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UnRated Magazine Review: Live at Joes, Chicago, IL November, 2004
Band Concert Review
Bret Michaels: Two Sides To Every Story

Bret Michaels: Two Sides To Every Story

Live at Joes, Chicago, IL November, 2004

By Anthony Kuzminski
Photos by Rob Grabowski

Sometimes I wonder if I've wasted all those years For all the things I felt But forgot to say Would you give me one more day -One More Day, 2003

Judging a book by its cover is human nature, plain and simple. It's no wonder that any rock band from the late 80's that wore make-up have virtually no credibility as musicians today. However, something sadly overlooked is despite what people think of the bands from that era, they were talented musicians. These were not boy bands, but musicians who knew how to play instruments, record and write their own songs. One of the greatest casualties of this stereotyping is lead singer of Poison, Bret Michaels. In the early 90's at the height of Poison's popularity he was writing and producing for numerous artists including Stevie Nicks showing there was another side to the sex symbol in leather pants.

In the last decade, Bret has ventured out-dabbling his feet in movies, touring solo and recording new insightful music. Ironically, Poison's last album, "Hollyweird" was a letdown as the signature tunes helped Poison sell 25 million records was absent. Not one song grabbed me on the album. However, judging by the performance I witnessed this past weekend, it looks like Bret is saving the best material for himself.

I walked into Joe's, on Weed Street in Chicago, thinking the show would be fun- nothing more, nothing less. I am happy to say I witnessed an artist whose best music is not in back of him, but quite possibly in front of him. Poison is widely regarded as a joke band, they were fun, rude and in the words of Beavis and Butthead..."Isn't Poison a bunch of chicks". I remember being ten and buying "Look What The Cat Dragged In" where the boys were pimped to the tenth degree, with most people mistaking them for women. Unfortunately, Poison never rebounded from that image. In 1993 they released their most challenging and mature work to date, "Native Tongue" which was rich with blues and folk melodies in which they even inculpated a gospel choir and new hotshot guitarist. The album was released in the midst of the grunge explosion and was immediately dismissed-guilt by association overshadowed it.

Despite all the bad press and a record company blacklist, Poison has endured in ways many of their contemporaries did not. In late 1996, to fill a contract obligation, they released a "Greatest Hits" disc. To date the album has sold close to 2 million copies with virtually no promotion. Every summer since '99 Poison has toured sheds and consistently fills 8,000 to 20,000 nightly. This is nothing to stick your nose up against. I will say that I have seen Poison a number of times since they reunited in '99 and while it's fun, it's far too predictable and the length of the sets leaves a lot of be desired (less than 80 minutes). However, one thing I’ve always taken note of is Bret Michaels’ pure sincerity when speaking to the audience. This was showcased greatly throughout his 70-minute set at Joe’s.

Opening with a rousing “Talk Dirty To Me” he hit the stage running and did not let up. The biggest shock of the evening was during his performances of his new numbers; “Open Road” and the current single, “All I Ever Needed”, riding high on the country charts. These were not just throwaway Poison, tunes but magnificent songs that any artist from any genre could take, and with a little promotion, make into a hit. However, hits and sold out arenas is not what all of this is about, it’s about the manifestation of an artist who after a decade of being overlooked, is finally reemerging and coming into his own. Another new track, “New Breed of American Cowboy” had a nasty, catchy and honky-tonk riff to it that the capacity crowd stomped along to.

Also standing out were the two tunes Bret performed from his 2003 solo album, “Songs of Life”. I’ve been unable to secure a copy of this album, but can tell you that the music from the songs I have heard have come from deep within Bret. Most journalists who look upon Bret see the front man of Poison who made mostly forgettable music, but what I see is an artist who is screaming to be heard. The track “One More Day” is profound and deeply expressive. ”Bittersweet” has a rocking reverberation to it that anyone can love and the emotionally powered “Raine” about his baby daughter is profound, meaningful and poignant. The look on Bret’s face while performing the song was a sight to see. The delivery of the studio track and the live performance go hand in hand, complimenting each other with the same intensity. It’s as powerful as anything he has ever committed to tape.

As the show continued, Bret gave the crowd what they came for performing all of the Poison hits; “Nothing But A Good Time”, “Fallen Angel”, “Unskinny Bop”, "Your Mama Don't Dance", the powerful “Something To Believe In” and my generation’s “Freebird”-“Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. The best of the classics to see live was “I Won’t Forget You” which has not been performed all too often in concert by Poison since 1989, so seeing it was an indulgence. The entire time he was passing free beer throughout the audience, interacting with them and not giving a ‘holier than thou’ attitude many stars give. Bret’s finale was the same as his opener, “Talk Dirty To Me”, which his band nailed. His touring band did sound as good as Poison and were every bit as effective. The only downside was the length of the show. Seeing the newer songs made me crave more. It also would have been nice to see a few old Poison tunes that don’t get performed live with the band. It’s actually startling how many songs Poison created that almost anyone can sing a long to; however, this evening was not about the past but the future.

What I was flabbergasted to see, was an artist maturing in front of my eyes expanding his horizons in ways I never thought imaginable. Bret Michaels is not someone who wants to live on past glories, but a musician who is in touch with who he is and where he is going. Does he care that he was playing to about 15,000 less people than he played to just a few months earlier opening for Kiss? Nope, instead, he gave it his all playing classic Poison tunes and opening my eyes and ears to the real Bret Michaels. Bret has a country album in the can. It will be released later this spring; however, what blew my mind was the quality of the material that was performed. These were no reject Poison songs, but songs that show an artist emerging from the shadow of his hair banging past.

What was clear from Bret’s brief performance is there is more to him than meets the eyes. I felt he had more in common with John Mellencamp than Vince Neil. His talent as a songwriter is undeniable and I can only hope that the rest of the world gets to see it and hear it as well. He puts his flesh and blood into each and everything he does and from what I have heard; his solo work is no different. Bret Michaels is not someone who likes to be categorized into one genre and like other great artists, his multi-faceted musical taste has made him grow into a mature musician who deserves and garners respect. I for one can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds in this ongoing musical story.

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RELATED LINKS:
Bret Michaels Official Web Site