LIVE: Def Leppard / Motley Crue / Steel Panther – Wembley Arena 14/12/11
Seventy two hours on from playing host to X-Factor’s SyCo circus, it’s time for this famous London venue to detox. Or given tonight’s tantalizing trifecta, should that be retox?
Walking down Wembley Way as the masses assemble, tonight’s audience splits conveniently into three clear groups. There’s the Cruettes, hundreds upon hundreds of young teenage girls with Shout at the Devil era war paint and Nikki Sixx haircuts pour out of Wembley Park tube station. Some of them bring boyfriends in similar attire. Some of them are the boyfriends. It’s very hard to tell the difference.
Next there’s the Steel Pantheists; mostly blokes, wielding inflatable guitars and hiding under those generic off-the-peg 80s rock outfits available from gaudy party shops. And finally, there’s the Lepheads – all weathered leathers and weathered faces. It’s tough at the rock-face.
With the first band due on at half-six, a curiously early start is made to feel even sillier when security insist those of us in the main arena spend our pre-gig minutes sat on the floor. Curious, as I was sure the ticket I paid for stated ‘STANDING’.
First out on the prowl are Steel Panther, who show themselves as an inspired choice of opener. A ‘parody’ glam metal band, they ply a distinctly less subtle, cruder brand of humour than legendary rockumentary heroes Spinal Tap, but what they do have is a barrage of infectious, cherry-picked riffs and an ear for a pop-metal chorus. Between song banter forms a fair chunk of the attack, and whilst the comedy doesn’t match up to the musicianship, save for the ‘Garth Algar’ deadpans of bassist Lexxi Foxxx, its bearable and occasionally smirk-inducing.
Questions could be asked of just how funny sexism, misogyny, and swearing really can be, but by turning the baser points of the glam and sleaze years up to eleven, they’ve found a way to bring a diet of Dokken, Ratt and Poison to a whole new generation.
Holding up the mid-card are ‘I say Motley, you say Crue’, or based on tonight’s showing, The Vince Neil Colostomy Explosion. Shortly to embark on a Las Vegas casino residency, the ‘Drug scouts of America’ pack one impressive stage show. A replica London Eye doubles as a creative lighting rig centre stage, humungous video screens spell out the word SIN and there’s enough pyro let off to melt the faces of the first twenty rows. Presumably this is to blind them from the human car wreck that is Vince Neil.
Tonight, Crue’s bulimically-challenged front man is a disaster squawking his way through the early numbers like a chipmunk with intermittent laryngitis. Same Old Situation is murdered, buried, dug up, murdered again, butt-fucked and finally abandoned a few bars short as Neil, with unprecedented gusto, pegs it off stage for the first of many stage breaks.
For the rest of the set it seems clear the band is covering, which is fine – all hail professionalism – but even that feels half-arsed. Nikki Sixx makes a late audition for The Inbetweeners, displaying true dedication to curse words, whilst Mick Mars stretches out the solos. Once or twice the notes are even where they should be. Sections of the crowd eat it up, which proves that whilst you can’t polish a turd, you can vomit up a garnish and serve it as a turd sandwich.
The real crime here is the combined ego to pretend nothing is wrong – Crue as a unit were sloppy, lethargic relying on stunts and theatrics to justify the hefty ticket costs. I genuinely hope this wasn’t the formative gig experience it looked like it could have been for so many in the audience.
The high marks both come courtesy of Tommy Lee, first via a gorgeous, delicate and refreshing Piano introduction to Home Sweet Home and then, in total contrast, tonight’s WTF moment. A giant-hand appears on screen behind the former Mr Anderson and our mini-Millennium Wheel reveals itself as a rollercoaster for Tommy’s entire drum-rig. Lee is sent left, right and twice into a full 360. For the second circle Tommy beckons up an audience member to ride side-saddle. Oh to be at the show where the guest decides to hurl…
Stunt drum kits are clearly not the preserve of fellow stickman Rick Allen. In fact, save for some classy use of the video screens for Leppard, there’s not a fizz, flame or firework in sight. Guess they left their Pyromania back in 1983. Instead what we get is hits – lots of them.
Always a band reluctant to abandon all hope of future sales, wannabe anthem Undefeated opens tonight’s set and C’Mon, C’Mon follows soon after, but those aside we’re given a pre-grunge era fix. Tonight’s show, like so many, sees the band air some rarer tracks – Action, Let It Go, Woman – before hanging almost the entire second half on the double-diamond selling pop-rock monster Hysteria. Its business as usual, a slick, tightly packaged two hours of bright lights and big-production.
Speaking of tight packages, there seems to be some weird Dorian Grey style trickery afoot with Leppard of late. Bassist Rick Savage bounces around stage in PVC strides that would put to shame a man half his age, whilst guitarist Phil Collen provides the dictionary definition of ripped. Be it his abs or his guitar licks, the hometown hero is tonight tighter than a gnat’s chuff.
The Leppard sound might miss the spiky edge of Crue, but that was always a given. Tonight they provide a lesson in professionalism, delivering gang vocals and guitar harmonies precision engineered for soft-rock arena headline sets.
Final Score – Motley Crue 1, Def Leppard 5 (Oh, okay 4 and a half)