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Mötley Crüe, Poison, New York Dolls

by Kirsten Ferguson on July 27, 2011

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 23
It’s harder to imagine now, but when Mötley Crüe released their second album, Shout at the Devil, back in 1983, the title track stirred controversy (however misplaced) with its implications of Satan worship. When the ba

nd performed the song at SPAC on Saturday night, four songs into their headlining set, the Crüe hammed up the devil references with hellish red lights flooding the stage, a swirling pentagram on the backdrop, and blasts of flame punctuating every “Shout!” Since their start, the bad boys of heavy metal have outlasted stints in jail and drug rehab, near-death drug overdoses, bad reality television shows and bouts of commercial failure. Their mere survival after 30 years is way more shocking than any satanic imagery could be.

These days, the live Crüe experience is more of a benign traveling circus show, with scantily clad dancers, drummer Tommy Lee’s 360-degree rollercoaster drum rig and tons of loud pyrotechnics (though not at the level of a Kiss show). The crowd loved it all, and it helped that Lee, singer Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars and bassist Nikki Sixx stuck mostly to the hits.

After their ’80s classic “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.),” a nearly naked, sweaty and tattooed Lee hopped aboard a piano for the sing-along ballad “Home Sweet Home.” A song later, Lee’s centerpiece drum solo, which he performed while strapped into the spinning rollercoaster (in a dark, propulsive drum style that one fan derided as “dubstep”), went on about eight minutes too long, culminating in Lee’s rebuffed attempts to get a female fan to ride topless.

Once they returned to doing what they do best—shout-out-loud hits from the ’80s—the rest of the set was back on track with “Too Young to Fall in Love,” “Girls Girls Girls,” and the Brownsville Station cover “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” (kicked off with a snippet of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2”) registering as highlights.

During their 25-year anniversary set, hair-glam-metal band Poison showcased that they, too, have a lot of hits in play after a quarter-century. In front of a backdrop of a grinning skull, entwined by red roses and thorny vines, the opening notes of “Look What the Cat Dragged In” kicked off with an explosion, and singer Bret Michaels levitated onstage from a riser behind the drum kit. Despite his recent well-publicized health travails, Michaels looked fit, sporting a personal-trainer-worthy-physique as he sprinted around the stage during a volley of well-received songs (“Talk Dirty to Me,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “Unskinny Bop”).

Of all the groups on the bill, openers the New York Dolls (celebrating their 40th anniversary!) have been around the longest, and they’re also the band most likely to retain a place in the pantheon of rock greats. Frontman David Johansen still looked the part of a glam-punk prototype, making the most of an onstage fan that blew his hair back in glamorous fashion and lifted up his red shirt, revealing an impossibly thin torso. The Dolls were on tour with a new album (Dancing Backward in High Heels) to support and a lineup that included only two original members (Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain), but they sounded in fine form during an end-of-the-set run through a trio of tunes from their all-time-great self-titled debut album: “Pills,” “Trash” and “Personality Crisis.”