Contributor Bylle Breaux Stasi and photographer Matt Stasi follow Detroit’s Mötley Crüe tribute band, The Wreking Crüe, during their first visit to the Sunset Strip before their gig at the Whiskey A-Go-Go.
31-July-2016: If ever there was a rocumentary that still needed to be made, it should be on Detroit’s Mötley Crüe tribute band, The Wreking Crüe. Originated by Nikki Sikks on bass (he did not want real names used), the group also consists of lead singer Matt Neil, guitarist Crash Mars, Toby Lee on drums, and Precious and Sharon on backup vocals.
The band was recently invited to Los Angeles to headline the 15th annual CrüeFest, a charity event held at the famous Whiskey a Go Go saluting rock legends while raising money for the Skylar Neil Foundation. Mötley Crüe’s lead singer, Vince Neil, created the event in memory of his late daughter.
Sikks has five kids, a wife in nursing school, and works in the medical field full time. When they received the invitation, they rented a Sprinter van and drove the 2,300 miles in 36 hours. The band spent the early part of the day getting tattoos, visiting Mötley Crüe’s old apartment on Clark St., and trying to pull themselves together from a rough night experiencing the Sunset Strip for their first time. “We saw L.A. Guns at the Whiskey last night and our drummer, Toby, got kicked out for intoxication,” said Sikks.
Later in the day, they were having Lemmys (Jack and Diet Pepsi) at The Rainbow Room, a glam rock haunt of the 80s. Even without their costumes and make-up, the guys resembled the real Mötley Crüe, like a lot.
After several drinks and the “death by cheese” balls, the Wreking Crüe made their way over to the Whiskey. They entered the venue to a mob with more hair than a Beverly Hills salon had gathered for the event. Crüe headed straight up to the green room.
Already on stage was the classic rock-influenced Stonebreed. Shirtless drummer Orion Rainz and lead guitarist Brandon Paul looked stripling next to their band mates, but both played like seasoned legends. Lead singer, Carlos Cruz, requested shots of Jack Daniels to the stage and asked the audience who wanted to do shots with the band. Hands went up in excitement, and the shots were handed out but the band didn’t do any. It was hard not to wonder if the stories about this venue during the Glam Rock days – the drugs, groupies, and fights – were true or just fabricated media like so many pop culture myths.
Blacklist Union was up next, complete with two succubus-looking strippers as if the consistent crotch grabbing from the lead singer wasn’t sexual enough. His voice finally came into full force with their third song, “Mirror, Mirror,” before he brought his nine-year-old son out to sing “Rock and Roll Outlaw” with the band. The boy seemed shy, maybe even a little hesitant, but his voice was incredible.
Heading up to the green room to find the Wreking Crüe takes us past security and through the black painted walls and slate gray carpet of a long stairwell. Such corridors must carry all sorts of history and this night, with all the leather pants, eyeliner, and black nail polish, it was easy to imagine what it must have been like in its glory days.
Originally opened in 1964 and known for almost 30 years as the nation’s mecca for rock music, particularly hair metal bands, everyone from The Doors to Guns N’ Roses owe their early days to this place.
At the top of the stairs is a legendary bathroom. Mötley Crüe bassist, Nikki Sixx, shared with L.A. Weekly in a 2011 interview that he had tied up a girl in the bathroom “and then went to get a bump of blow from Tommy [Lee]” but then forgot about her. Now the infamous, but tiny, space was shared by the eight bands on the bill, and it smelled like it.
“Playing here is the equivalent of a country singer playing The Grand Ole Opry. It just means everything,” Matt Neil shares as he ties a bandana around his head.
Sikks is holding a mannequin head with a black wig attached upside down and dousing it with hairspray. Precious, Sikks’ wife, gets her makeup done by their oldest daughter. Toby is passed out in a corner, and Sikks is excited to show us his handmade costumes, which are highly impressive. “When I’m not working my main job, I’m a building guitar, cabinets, stage props and wardrobe,” says Sikks.
Sikks shows off a pair of female leather pants and explains how he ordered them online and then went to Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft shop to get all the details. “My mother-in-law made the vest out of a pattern we got there. I’m not paying $3,000 for leather clothes.” And there is no reason he should. The band’s wardrobe looked professionally tailored and totally legitimate. When asked him how he learned to sew leather, his responded, “I’m just a bad-ass.”
