Motley Crue / March 16, 2009 / New York (Madison Square Garden)

Vince Neil is in fighting form. Mick Mars is looking good. Nikki Sixx is as grounded as his bass. And Tommy Lee is still the most lovable frat boy around.

Welcome to Motley Crue circa 2009, a band whose personal and professional survival remains one of rock's most intriguing stories.

The seemingly indestructible Motley Crue can't avoid getting older, although its members are hardly acting their age. They're giving midlife the finger by getting better onstage and channeling their love of excess via more lights, more volume and more music for your buck.

The Last Vegas, Theory of a Deadman and Hinder supported the Saints of Los Angeles Winter Tour 2009, but none held a candle to the headliner, and not just because Motley got to pull out the big guns with its production. The band was cruising in a comfortable second gear as it neared the wrap of this touring leg and could have satisfied demand for a third go-round if Crue Fest II wasn't on the books to start in July.

The band primarily stuck to the hits. Motley's earlier glam rock days were represented with "Live Wire" and "Too Fast for Love," crowd-pleasers that have lost none of their punk snarl after 26 years. "Kickstart My Heart" launched the show with a cannon bang and Mick Mars' guitar copping a motorcycle roar, followed by "Wild Side," "Shout at the Devil" (with every "shout" punctuated by the whole room throwing their fist in the air) and "Saints of Los Angeles." The backdrop was a coordinated rock'n'roll spectacle of multicolored spotlights, smoke, flying sparks and video footage that ranged from flashing pictures of infamous dictators to bondage footage.

Mars then dropping into a squalling, blues-thumping solo that culminated in the opening chords of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child." His deftness on the fret board is apparent, and his navigation of the stage more free than usual was equally cool, since Mars has been dealing with a crippling spinal condition for decades.

Drummer Lee bounded out from behind his kit after Motley doled out a raucous version of "Jailhouse Rock" to verbally pump up the room, dropping about one F-bomb every 10 seconds, and passed around a bottle of Jagermeister for the room to share instead of hauling out his infamous "Tit E. Cam" and encouraging ladies to pull up their shirts. Maybe the change-up was in deference to playing the revered Madison Square Garden, as bassist Sixx noted that it was "a big deal" for the band to play the venue once again.

After Lee's interlude was appropriately capped with the song "Motherf*cker of the Year," the act slid into snappy, self-deprecating track "White Trash Circus," a no-holds barred biography of "just how f*cking dumb Motley Crue is," according to singer Neil. The band gave a preview of who will join in on the next Crue Fest this summer by bringing the singer from each band on the lineup out to join it on the chorus, with Theory of a Deadman's Tyler Connolly, Drowning Pool's Ryan McCombs, Godsmack's Sully Erna and Charm City Devil's John crowding the stage.

As the Crue plowed through "Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.)," "Looks That Kill" (still one of the greatest riffs in metal), "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Dr. Feelgood," the volume only got louder and the fans more ravenous. It made the comedown to the sole encore of piano-driven "Home Sweet Home" that much harder, but Motley softened the blow with the warm-and-fuzzy finale of dumping white confetti on the room. The paper rained down for half the song in a blizzard thick enough to obscure the view of the stage.

Before vacating the scene, Lee pumped up the room one last time by leading fans in a military-style chant before flinging himself face first atop the piano and laying there for a moment, sprawled like a squashed bug, momentarily stunned by the impact. Motley Crue may be older, but it won't ever grow up. Thank God.

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