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The Night Motley Crue Played Their First Concert

Chris Walter, Getty Images
Chris Walter, Getty Images

When Motley Crue ended their historic career on Dec. 31, 2015, the band were in a far different place than they were when they played their very first concert.

The date: Friday, April 24, 1981. The location: West Hollywood club the Starwood Hotel. The gig: two sets opening for hard rockers Y&T. Motley Crue only landed the gig because bassist Nikki Sixx worked at the venue and had begged his boss to give his nascent band the slot.

In Motley Crue’s autobiography, The Dirt, frontman Vince Neil noted the band hadn’t actually played a complete show in rehearsal at the time of their debut. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he recalls that the first set of the Starwood concert was chaotic from note one.

“People were yelling ‘F— you!’ and flipping us the bird” during the kickoff song, “Take Me to the Top,” he wrote. “Then one meathead, in a black AC/DC shirt, hocked a loogey that landed on my white leather pants. Without even thinking, I leapt off the stage mid-phrase and put him in a headlock and started pummeling him.”

Not to be outdone, Sixx joined the fray. “[He] had his white Thunderbird bass over his head,” Neil continued. “He swung it forward like a circus strength-game mallet and cracked it over some guy’s shoulder blade. If there was a bell on the guys’ head, it would have gone through the roof.”

In between the aggression, Motley Crue played some tunes: According to a late-2015 L.A. Weekly story, songs performed that night included the future single “Stick to Your Guns” and originals “Why You’re Killing Yourself?” and “Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Lonely,” as well as covers of the Raspberries’ “Tonight” and the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” As Neil put it in The Dirt, “We were so loose that I couldn’t tell where one song ended and the next began. But we looked good and fought even better.”

Yet not everyone knew what to make of the band members and their outrageous stage wear, sky-high hair and glam-tinged hard rock approach. “[I was] sitting in the balcony overlooking the stage and watching a few songs, going, ‘These guys are crap,'” Y&T frontman Dave Meniketti apparently once told a radio station. “And I ate those words a million times over.” But to fans at the packed venue — Meniketti told the L.A. Weekly he thought there were “maybe 600 people there” — Motley Crue was a revelation.

“By the end of the second set that night, we had converted most of our enemies into fans,” Neil recalls. “They told their friends, and even more people came to see us the next night. When Y&T came out for their second set on Saturday, half the room had emptied.”

Audience members weren’t the only ones with the sense that Motley Crue were onto something special, however. As Sixx told L.A. Weekly, “I remember walking down the stairs onto the stage and hardly knowing Tommy [Lee] and Vince and Mick [Mars], but at the same time feeling like I’d known them my whole life. Breaking into that first song, I remember just feeling at home.”

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