Vince Neil’s Tampa concert was good reason to be excited for the Mötley Crüe reunion

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In terms of stadium tours, an hour-long performance may have been rambunctious in the ‘60s, when The Beatles were still touring, but these days, many music fans just see that idea as sad.

Mötley Crüe leader Vince Neil defied that viewpoint last Thursday night at Tampa’s newish Hard Rock Event Center. Warming up for the hair metal hero’s highly anticipated 2022 reunion tour—which will feature support from Def Leppard, Poison, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, isn’t the worst idea in the world—especially considering recent footage of Vince’s performances, featuring what seemed like an ailing voice.

Vince is now 60 years old, and because of COVID-19 bringing everybody off the road last year, he hasn’t played in what feels like forever. Of course his voice was ailing when he came back. But once settled in Tampa Bay, it felt like those headliner videos of him losing his voice onstage earlier this year had evolved into distant memories of a bad night.

Opening the sold-out show was the current iteration of glam rock quintet Great White. Original lead singer Jack Russell has been out of the group for 10 years now, and the only 100% original member onstage Thursday was guitarist Mark Kendall, donning a Keith Richards For President t-shirt. Mitch Malloy—Great White’s lead vocalist since 2018—gave off vibes based on Robert Plant in his hair and style, and Foreigner’s Kelly Hansen, in terms of energy levels. Great White isn’t the same without Jack Russell up front—just as Foreigner isn’t the same without Lou Gramm. But Malloy managed to bring a new kind of energy that might not have fully been there in the band’s heyday.

Being the opening act, Great White only played for about 45 minutes, and yet still didn’t fail to warm Tampa up for the hair metal icon. “Big Time” was checked off on the setlist only four songs in, and on “Mista Bone,” Malloy and Kendall composed an opening that included a harmonica section, and a Joe Walsh-esque guitar passage. Semi-original keyboardist Michael Lardie took on a harmonica section himself while opening “Rock Me,” and closing up the brief, yet beautifully deafening set was “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” (naturally). “How was that?!” Malloy asked at the end of “Rock Me.”

For a band that played a full-fledged, precaution-free concert in the middle of a worldwide pandemic last July, it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.

At 9:20 p.m., the ballroom-style theater lights dimmed once again, the smoke machines went for launch, and in true Green Day form, the legendary frontman and his band did not enter the stage until AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” finished playing and there were no more refrains for the sold-out group of aging and emerging metalheads to sing.

The three-piece band and Vince, sporting an olive green sleeveless jacket, and forearm-length fingerless leather gloves, walked onto the purple-lit stage, and launched right into “Dr. Feelgood.”

“You motherfuckers came back!,” he called out, adding that the show was the first sold-out affair at the Hard Rock since COVID-19 took over. Much to the pleasure of most, the 11-song setlist would not contain any of Vince’s solo material, and would instead focus on the incredible mark that Mötley Crüe etched into music history, and pop culture in general.

Despite getting the crowd to pump its fists while repeating the refrain on “Shout At The Devil,” Vince’s first moment to truly shine was four songs in, during “Home Sweet Home.” Though some of those high notes couldn’t be hit anymore, Vince had exemplary assistance from his three-piece backing band, among one of the most energetic backup bands I’ve ever seen. Half of the members of slightly-lesser-known hair metal band Slaughter are with Vince now, as well as aggressive-as-all-hell drummer Zoltan Chaney, who literally jumped off amps, tirelessly drummed while standing up, and could honestly be a frontman on his own—all while on an elevated kit. 

On “Don’t Go Away,” Vince picked up a black acoustic guitar for the first and only time all evening—probably as something extra for him to do. You could hear it during the song, but it was understandably overshadowed by guitarist Jeff Blando. After the obligatory singalong of “Smokin’ In The Boys Room,” Vince left his trio alone onstage to do its thing while he grabbed some water, rested, etc.

“We got any Led Zeppelin fans here tonight?” Blando asked the crowd. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

“Whole Lotta Love” and Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” were presented, with Blando taking on lead vocals for both. Truthfully, if Vince’s band went on tour by itself, they would do incredibly well for themselves. Rock trios are pretty hard to come by these days, so seeing these guys do things the way that Rush and Cream both did was pretty remarkable.

Before closing up the hour-long set with “Wild Side,” Vince returned to the stage during “Kickstart My Heart,” followed by “Girls, Girls, Girls.” On the latter, he couldn’t sing the moderately challenging refrain without aid from Dana and Jeff. Even so, the Sixx-free rendition sounded like anything but a depressing way to remember the hairspray-reeking glory days. And hey, at the very least, the last note he sang on “Wild Side” was a non-cringeworthy high one.

If you read the news every few years, you can see that the rock and roll bad boy persona has not left Vince. Whether that’s a good thing or not, there’s no denying that he, along with Nikki, Mick, and Tommy, provided a generation with music that will go down in history as unmistakable.

Will he excel on the Motley Crue reunion tour next year? For now, let’s just keep the faith.—Josh Bradley

| Photos by Josh Bradley