Lead guitarist, Mars, agreed with a head nod. “With Mötley Crüe, every era was different so my guitar has to look like that guitar from that time.”
When we say we’re fans, we mean it,” says Sikks. His Michigan accent is notable when he speaks.
“Nikki Sixx had some pants they set on fire for one of their shows. I kept trying it but just couldn’t get it to work right,” he said. “I put my kid the pants, and I tried lighter fluid and different stuff, but it just kept flaming up blue. Didn’t look legit.” When asked what was used to protect his son, he told me, “He had leather pants on.” Precious provides assurance that it was all okay.
Westfield Massacre took the stage in a fit of extreme rage, aggression, and distortion. They broke nearly everything on stage and, with their power/death metal sound, it was the only band that didn’t seem to fit the glam rock event, save their lead guitarist with hair to his ass and a guitar that looked like a lightning bolt.
Charismatic lead singer, Tommy Vext, screamed into the microphone demonstrating his broad vocal range. “Underneath my Foreskin” was the name of one of their meaner songs and Vext announced that Lamb of God would be helping them record the studio version.
Back upstairs, the girls were slipping into fishnets. Precious fought to shove her calf into a red leather boot, cursing Sikks about the sizing. An ornery grin spread across his face as he adjusted his wig. It was clear he was no longer in husband mode, and that he had transformed into a rock n’ roll god.
The band was set to play at 12:30 am and had been in their dressing room together for three hours. Cold pizza and empty water bottles were scattered everywhere, but there was a noticeable lack of ancillary alcohol before this event which was important to them. Or, maybe that hangover bit harder than imagined and they were just over it.
L.A. Story, a feel-good rock band only a year old, had taken over the stage and played their set while the band finished prepping for the show.
Back downstairs, it wasn’t surprising to see that only a handful of people left in the audience. The show was now running behind and, at almost 1:00 am, the city was preparing for last call as the Wreking Crüe banner rose behind the drum set. There was a 15-minute delay as the sound guys tried to get Neil’s red microphone working and it seemed as though Crüe had come all the way from Detroit to play for an empty room. What would they think of this place if that were the case?
But then, at about 1:15, Sikks hit the stage with a rebellious grin as the lights came up and the room filled with a sweet guitar riff from Mars. Toby pounded on the drums in true Tommy Lee fashion and once Neil flew onto the stage from the side stairs and screamed his first note, we knew these guys gave no f%$^S about who stuck around. They were here to play for themselves but ironically, Sunset Boulevard heard them, and the Whiskey began to fill back up again.
The front row banged their heads as the smoke machines shot up blue fog and Neil jumped off the speakers. The crowd sang every word with them to “Wild Side,” and they invited the other band members onstage to help them sing “Girls, Girls, Girls.” The stage was filled with more women than you could count before the song ended and the Whiskey had taken on a life of it’s own.
The 25-year-old sign, just stage left that reads “Miller High Life Welcomes Motley Crue: Home Sweet Home,” began to bounce on the wall. “We’re a bunch of dirty mother fuckers from Detroit!” shouted Neil as they began the crowd favorite “Shout at the Devil.”
Neil lowered the long red microphone stand, which he was holding at his pelvis, over the audience so they could sing the first chants into the phallic symbol. It was impossible to believe these were the same sweet men from the Green Room who were excited to be playing the Whiskey. The Wreking Crue seemed like they owned the place and had been playing here forever.
At less than halfway through their set, one of the best we had seen at the Whiskey in a decade, the venue made the decision to only allow one more song. Management was strict about closing at 2:00 am, as laws in West Hollywood, have been rigidly enforced since the early 90s.
Disappointment spread throughout the band and then through the crowd. Neil pondered on what to play for such an early finale and then settled on “Kick Start my Heart,” since the music video was shot just before a live show at The Whiskey in 1989. The band played their hearts out, with Neil using the entire space of the room as his stage, leaving it all out but the crowd wanted more, shouting “Encore!” Though the Whiskey wouldn’t allow it, the Wreking Crue left us all with something we haven’t seen in a long time when it comes to live music in Los Angeles. Establishment.