Live: Motley Crue, Alice Cooper and Red Hook 16/5/15

The legacy of Motley Crue as the bad boys of 80s rock ‘n’ roll is unquestionable. After a decade of blowing up the world’s stages, drinking themselves silly, and mainlining anything they could get their hands on, only the grunge explosion could stop their debauched crusade. Like so many other hair metal bands, the Crue tried in vain to adapt in their new environment, losing Vince Neil (and later Tommy Lee) in the process. If only they knew when to throw in the towel.

Fast forward to 2015 and Motley Crue are in the middle of their final world tour, which is 15 years too late. Not all is lost, however, as Alice Cooper is booked to play direct support for the duration of the tour. The father of modern shock rock made the most of his disappointingly short set, leaving many wishing that he had the headline slot. Local support for the evening came from Sydney’s Red Hook (formally Smokin’ Mirrors), performing under their new moniker for the first time, rounding out one of the most conflicting rock ‘n’ roll spectacles of 2015.

The opening notes of ACDC’s For Those About to Rock fill the stadium as Red Hook march onto the stage, setting the tone perfectly for the next 3 hours of distorted debauchery. Supporting legacy acts such as Motley and Alice is a rough job, but someone has to fill the first half hour while people shoot the shit and find a good spot to stand. Red Hook approach performing with a youthful aplomb that is commendable, but which ultimately falls flat on such a big stage. The band’s sonic palate is a confusing muddle of competing influences which lands them somewhere between Guns N’ Roses and Five Finger Death Punch. Technically proficient but creatively conflicting, Red Hook could make a name for themselves if they refine their sound.

Alice Cooper’s arrival immediately lifted the atmosphere, and kick-started the most exciting part of the evening. He may be 67, but the elder statesman of rock made the Crue look old and tired. Alice jumps from hit to hit with clinical precision and vaudevillian flair. Opening his set with Department of Youth and No More Mr. Nice Guy, he’s keenly aware of the unfortunate time restraints. Pleasantries are minimal, leaving as much room as possible for bangin’ tunes and increasing bombast. Under My Wheels, I’m Eighteen and Billion Dollar Babies set the stage for an epic rendition of mega hit, Poison. Dirty Diamonds provides the only moment for prolonged indulgence with a drum and guitar solo. Alice makes a point of showcasing his touring band at every show, stepping out of the spotlight for one brief moment.

Alice still makes time for all the stage theatrics he’s famous for, decapitating himself with a guillotine mid set, as well as prowling the stage with a live snake on his shoulders. Age hasn’t hindered the man’s ability to put on one of the greatest live shows on the planet, playing his slew of classics to a whole new generation of rabid fans as well as the old faithful. He finishes his explosive set with an extended version of School’s Out, which bleeds into a cover of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2 before reverting to one final stadium sized sing along of School’s Out.

Motley Crue took the stage to say goodbye to Sydney for the last time. An emotional affair, it’s tempting for one to overlook the lacklustre performance in the name of sentimentality.The Crue have suffered from a poor live sound the last two times they’ve toured Australia and tonight was no different. The mix was muddy, further obscured by the industrial amount of pyrotechnics, which made it difficult to identify each song without a few bars of intense listening. Couple this with the chronically lazy Vince Neil failing to stay in key, even with the band playing down a half-step, and the awe one might have otherwise felt is overshadowed almost entirely by disappointment.

The band lumber through their tried and true set of classics and fan favourites, perhaps the only surprise being Motherfucker of the Year. Sixx, Mick and Tom are tight enough, but there’s a distinct lack of urgency – truly, this is a band just doing their job. Tommy Lee is the only one who looks as though he’s actually having fun. Nikki is trudging around the stage with the authority of a substitute teacher, Mick is trying not to die on stage (that said, it’s commendable he can even still play), and Vince can only be bothered to sing half the lyrics. If the songs weren’t so memorable, many a fan would be left wondering when and what to sing. That is their saving grace – as terrible as Vince is, and as tired as the band may be, the songs still kick fucking ass. Tommy Lee’s drum coaster is an incredible feat of engineering, too, even if the solo and backing music is bland and tedious.

Fittingly, the band finished with Home Sweet Home, and Vince actually remembered the lyrics. In one brief moment, the Crue reached something approaching sentiment. For many this was a sad day for rock n roll, seeing one of the 80s defining bands finally throw in the towel. The band talked at ends in the lead up to the ‘final tour’ about finishing ‘on top’, but it’s clear from tonight’s display they hadn’t been on top for a long, long time. Perhaps they did retire 15 years too late – arguably longer – but their legacy will live on. The tired bones of rock’s baddest band can finally be laid to rest. Motley fucking Crue.

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Live: Blacksmith at Spectrum – Hard Rock Lives! (4/7/14)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that hard rock is dead. It is a genre that survives almost entirely on the continued success of its elder statesmen. Slash is putting out a new album this year, and last year saw the release of Black Star Rider’s (ex-Thin Lizzy) fantastic All Hell Breaks Loose, but looking for younger hard rock bands worth talking about is a tough job. Those that have found mainstream success in the new millennium are more indebted to garage rock and psychedelia than the guitar heroism of Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi. A small glimmer of hope for the future can be found in the sleaze-soaked glory of Black Stone Cherry, The Answer, Rattlesnake, and now Blacksmith. Based in Sydney, Blacksmith employ blistering fretwork and soaring vocal acrobatics not seen since the heyday of Guns N’ Roses. Tonight, the small crowd gathered at Spectrum were treated to a short, powerful burst of great hard rock. With a little more practice and on-stage flare, they might just make a name for themselves.

Blacksmith’s modus operandi became abundantly clear with set opener, ‘Elysium Planes’, paving the way for a monstrous cover of Rolling Stones’ favourite ‘Brown Sugar’. The Stones have often flirted with hard rock, and Blacksmith took this tendency to its logical conclusion, injecting new life into a piece of classic rock history. The band then ploughed through the remainder of their set with originals both old and new, proving they need not rely on covers to put on a show. Highlights of the high voltage performance include the Sam Barker-penned ‘Iron Halo’, a HIM flavoured hard rocker punctuated by epic leads channelling New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends Iron Maiden, and ‘Robot Werewolves’, a catchy sci-fi themed romp sounding not all too dissimilar to Perth’s Psychonaut. The best was saved for last, however, as they returned to the stage after an 8-song set to perform an encore of Black Sabbath’s ‘Snowblind’. If you weren’t headbanging up until this point, you definitely were now.

With that, it must be said – Blacksmith are a well oiled unit of practised musicians, but they lack the stage presence to truly engage with the audience. Vocalist Jono Palmer stands meekly at centre stage, sipping wine in between wails, which blunts the edge of his impressive range. Likewise, lead guitarist Felix Short’s technical proficiency is undermined by his rigid stage movements and unwavering focus on the fret board. Self-described ‘assault and battery’, drummer Nick Spellicy proved serviceable if not terribly original, providing a solid grounding for the rapid fire guitar. Rhythm and sometimes lead guitarist Sam Barker and bassist Cameron Cooper were definitely the most entertaining, striking poses, making faces, and providing playful banter throughout the set. Having arrived with modest expectations, I was pleasantly surprised to know that amongst the sea of ill-advised cock rock revival bands populating the scene, there are some genuinely promising newcomers. I’m also partial to any band that gives away free stubby holders.