SAN DIEGO — "Crue . . . Crue . . . Crue . . . Crue . . . ."
The intensity of the audience chants as the four members of Motley Crue stood on stage at the end of the rock band's nearly two-hour concert on Sunday at the San Diego Sports Arena seemed far more deeply rooted and emotional than your usual closing salute.
The fans--mostly in their teens or early 20s--appeared to be celebrating not only the group's music, but also its survival.
For years, Motley Crue--a band that came together on the streets of Los Angeles--was one of the most celebrated bad-boy acts in rock.
But the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll life style was so out of control that one much-publicized tragedy and several near misses led the group to decide after its 1987 tour to go "clean and sober."
Though the quartet didn't make references to its new posture on stage Sunday, every one of the more than three dozen fans interviewed in the arena before the show knew--from interviews or word-of-mouth-- about the reformed attitude in the band.
Most seemed pleased by the decision--not so much for the reasons of "giving a good example" that parents would applaud, but for a more practical, rock 'n' roll one.
"I think it's great that they're off drugs and stuff because I enjoy the band and it means we'll still be able to see them," said Kevin Crawford, 16. "Who knows how long they would have been around otherwise?"
Crawford and virtually everyone else questioned said they feel a few teen-agers may be influenced by Motley Crue's actions to stop taking drugs, but they felt that the issue of rock stars' influence over fans is vastly overrated.
"I've been listening to (hard-rock) bands for years and I've never taken drugs," said Rick Stewart, 18. "And I know kids at school who took drugs who never went to concerts. So what's the connection? A rational person makes up his own mind."
Backstage before the concert, Nikki Sixx, the band's bassist, was curious about the fans' reactions. He was worried before the release late last year of the group's latest album, "Dr. Feelgood," of a possible backlash among Motley fans.
"I was very worried that people were going to say we had turned into Pat Boone because we weren't drinking and raising hell," Sixx, 31, said, sitting in an arena office.
"But the reaction to the new album and to the tour has been great. I said to my girlfriend tonight, it's like us and Aerosmith kind of made it hip to be sober. In a way, it's as hip to be sober as it was to be (the decadents) that the Rolling Stones portrayed all those years."
Sunday's concert was Motley Crue's first stop on a "homecoming" Southern California swing, with support band Faster Pussycat, that was scheduled to include stops on Monday and tonight at the Forum in Inglewood and Thursday at the Long Beach Arena.
"It's always sort of a homecoming coming back to (Southern California), but this time is extra special because this is the first time we have done a tour straight," Sixx said, a cup of coffee and a bottle of mineral water on the desk in front of him. "We're having so much more fun and we have so much more energy now.
"I was in pretty good condition for the first show the last time we played the Forum (in 1987), but I stayed up from the first show all the way through the second show, freebasing and shooting drugs.
"So when I was on stage the second night, I was hallucinating. They threw me into the limo after the show and I was devastated when I looked back on that night. I remember thinking, 'Here I played a place that I dreamed about playing since I was a kid and I was such a (fool) that I can't even remember the show.' "
Sixx and the fans should have no trouble remembering Sunday's show.
Motley Crue is not a great rock band, but it has far more personality and old-fashioned sideshow appeal than the herd of lite metal bands that have given the genre such a terrible name over the last two decades--the distressingly calculated and heartless parade of your Bon Jovis (on the somewhat pretentious side) to the Ratts, Cinderellas and Quiet Riots (on the simply drab, posturing side).
Like Aerosmith, Motley Crue is a more entertaining group live now that it is focusing on the music rather than partially hiding behind an image. While the group always benefited from an undercurrent of humor, the band's playing was often wobbly and the themes quite one-dimensional.
Even the new "Dr. Feelgood" is filled with crude and rude songs about male sexual fantasies, a side of the group's music that will still make parents uneasy. But the parents would probably have been more concerned Sunday by what they saw in the audience than on stage.
Motley Crue was joined on stage by two scantily clad female backup stingers, but their theatrical attire was almost timid compared with the ever-so-tight minidresses and plunging blouses worn by hundreds of teen-age girls in the crowd.