MANSFIELD — That Mötley Crüe is still not only around in 2014 but capable of nearly selling out the Xfinity Center on Sunday night has little to do with any lasting merit the group’s music may have had or any special resonance that lets its songs speak across generations. It’s because people liked them in high school. And if the band’s current tour really is its last, then — to paraphrase one of the evening’s opening acts — school’s about to be out forever.
Sunday night, the band looked well overdue for graduation. “Too Fast for Love” seemed too fast for Vince Neil, who galumphed around the stage so clumsily that bassist Nikki Sixx’s profane description of his appeal to girls in his heyday may as well have been about a different frontman entirely. Neil’s vocals didn’t pick up the slack; he paced through “Girls, Girls, Girls” without the lowlife relish found in the recorded version, and he summoned zero strength when he needed it, shanking the entire verse melody of the prom ballad “Without You.”
Then again, drummer Tommy Lee barreled though like a bulldozer, when the song cried out for him to lay back. Whacking his kit at 11 at all times, he offered no shading whatsoever. He gave “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” a shuffle but no swing, and even breakneck metal burners like “Live Wire” called out for a limberness that he couldn’t muster.
But it’s not as though Mötley Crüe was going to start becoming a better band at this stage, and the relentless, simple riff of “Looks That Kill” and burn-rubber drive of “Kickstart My Heart” generated some solid momentum. By the time the concert ended on a satellite stage in the audience with “Home Sweet Home,” Mötley Crüe had blown past the venue’s curfew, something its fans probably knew plenty about in high school.
Armed with a sharp band clearly thrilled to have gotten the gig and determined to work hard and not screw it up, Alice Cooper, who played earlier, was everything Mötley Crüe was not: tough and menacing but funny, and with a nastiness (albeit a theatrical one) that gave the songs a genuine kick. If he wasn’t as spry as his younger self, his showmanship remained, from large-spectacle moments like being transformed into a giant, lumbering Frankenstein’s-monster puppet and later being seemingly guillotined to simply remaining in deranged, sneering character straight through.
The two-guitar blare of the Raskins opened the concert, delivering empty, reactionary hard rock.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.