Those who get paid to write about rock n' roll tend to focus on artists who are less established, because they always want to see the underdog come out on top (myself included). But what happens when you enjoy enormous success early in your career? You have nowhere to go but down. Once that commercial peak passes, you then become the underdog but writers usually choose to ignore you because they never felt you deserved success in the first place. This is why you see certain artists placed up on a pulpit by most of the mainstream rock press and why you'll never see Rolling Stone write an article on Poison. What they don't realize is that acts like Poison still feel like they have something to prove and this was devastatingly evident to me during their most recent Chicago performance. The excitement within the crowd was palpable and the second the lights went off, the darkness cued the crowd into hysteria. As the band segued into their opening intro, the screams and shrieks became more zealous. All eyes were focused front and center where from beneath the stage, Poison lead singer Bret Michaels rose from a veiled door in true rock star fashion; from this moment until the final crashing and surreal pyrotechnic blast nearly ninety-minutes later Bret, guitarist CC Deville, bassist Bobby Dall and drummer Rikki Rocket plowed through the show like hemi-powered drones on a highway. The band's core mantra has always been about having (ok shoot me, I'm going to use the ultimate clichÃ©) "nothing but a good time". This is a band that relishes their place in the annals of rock n' roll and do not apologize for it. They still are the ultimate party animals, but this time around they delivered a show that was focused, intense, triumphant and that dripped, soaked and oozed with raw sexual energy. It was flat out the best I have ever seen Poison in concert.
Poison is riding a wave of creative revitalization led by singer Bret Michael's new reality series, "Rock of Love". We all have our own opinions about reality television, but ironically, this recent media attention appears to have reinvigorated the band. Many who paid to see this show came for an evening of escapism and exuberance and left seeing so much more. Poison came, saw and rocked the crowd as if they were unleashing inner demons. Poison has toured the amphitheater circuit eight of the last nine years and somehow they appear to defy odds by continuing to fill seats year after year. People may mock them, but Poison takes themselves seriously, which is the key to their continued success.
The show opened with cries of glee, flashes of pyro and all out insanity as the band ripped through "Look What the Cat Dragged In", "I Want Action" and "Ride the Wind" each delivering sonic fireworks. While the performances featured largely faithful renditions, the band added little touches to some of them including a small guitar instrumental by Bret and CC before the seminal and sweet "I Won't Forget You" and some nice harp playing by Bret before "Your Mama Don't Dance". It was eerily similar to the more extended jams the current incarnation of Guns N' Roses are performing. These little moments speak volumes. They are usually unexpected and off the cuff, but it gives us a genuine thrill and is a testament to how scarily good this band can be when they apply themselves.
This tour finds them in support of a new covers album, 'Poison'd', the band's pledge of allegiance to those rockers they love and admire. Three of the songs were performed; "What I Like About You" (The Romantics), "Can't You See" (Marshall Trucker) and "I Need To Know" (Tom Petty). Surprisingly they work incredibly well within the context of the concert. My only quibble is that with an album full of covers; why not rotate different songs each night giving the show in each city its own unique imprint? These performances are by no means definitive, but what's imperative during a concert performance is that the spirit of the song is captured; Poison encapsulated not just the aura but the essence of these songs as well. The only advice I'd give Poison is I firmly feel they should tour theaters behind this album this coming fall, without an opener showcasing the majority of the album. I'm sure many fans would love to see this band tear through a two-hour show which encompassed covers and rare songs alongside an extended greatest hits encore.
The 2007 model of Poison is lean, mean and dare I say it, in the preeminent musical shape of their careers. This isn't a tongue-in-cheek tease, but an earnest viewpoint of a band that has never been taken seriously by the mainstream press. Just because those who get paid to write about music choose to not write about them, doesn't mean that Poison doesn't make an impact. Over the years Poison's concert have always fun, with a large emphasis on the word "fun". No one, including Poison themselves, would ever say they are the most technically proficient musicians. Despite their musical limitations, they have always hit the concert stage with an energy few acts can touch. On the nights when their playing was a mess musically, they managed to make it a glorious mess. However, this time around Poison is performing with pinpoint precision; something I never thought would be possible. It may be CC Deville's sobriety, it may be the feeling they are relevant again and maybe they've just matured like a fine wine. Regardless, if you buy a ticket to see Poison this summer, you will see them at their zenith as they have never performed with more vitality or aptitude than they are right now. It does not matter that the show consists of the usual suspect mega-hits, ("Unskinny Bop", "Nothing But A Good Time", "Talk Dirty To Me", "Something To Believe In", "Every Rose Has It's Thorn", "Fallen Angel"), because each and every song performed showcased a drive and hunger I have never seen from this band before. The band was secure, confident and refined in their craft. Every minute of this show was divinely delicious and not in a guilty-pleasure fashion but in a sweaty sexual way, it's as if these songs become part of you and drop from your pores. The theatrics of this show are not to be outdone and is easily the band's most theatrical show since their 'Flesh & Blood' tour in 1990/91. I'd even dare say the theatrics are a hybrid of the best KISS and the Rolling Stones shows with video screens with teasing sexual images, a first rate light show, drum risers and more pyro than a Fourth of July festival (one pyrotechnic blast during "Your Mama Don't Dance" was so intense it nearly removed my eye brows). Poison were once hard rock titans and I'm happy to say that a band who was once lost has now been found and has turned their inner desperation and isolation into revelation through the sheer power of determination which ended in a crashing, surreally pyrotechnic rock n' roll finale. There was no inhibition or shame here, just four guys hoping to reclaim their spot in the fans hearts.
The end of the show was an orgy of rupturing fireworks, literally and figuratively. Rarely do you see what most people deem "guilty pleasures" enrapture a crowd so large and varied. There were slews of teenagers here and surprisingly, they sung along with every word. Bret Michaels had the crowd wrapped around his finger with his peek-aboo vibrancy that had most women in the crowd wishing they had tried out for "Rock of Love" and had the men wishing they were him. The last time I saw Poison, I felt they coasted on their past and lacked the knack to ever be a band that matters again. I'm happy to say that this show found the band implausibly fresh with a razzle dazzle attack of the crowd and their material. The cumulative effect of the evening could be felt by the joy of the physical and emotional release the crowd had to these sexual, soaking, secular and stirring songs. Am I really waxing poetically about Poison? You bet and as long as they deliver further performances with the same vigor and sincerity, I'll continue to do so.
Anthony Kuzminski can be found at The Screen Door.