From the heavy to the heady to the out-of-their-heads, a vast array of acts bombarded rock fans all across the country over the Halloween weekend.
Heavy-metal hit-makers Mötley Crüe celebrated drummer Tommy Lee's release from jail with a sold-out greatest-hits show in New York at Manhattan's Beacon Theater on Devil's Night (Friday), while downtown at the Bowery Ballroom, Cat Power turned in a schizoid but nonetheless satisfying set.
On All Hallow's Eve itself, Garbage played enthusiastically to a much-less-than-full house in Asbury Park, N.J., while in San Francisco, prototypical psychobilly-punks the Cramps let it all hang out before a packed house of fully costumed fans.
The cartoonish cats of Mötley Crüe are unleashing their patented heavy-metal mayhem in theaters dwarfed by their arena-rock approach, as they promote their new Greatest Hits package.
As the opening riffs of "Dr. Feelgood" riveted the Beacon crowd, a shiny girder of lights flashed onstage, cutting through the plumes of smoke.
"Rock 'n' f---ing roll," singer Vince Neil screamed. "Yeah!" the fans roared back, raising their arms to flash the devil sign.
"Girls, Girls, Girls" (RealAudio excerpt), the band's 1987 homage to the country's finest strip clubs, came next. The crowd of mid-30s men, aging metal-chicks and young, new fans sang along to every word.
"Wildside," "Primal Scream," "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),"
"Kickstart My Heart" and "Shout at the Devil" garnered similar
responses. Mötley Crüe performed each to a T -- their
playing was extremely tight, and Neil's vocals haven't lost a bit of
Songs such as "Shout at the Devil" and "Looks That Kill" sadly dated
the band. Its newest singles, "Bitter Pill" and "Enslaved" -- a blatant
rip-off of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" -- received the
evening's coldest responses other than that afforded Lee, freshly freed
from jail for assaulting his wife, actress Pamela Anderson Lee. He
nonetheless thanked the crowd for its support.
The band encored with its earliest single, "Too Fast For Love," and Brownsville Station's "Smokin' in the Boys' Room."
Downtown, meanwhile, Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, spent most of her show at the Bowery Ballroom in her own little world, hiding behind her hair, Cousin Itt-style, and battling technical troubles.
She began with a fine version of "Moonshiner," a traditional song from her latest album, Moon Pix. But the following number, "American Flag," was nearly drowned out by Marc Moore's too-loud guitar. Then, after two abortive attempts at "Say," Marshall stopped the show because her guitar broke.
After a lengthy pause in which she discussed the problem on-mic with Moore, Marshall borrowed his ax. Once back in the swing of things, Moore excelled on "Rockets," a song from 1994's Dear Sir EP.
"What Would the Community Think," "Cross Bones Style" and "He Turns Down," were all stirring, but "Colors and the Kids," which on Moon Pix is a profoundly moving piano/vocal ballad, lost nearly all of its power as a rock song.
Typical for a fairly schizophrenic show, Marshall followed with a
splendidly tender rendition of "You May Know Him."
Karin Bolender, 24, of Staatsburg, N.Y., said Marshall's quirks were charming, not distracting, and described the performance as "piercing, painful and viscerally beautiful."
The next night, across the river in New Jersey, Garbage played to a barely half-full house at Asbury Park's Paramount Theatre.
But with a mesmerizing array of lights and strobes and the electronic pulse of their mood-drenched music, singer Shirley Manson and the band turned the near-empty theater into an intimate, one-on-one sound session: Drummer Butch Vig, Manson and guitarist Duke Erikson led the flow, and the scant crowd responded enthusiastically.
Garbage's charge began with a resounding version of "Temptation Waits,"
the lead track from the band's latest album, Version 2.0. Manson
managed to clip a line from New Order's "Temptation" into the song,
crawling creepily and whispering to the crowd below.
"Vow" bounced into the theater, with its crashing, guitar-heavy chorus
and a buzzing electronic effect slicing through Manson's vocals. "Only
Happy When It Rains" poured from the PA system, with its swirling,
string-laden chorus and Manson's delectable squeak.
Vig and Erikson also played reworks of "Queer," "Stupid Girl" and
Garbage's best-known hit, "No. 1 Crush." The haunting track, featured
in the film "Romeo and Juliet", cut Manson's sexy vocals into
Vig's effects-heavy percussion and marked the show's finest moment.
On the West Coast, as the clock approached midnight, psychobilly-punkers the Cramps sent the holiday off in high style at their annual San Francisco Halloween show.
The atmosphere in the ornate old Warfield Theater was suitably surreal, and the sold-out crowd was dressed to the nines, or beyond. Monsters, aliens and guys with massive head wounds mingled in the lobby with vampire hookers, superheroes and assorted freaks.
On the darkened stage, the Bomboras, the opening act, ripped through their set of swingy surf-goth dressed in glow-in-the-dark skeleton costumes; their set concluded with the drums, keyboards and bass guitar all aflame.
Then came the Cramps, who ripped right into the heart of the matter as they tore with loud abandon into the ghoulish punk-blues hybrid they've been mastering for the last 20 years or so.
"Welcome to normal night," Lux Interior, the Elvis-meets-Frankenstein-at-the-daycare-center singer greeted the crowd, beaming down at it with his maniacal smile.
The Cramps seemed to be in a playful, spontaneous mood. Their set was a generous mix of crazy covers, old tunes everyone wanted to hear ("Garbage Man," "TV Set") and some choice picks from this year's release, Big Beat From Badsville.
Lux jumped, screamed, rolled on the stage, spanked his own a-- and grabbed his crotch. He twisted the mic stand. He climbed the monitors, he climbed the drum kit, he crawled to lick the gorgeous-yet-distant, Gretsch-playing guitarist Poison Ivy's stiletto boot, all the while belting out tunes like "Ultra Twist" and "It Thing Hard-On."
The band played a raucous, crowd-pleasing, 90-minute set, coming back to encore with an extended version of "Surfin Bird." Never one to leave a crowd wanting more, Lux scaled the speakers piled on the side of the stage to crawl into the balcony with a blow-up doll thrown from the audience tied around his neck.
He violated the doll a few different ways, to the crowd's screams of approval, then made his way back to the stage on his hands and knees where he served the inflatable up for Ivy to finish off with one of her stiletto heels.
But that wasn't enough. Climbing up the stacks one last time, as the band roared through even more feedback, Lux smashed a wine bottle against the speaker and used a shard of glass to slice his vinyl pants. Off.
Naked from the waist down, with blood streaming down his legs, he stood above the crowd (half of them cheering, half of them slack-jawed), arms in the air, finally looking satisfied. The song crashed to an end, the stage went dark, the show was over.
Trick, or treat?