drum skins while suspended upside down, Sixx and Mars can still crush their respective solos.
Even so, there was some slightly strange stuff going on onstage.
Neil, 54, has developed an annoying habit of skipping practically every other word in the band’s songs, and also of blurring lyrics into virtual gibberish. So, in 1990’s “Don’t Go Away Mad,” “We could sail away/Or catch a freight train/Or a rocketship into outer space” turns into – I kid you not – “Sailway/catch fraytray/rocketship/outta spay”; and “Ooh, yeah/Kickstart my heart/Hope it never stops” becomes – I kid you not – “Ohh, yeah/kiiistaaahaa/neh staaaah.”
Lee’s nearly 10-minute drum solo was visually astonishing, as he and his Pearl kit moved along a track that ascended more than 40 feet in the air while the platform slowly did somersaults; but his drumbeats were nearly drowned out by EDM tracks that, frankly, had no business being linked to Mötley Crüe’s sound.
And Sixx gave a bizarre speech midway through the show in which he talked about being given a knife by his grandfather and how he now doesn’t go anywhere without one.
Then he held up a knife and said: “What I hope is that someday, maybe tomorrow, maybe 10 years from now, you’re in your car and Mötley Crüe comes on the radio ... and you look down at your arm and you see that deep, deep scar, and you think about this knife. Thank you for letting us be the f------ knife.”
The band’s core fan base of fortysomethings – who grew up on “Dr. Feelgood” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” – has aged pretty well. Most of the girls now wear appropriate clothing, and none take off their bras or panties to throw onstage; most of the guys now keep their hair cropped a lot more closely than they did back in the hair-metal days.
But more than a few of the Crüe’s faithful celebrated the past with a few too many $10 beers, and they didn’t always get away with it.
A trashed female concertgoer had to be escorted outside by two people because she could barely walk, and one of those escorts was her middle-school-age son! Another tipsy woman stumbled by me with no shoes on, her feet covered in blood, as an incredulous usher summoned two medics. Some dude in a Metallica shirt almost fell down the stairs. Five times.
To be clear, Mötley Crüe’s nostalgia trip was a heck of a lot of good-old-fashioned fun. Its 18-song set list kept forefinger-pinky combos in the air for nearly two straight hours, from “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Wild Side” (the first two songs) to “Dr. Feelgood” and “Home Sweet Home” (the last two).
The relentless display of pyro – including Sixx spitting 15-foot-long bursts of fire out of a flamethrower attached to his axe – appealed to the eyes, and the deafening firework explosions assaulted the ears appropriately.
Look, I’ve enjoyed rowdy rock shows at the arena: Foo Fighters, Muse, Pearl Jam, Van Halen. But I’ve never seen its stairs drenched in more spilled beer. And I’ve never seen arena staffers roll their eyes, shake their heads or just generally be called on to police stupid situations as frequently as they did Saturday night.
Something tells me that they – and probably they alone – hope this really is The Final Tour.