Monday, September 26, 2011

Motley Crue live in Melbourne, 2011 (review)

Venue: Rod Laver Arena
Date: 24/09/11

Motley Crue’s The Dirt is one of the most notorious reads in the entire genre of rock biographies, which lead to the LA glam/metal band to be crowned undisputed kings of excess and bad behavior. No surprise then that their live show is equally excessive and totally over-the-top in a way that suits the band’s image, yet at the sacrifice of its ability to perform. This current tour is in celebration of 30 years of sex, drugs, arrests, messed up shit… oh and some rock n’ roll as well for good measure. The tour also boasts that fans are getting Motley Crue’s original line-up of Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee and Vince Neil - as if anybody could name the band member’s occasional replacements in the ‘down-time’, or early ‘90s to mid-00’s hit-free period – but then it is a testament to the ‘Crue that any of them are still talking considering the brutal in-band bitching that’s become as famous as their unhealthy lifestyles.

But Motley Crue are all now in their 50s, and have surely grown into well balanced men with a wealth of experience and know-how, right? Nah, who am I kidding!? The young bushy haired men who proudly sang about Smokin’ In The Boys Room and Girls, Girls, Girls refused to die, if the twenty-foot high expressions on Motley Crue’s craggily faces, peering down at us from the live-feed projection screens are anything to go by. Alas though the band’s aggression and prowess, much like their long-gone youth cannot be sustained for very long following the tremendous first rush of Too Fast For Love.

Despite the 30 years of ‘Crue action, its hard to ignore the feeling that Vince, Nikki and Mick don’t seem particularly comfortable with one another as they shift around the stage swapping mics so that fans can get a good look at each member. In particular, Vince’s attempt to finger Nikki’s bass strings mid-song results in a quick and very awkward retreat by Sixx, who gets a pretty stern glower in return. Meanwhile guitarist Mick Mars, with his frozen expression, begrudgingly joins the other two on a narrow raised platform in a woeful attempt to show solidarity that fails to translate as anything other than forced. The show is only three songs in, and already the seams are unraveling, so what a better way to distract from this fact than by wheeling out a huge mirror-balled grand piano that even Elton John would consider ‘a bit camp’ and getting drummer Tommy Lee to play it under a cool blue spotlight.

Tommy always had the 'extra spicy' curry before a performance.
Now Tommy Lee may be the owner of the most famous penis in rock, but he’s here to prove that there’s more to him than just an over-sized schlong, dammit! Lee makes a big show of prepping for his piano solo - as he would have done at every concert on this tour no doubt – and cue the big ‘80s power-ballad moment that, eh nobody appears to have been waiting for. Home Sweet Home, quite frankly dies mid-way through, as even from up in the bleachers, the audiences boredom is palpable. A rather telling long break follows and the stage lights are cut as the band hurriedly cross off every ballad from the set list and re-emerge with nowt but cock-rock left.

Next up, its stage two of Tommy Lee’s attempt to steal the show with an even more pointless display than his piano fiasco with the mother of all Spinal Tap moments; his kit, which has been mounted at the base of a circular vertical roller-coaster track, begins to edge up and around as he plays the most obviously not-live drum solo of all-time. Lee’s strapped in to his stool, so you know he’s gonna go the full 360 degrees, he does, and the effect is sickening, but not particularly ‘sick’. For about 10 minutes, Lee, after hauling a completely non-plussed fan up to join the ride, continues his rotating drum solo, aided by bursts of flame and showering sparks, but by now my mind is just wandering to things like ‘what happened to the rest of the band’ and ‘the level of insurance they would have to pay incase the ‘lucky’ audience member slips out of the restraints must be astronomical’.

Finally the rest of the band return, and we are in the home stretch of Motely Crue’s 30th anniversary concert, which so far has been every kind of absurd, but served up without a shred of irony. Not much so far has happened to cause any offense or ruffle feathers, but despite the long break off stage, Vince Neil appears to have given just about all he’s got and so he puffs his way through Dr Feelgood, forgetting half the lyrics and walking where he previously would run. The performance only continues to become more and more shambolic after this, and no amount of fire balls, smoke jets, sparks, cannons or revolving drum kits can hide the fact. Nikki Sixx barks into the mic to rouse up the audience as the show concludes – again with no sense of irony - “When we first got together, we knew we needed a singer like Steven Tyler, Robert Plant and Bon Scott… and with Vince Neil, we got all three!”

