As the iconic ’80s glam band Motley Crue said in its song “Kickstart My Heart”: “When we started this band, all we needed, needed was a laugh.”
Years gone by, and the Crue is still going. The boys will be back in Burgettstown as part of their farewell tour Aug. 13.
But tonight, we have the girls. And it’s still fun.
Girls Girls Girls — the all-female Motley Crue tribute band out of New York — returns to Pittsburgh tonight for a show at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, playing all the hard-hitting, hedonistic heavy metal the Crue made famous.
You might want to adjust your beer goggles when you first see them on stage. Frontwoman Vixen Neil screaming out the fierce vocals, Mercedes Mars shredding a guitar, Lucky Sixx pounding on the bass, and Tawny Lee tearing up the drums — the sound is dead on. And with their big hair, black leather thigh-high boots, ripped shirts and chains, the look is … disturbingly hypnotic.
The band was founded in 2007 by original bassist Patricia “Nikita Sixx” Nilsen, who still is involved in the group’s management.
“The drummer, Tawny, and Patty met at a ladies rock camp,” said Mercedes. “Neither one had ever touched the instrument in their life. Tawny was a piano player but had never touched a drumstick. Nikita had never touched a bass. But Patty had this dream of starting an all-girl Motley Crue.”
Mercedes, a native New Yorker, had been in a punk band called the Stimulators and was doing some recording with other artists.
“But nothing was getting any traction,” she said. “I saw an ad that Girls Girls Girls had put out, and they were all done up like Motley Crue with chains and spikes and big hair, and I was like, ‘Oh, these girls look great! I’ve got to give them a call.’ And that’s how I got in the band. Then we found Vixen, the singer, through MySpace. She’s from the Midwest and had been in a ska band and had singing experience.
“We started playing in 2007, and the band took off like a rocket from our first show. When we began doing this, there really weren’t a lot of tribute bands, and certainly very few women tribute bands. So we were a little more of a novelty then. But there was a great response to what we were doing, which has very much to do with the music, but the characters that are in this band as well. It really was just great, fun rock. I’m sure that happens a lot at clubs anyhow, but for some reason we really did grab people’s attention. We started getting a lot of show offers.”
But in 2009, Ms. Nilsen had her second child and the band went on hiatus, leaving its members to explore other ventures.
A 2012 reunion show, however, proved to be too much fun to put the project back on the shelf, and Lucky Sixx was brought in on bass.
“It’s rock metal punk,” Mercedes said. “But we do it our way. We keep true to the song in spirit and in feel and in heart, but every so often we will put our own spin on it. And I think that’s what makes it interesting because it’s not just by rote. It’s got to have an original love thing going on when you’re doing it. It’s fun and everybody comes to have a great time. They dress up. You know, it’s a party.
“We have managed to make a name for ourselves and people definitely come to the shows. We really don’t go on big tours. We do weekends trips, maybe three or five days. We probably could be on the road, but it’s not our intention. Those bands that go on the road, they’re selling something, they’re promoting an album. We’re not selling that. We’re a tribute band. We’re selling a live show. So we don’t have to be out there driving around for months at a time trying to move T-shirts and records.”
The all-girl thing may have started out as a gimmick, but their serious approach to the music — and the show — has set them apart from other tribute bands.
“When people come see musicians, there’s a barometer,” Mercedes said. “They’re like, ‘Hey, that person can really play.’ And if you’re doing it well, they respect that because they know that music and if you’re doing it the right way, the way they want to hear it, it’s much appreciated. It’s much harder to start some original product. It’s tough to get it out there.
“That could be one reason so many people are doing tribute bands, because they figure it’s an easier gateway. And fans love it. They’re bowing, freaking out. We have never not been accepted by the die-hard Crue fans we meet in every city we play in. These people who have been following them since the early ’80s are like, ‘God, this is fantastic!’ Because we’re not afraid to do it our way. Even though it’s within that band’s structure, we’re not trying to be them. That authenticity carries this project a long way. We’re doing it because we love it and it’s great music.”
And even though they’re playing another group’s music, there’s still something in it for them.
“This is a big outlet for our creativity,” she said. “There’s a lot of texture. This still takes work. Even though we know it, to make it great as you possibly can, you’re always working at it. We don’t just bang out 20 songs, ‘Here you go, we’re done.’ We don’t do it that way. We really treat it with respect.”
OK, so the fans love it. But what about the original artists?
“I don’t know what original bands think of their tribute bands. Maybe they like them, maybe they’re resentful,” Mercedes said. “I don’t know, I’ve never talked to one of those artists. But I do think that tribute bands keep the music out there and keep people interested in it.”
You can experience it tonight at Jergel’s, 103 Slade Lane (or 285 Northgate Drive on your GPS) in Warrendale. Doors open at 6 and the show starts at 8. Tickets are $22.
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org.