Crue Fest / Aug. 23, 2008 / Holmdel, N.J. (PNC Bank Arts Center)
At first glance, Crue Fest's diverse lineup could make you pause.At first glance, Crue Fest's diverse lineup could make you pause.
You have Trapt, a rock band whose edge barely eclipses its pop tunings. You have Papa Roach, a one-time rap-rock band that's stepped away from that lyrical style. You have Buckcherry, a dirty hodgepodge of Guns N' Roses and Aerosmith. The connection between Sixx:A.M. and Motley Crue is easily understood (Nikki Sixx is bassist in both), but their musicality vastly differs.
How do five such bands end up on a tour bill? By being marketed as a rock outing filled with radio hits -- one anchored by a veteran act who guarantees solid ticket numbers. And the plan has worked: Crue Fest's grosses have been respectable.
To sum up the day: Crue Fest was tightly run and highly enjoyable. Five bands in six hours is plenty of music. Trapt was the cleanest-cut talent on the list, Sixx:A.M.'s set was the most inspiring, Papa Roach could have stole the show if it wasn't Crue Fest, Buckcherry's sound got muddled in the deafening mix and Motley Crue matched its pyrotechnic firepower with enough decibels to wake the dead.
Opening band Trapt played to mostly empty seats. To its credit, the act didn't phone it in and its music carried well in an open-air arena. The band performed new single "Who's Going Home With You Tonight?" during its 30 minutes, topping it off with breakthrough hit "Headstrong," which jolted the light crowd to life.
Follow-up Sixx:A.M. was a stronger draw and the trio replicated the chemistry it created on "The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack." Sixx gave his bandmates the spotlight, letting James Michael display his considerable vocal talents while guitarist DJ Ashba proved a flashy, riveting player. After pulling out "Pray for Me," "Intermission" and "Tomorrow" to much delight, set-closer "Life Is Beautiful" wrought a touching moment: Listening to the crowd sing the chorus on a clear summer day, the sentiment could make anyone believe better times lie a head.
Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix took the stage on a mission. He worked the crowd with good-natured determination and nonstop energy. Between walking through the venue singing and draping a thong on his head, he could have been a one-man show. The live setting did ". . . To Be Loved" and "Last Resort" better justice than their studio recordings, yet the soundboard and Buckcherry didn't mesh. The band was tight, but the metal engineering was too overwhelming for its whisky rock, almost rendering first hit "Lit Up" unrecognizable. The group's already proved that it's fully submerged in the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll credo, yet singer Josh Todd made it overbearing with dirty microphone gestures (we already knew the story behind "Too Drunk . . .") and titillating song intros. The crowd lapped it up, but it was like watching a 10-year-old drop the F-bomb just to shock people.
Motley Crue appropriately opened with "Kickstart My Heart," launching it with cannon booms and pyro bursts. The list of hits was sublime: "Shout at the Devil," "Girls, Girls, Girls," "Wild Side," "Dr. Feelgood" and finale "Home Sweet Home." The band fulfilled its reputation as a great live act, heading into song after song with little dawdling. Sixx was more animated now, singer Vince Neil was in constant motion and Tommy Lee kept dead-on timing with his fierce drums. Because of suffering from a degenerative back condition, guitarist Mick Mars was a still, hunched figure in a tall hat, but his hands were flying, ripping through the solos and licks that comprise Motley's most memorable tunes.
Fans had griped on message boards that sets were too short and the Crue's high-voltage production was definitely worth another half-hour. But the rock icons fulfilled their end of the bargain. Sixx took a poll from the stage, on if the crowd wants Crue Fest II and being answered with a resounding yell... so don't be surprised if the second installment rolls out next year.