Even Vince wasn’t entirely convinced of Sixx’s comparison, but in a final act of forced unity, the band embrace and hold one-another’s arms aloft, and remind us how much better we were as an audience than… insert any capital city that isn’t Melbourne. But by then it was all too late for Motley Crue’s fans here at Rod Laver. I’m going out on a big general limb here, but if Australian audiences can be summarised at all, I think it’s safe to say, you just can’t bullshit us. Motley wanted to be loved so badly that they were literally turning on their heads to impress us, but in reality a few more weeks in rehearsals would’ve sufficed. The biggest shocker of all though is, who would have guessed the most notorious hard living, hard drinking, hard shagging band this side of the Rolling Stones damn well fake it?


Monday, September 5, 2011

Ed Kuepper interview: 2011


As guitarist in the Australian punk legends, The Saints, Ed Kuepper played the withdrawn, thoughtful foil to the rumbling brick shithouse that was Chris Bailey. But however uncharacteristic a thing ‘thoughtful’ may be in punk guitarists circles, as co-songwriter, Kuepper is credited as one of the two men who gave birth to punk in Australia in 1976, with a little sulk about being Stranded (so far from home). Despite the blazing debut of I’m Stranded, unlike Bailey, Kuepper had viewed punk as a mere minor bump in the road along which he was traveling, continually searching for something that moved him. Then in 1980, the German-born Queenslander, committed musical sacrilege - combining jazz with punk – in Laughing Clowns, but this hybrid-flaunting band demonstrated Kuepper’s formidable arranging and songwriting prowess, as well as gaining him widespread respect in his birthplace of Bremen.

It was Ed’s move to making solo records in 1985, beginning with Electrical Storm, that drives our conversation today as Kuepper takes stock of this, and 1986 album Rooms Of The Magnificent, through a series of acoustic performances, and planned re-rearrangements of the albums his punk and jazz roots never saw coming.  The two albums, although not strictly his most prolific work, have gained an almost indescribable significance for Kuepper over time, he begins. “It feels like an odd thing for me to be doing right now, but the material seemed to be calling out for my attention. I recently began to see links between the songs on those albums, as well as on Today Wonder (1990), and I want to get to the core of what those connections are, and why I they were suddenly making themselves known to me. All I really know is I couldn’t ignore them any longer… It’s like psychoanalysis I suppose.” A debut solo album, I propose, can be a frightening concept for a man who walked away from such a ‘sure thing’ as The Saints, and the massive overseas fan-base Laughing Clowns earned. Was the common thread one of self-doubt?

“I would say I was rather more relieved.” He laughs. “Both of those bands ended quite poorly in terms of our friendships, and so I had no trepidation about recording on my own, however those first two records were very rushed affairs, which is why they were so raw and now demanding my urgent attention.” Kuepper, motivated by re-visiting his early solo work, is putting together an entirely new album to be released as a follow up, “I’m wondering if the new record will be informed by what I discover in re-working those older songs.” But his search seems to be based on an ideal, rather than any real dissatisfaction with how those records sounded. “I had forgotten quite a lot of those songs until recently when Mark Dawson (Ed’s drummer, 1985-’95 who is involved in the re-workings project) and I began this process, and hearing them again they seemed so mysterious to me. I’m not expecting any great revelations to occur, but it does feel as though a story was being written and somewhere along the way I lost the thread of that, which is what I’m exploring now in order to move it forward.” Since 1985, Ed has written and arranged 20 solo records, often direct and emotionally raw in tone, so untangling the story of his subconscious is certain keep the artist busy for some time yet. One brief but certainly memorable chapter in Kuepper’s story outside of his personal songwriting, was of course the tense musical partnership he shared with Chris Bailey in The Saints. Ed has on occasion reunited with The Saints for tours, but he understands the only rewarding part of his and Bailey’s union was during the band’s formation.

“There was focus, and the kind of fighting between us that was very good for creating music, but not for creating dear friends.” He recalls. “Chris was much happier after I left so he could get on with doing his campy vaudeville act… that’s his thing, but it was never really for me.” The last Saints reunion tour in 2009 coincided with the news that Mick Harvey was leaving The Bad Seeds after 30 years in the service of Mr Cave. As a long-time associate and peer of the band - The Birthday Party’s deceased guitarist, Tracey Pew had briefly joined Laughing Clowns – Ed was approached to step into Harvey’s place. But if his role extends to writing the next album with Cave, he’s unsure. “Oh look, we haven’t discussed those finer details, but I would imagine just being in the studio with the band we would work out the songs as a unit, but being involved as a songwriter is not an issue. I think Nick writes most of the lyrics, and I certainly wouldn’t knock back the chance to write together, but I’m still ‘the new guy’ in a lot of ways, which is nice.” He laughs. “I haven’t been the new anything for a long time!”