You got to...Stand for what you believe
The club is trembling and jam-packed to capacity. The sweat is emanating from my pores like a cracked open fire hydrant on a city street. The only thing hotter than the sold out crowd is Bret Michaels, the front man of Poison, who is on fire. He soars, sways and scours the stage like a man fighting for his life. Im not sure why I would expect any less, nevertheless, his force and magnetism are astonishing. Bret Michaels is a performer who goes out on stage and delivers the goods regardless of the size of the crowd, whether its 20,000 screaming his praises or 1,000 seeking his flesh and blood. He gives 110% of himself each time he hits the concert stage. His skills as a musician and songwriter are greatly underappreciated. Others may ridicule the era Poison came from, but Bret is still out there giving it his all regardless of whether his music is hip or not. So why is it that I walked away from his most recent show at Joes here in Chicago a bit dissatisfied? Maybe because hes promoting a new solo album, Freedom of Sound and yet somehow, aside from New Breed of American Cowboy no other tunes were performed from the album. Here is where I feel Bret falls short of being an vital, pertinent and viable artist.
Dont get me wrong, there were electrifying moments, the entire crowd was drenched in sweat singing and shifting their bodies across the capacity filled Joes nightclub. Talk Dirty To Me, Fallen Angel, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Your Mama Dont Dance, Nothing But A Good Time, Unskinny Bop and other Poison hits were out in full force, however, the nostalgia fest was overshadowed by the lack of new material. In fact only Bittersweet was performed from his previous solo album. Bret has grown immensely by writing meaningful and personal music since his big hair headbanging days, however I doubt the sold out crowd had any indication of this. When I watch Metal Mania on Vh1 Classic, I usually look back in shame at some of the music I listened to growing up. However, when an artist is still out there making compelling music, it makes their past look that much better, like it was the first steps up a ladder towards a career as an artist and not a rock star. Poisons music is escapism at its best, even in todays climate, it holds up amazingly well. However, by constantly performing 80-minute sets Bret is not allowing his new music to be heard. When he went out on a solo tour a few years back he mentioned how it would be in support of his solo album, Songs of Life and to showcase rarely performed Poison songs. Unfortunately, neither of these happened.
Brets prime adversary is the length of the show. At 80-minutes, while its a solid workout, it does not leave room for growth as an artist. One of the preeminent reasons Bruce Springsteen began performing three-hour shows in 1978 (with only four albums to his name) was to perform his new album and still present his classic numbers, which the fans came out to see. What began as an exercise turned into a life-long performing strategy that still works until this very day for Springsteen. It surprises me how few artists have picked up on Springsteens cue to deliver everything they have to the fans by giving them more bang for their buck. All but one song from Freedom of Sound went unaired during the show. The disc was not for sale either...yet Bret was on stage promoting the disc by wearing a shirt promoting the album (By the way, who wears one of their own shirts when performing on stage)?
The show did have its highlights as fists flew in the air and Bret kept superb pace with notable covers of Sweet Home Alabama and Knocking On Heavens Door. These were fresh covers I enjoyed and differ from Brets tour the previous year. The performances of classic Poison tunes were top-notch by his backing band as they were nearly flawless. The biggest highlights were Something To Believe In which was driven acoustically in the absence of a piano and the sing along I Wont Forget You which after the 1989 tour was put into retirement until a few years back. However, even crowd pleasing favorites and covers could not make up for the lack of originality with the set list. Im one of these people who believe there is spirit and soul to Bret Michaels. His last solo album Songs of Life bridged a brilliant balance between fun rock songs (Loaded Gun) and deep serious undertones which had to due with the birth of his daughter (Raine) and even a few songs inspired by 9/11 (One More Day). Here is a true artist desperately wanting to be heard from the world and his peers. Heck, I want him to be heard by his former fans, colleagues and another generation of fans because I believe Bret has something to offer the world. He needs to illustrate what an accomplished singer-songwriter he has evolved into. Im all for not taking yourself too seriously, but as an embryonic artist you should make room for both ends of the spectrum.
There will be those who say Im being too critical and that Bret delivered the hits everyone wanted to hear, however, if you look at the set list, numerous Poison hits were missing; I Want Action, Life Goes On, Ride The Wind, Flesh & Blood, Stand and Until You Suffer Some. On top of that, why not dig into the Poison catalog and play rarely performed numbers from the studio side of Swallow This...Live and everything Poison has recorded post 1993. There are solid and single-worthy tunes on every release (So Tell Me Why, Life Loves A Tragedy, Sexual Thing, Strange, and The Last Song). By not performing them, its almost admittance that the material was sub-par, which I do not believe to be the case. There are surprisingly a number of significant and genuine songs throughout Brets twenty-plus year career and Id like to see people be conscious of and listen to these underappreciated treasures. Call me selfish but I want more bang for my buck, more action...and I want to see Bret get the recognition he so clearly deserves at the same time.
Bret: You are a multi-faceted artist with serious artistic flair and true god-given talent. Its time to perform longer sets and show the world who you really are. At $30 a ticket, the fans should be treated to a set that is at least 120-minutes long which showcase both the old and the new. This way, you will give a performance bridging a balance between the passionate songs of life and to those who have come to have nothing but a good time. You may leave your flesh and blood on the concert stage but sometimes thats not enough. One must challenge their audience in order to move to that next level. Youre overdue for that next level, its time to take a stand.
Express yourself in the face of change
Repress yourself, you surely seal your fate
You got to look inside, the answer lies in wait
Resurrect before it's too late