Metals

Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard and Poison re-enact the ’80s at SoFi Stadium

“Long way from the Sunset Strip,” Nikki Sixx said as he took in his surroundings, and that was certainly true enough: Instead of the Roxy or Gazzarri’s or one of the other sweaty West Hollywood nightclubs in which his band Mötley Crüe made its name, the 63-year-old bassist was peering out at the cavernous expanse of Inglewood’s gleaming SoFi Stadium, where Mötley Crüe touched down Saturday night for a hometown stop on the group’s latest tour.

Yet some things never change.

As he addressed the tens of thousands of fans before him, Sixx was interrupted — or at least he pretended to be — by a young woman near the stage trying to get his attention.

“You want this towel?” he asked her. “This is exactly like the towel I gave your mom in 1987.”

Constancy — and strength in numbers — is the concept behind the so-called Stadium Tour, which packages Mötley Crüe with two fellow survivors of ’80s pop metal, Def Leppard and Poison, as well as Joan Jett, who laid important groundwork in the mid-’70s for all the glammed-up guys to come. (Officially, Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard take turns headlining, though one presumes organizers started with Mötley’s position atop the L.A. date and worked backward from there.)

Individually, these acts would be hard-pressed to fill a space like SoFi or Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, where the months-long road show is set to wrap next week after raking in an average of $5 million a night, according to the trade journal Pollstar. But working together to pack stadiums with their overlapping audiences, the bands offer reassurance that the traditions of yore haven’t died in an era when music’s most visible rock star is Harry Styles.

“Who likes the old s—?” Mötley Crüe’s frontman, Vince Neil, asked not long into the band’s set Saturday. “We’ll do something to help you feel real f—ing old.” That was his cue for the title track from Mötley’s 1981 debut, “Too Fast for Love,” and the huge cheer that went up in the building let you understand that here, at least, age was a badge of honor.

Indeed, there was a proudly unreconstructed quality to Mötley Crüe, which promised to break up after a 2015 farewell tour only to reunite in conjunction with Netflix’s 2019 adaptation of the group’s salacious memoir, “The Dirt.” (The endless Mötley mythologizing continued this year with Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy,” about drummer Tommy Lee’s eventful relationship with Pamela Anderson.)

At SoFi, images of naked women gyrated in silhouette on a video screen behind the band, just like in the good old days; two enormous female-shaped inflatables eventually came to life to complete the horny tableau. At one point, Lee came out from behind his drum kit to share a few rambling thoughts about a nude selfie he posted this month while “drunk as f—,” as he put it, in Bora Bora. “They took ’em down from Instagram, so you guys wanna see my wiener?” he asked — Lee’s setup, it turned out, for a sight gag in which he pulled a small dachshund puppy out of his pants.

Musically, Mötley Crüe — rounded out by the band’s straight man of a guitarist, 71-year-old Mick Mars — was an absolute mess (in a fun way), with squalling riffs over pummeling beats that made Neil’s screeching vocals almost impossible to discern as anything beyond more noise. The set list ran through most of the group’s classics — “Dr. Feelgood,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Kickstart My Heart,” for which the singer donned a Rams jersey — but it didn’t really matter: Each member was cranked so high that you couldn’t tell what song they were playing anyway.

Def Leppard was much tidier as it doled out the polished pop-metal hits that made the English band an early MTV sensation: Though Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant recently made good-natured fun of frontman Joe Elliott’s elaborate vocal-warming routine, the precision with which Elliott hit the high notes in “Love Bites” and “Photograph” was indication that he knows what he’s doing.

Still, technique goes only so far in a live setting, and little about Def Leppard’s highly controlled performance made you ponder the meaning of endurance. This set felt like it could’ve gone down in 1992 or 2012 (or could go down in 2032) — an achievement, for sure, but not a very exciting or emotional one.

The same might’ve been true of Poison except for the endearing fact of frontman Bret Michaels’ deep gratitude to be onstage in a stadium decades after his glory days.

“We’ve been waiting 2½ years for this,” the singer told the crowd, referring to the Stadium Tour’s pandemic-inspired delay from 2020, and his smiling earnestness made you glad to be there to see him wearing a Poison T-shirt with his face on it. (In fact, three out of the band’s four members wore their own merch Saturday.)

Like the other acts at SoFi, Poison stuck to the hits: “Talk Dirty to Me,” “Fallen Angel” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” the last of which Michaels thanked the crowd for making a No. 1 hit. Before the band’s cover of Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” the frontman mentioned — “with zero politics,” he clarified — that he’s the son of a veteran and that he’s glad to live in a country that still guarantees “the freedom of opinion.”

It wasn’t hard to detect his subtext, of course: Rock ’n’ roll — America — has gotten too sensitive about everything. But this was a safe space.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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