Review by Anthony KuzminskiIs there any greater guilty pleasure than listening to hair bands from the '80s? I doubt it. Late in that decade these bands roamed and ruled the rock music scene. It was impossible to not see them on MTV and on a variety of magazine covers every month. Then in 1991, they all sort of disappeared. There were probably numerous reasons for why this happened; the most likely is over saturation. Bands with more style then substance overflowed the market. However, there were a handful of bands that were good and actually had enough substance to make it big. Poison was one of these bands. Poison has made a comeback of kinds. They have toured each summer, fairly successfully, for the last four years, bringing along three different bands with them each year. This year possibly had the strongest lineup of the previous four summers combined.
Photos by Rob Grabowski
On a hot Sunday afternoon, just outside of Chicago, 10,000+ people gathered for a little bit of nostalgia. They pulled out their old concert t-shirts, and the girls found their tightest shorts and tops and came to the show. It began with a sparse crowd as Faster Pussycat took the stage. Upon first sight of them, you would have thought you were at a Marilyn Manson concert. They have taken on a completely Goth-like image, which is a far cry from the sleazy glam look they had in the late '80s. They sounded good and performed a competent 30-minute set that included the hits "Bathroom Wall" and the top forty favorite "House of Pain," which sounded as badass as inyears past. Surprisingly, the audience still felt the vibe and gave them a warm reception.
The next act was Winger. I can't think of a single band from the late '80s who has taken more grief over the years in terms of their musicianship, image and songs. Well, they showed the audience that much of that criticism was unwarranted. They played a very solid 45-minute set, which showed off their talents as a cohesive unit. The hits were here; "Seventeen," "Headed For A Heartbreak," but they also showcased their musical abilities with a number of jams. By the end of their set, just about everyone was out of their seats cheering. I for one was surprised that they sounded as good as they did.
Next up was the showstopper, Cinderella. If you ask me, Cinderella should be headlining and Poison should be opening for them. It's a shame that Cinderella got thrown into the "hair band" category. If for no other reason than the fact that these guys are more than just a great hair band, they are a great rock band. They played a rock-solid 65 minute set including "Coming Home," "Gypsy Road," "Nobody's Fool" and a magnificent version of "Shelter Me." One thing that was apparent during this set is that Tom Keifer is an extraordinarily gifted musician. Throughout the course of his set, he played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a pedal-steel guitar, piano and saxophone. Jon Bon Jovi did not find Tom Keifer in a Philadelphia bar and make his band their opening act on the "Slippery When Wet" tour just because of the way they looked, he picked him because he is extraordinary musician. He may be the best musician to come out of this era from any band. The rest of the band is still intact and very tight as a live unit. Fred Coury and Eric Brittingham give the rhythm while Jeff LaBar showed off his own flashy guitar licks. A number of people were commenting after they left the stage about how good they were and that they should put out new material ASAP. This is a band that if they can complete another record, could possibly make a very strong comeback.
Following Cinderella's blistering set Poison had big shoes to fill. While I feel that Cinderella is a far more accomplished group musically, you have to give credit where credit is due. Poison didn't steal their thunder, but rather improved on it. They arrived on stage to a large amount mayhem and exhilaration. "Look What The Cat Dragged In" opened the show while they quickly moved through hit after hit including "Talk Dirty To Me," "Ride The Wind," "Fallen Angel" and many more. Just about every song was filled with pyrotechnics which lightened the amphitheater as ten thousand plus people cheered to the numbers, which to those there, will never grow old. Poison is a much better band than anyone has ever given them credit for. Sure, they may not have written the most socially conscious songs ever, but they were pure rock 'n' roll. If you give a copy of their Greatest Hits album to anyone, they can most likely sing to you 3 or 4 songs from it, without even listening to the disc. They never took themselves that seriously and still don't. Their music is rooted in pure exuberance and to the roaring Chicago crowd, nothing else mattered.
Despite the fact that Poison still manages to put on a fun show, I also felt that their act is, well, getting a little old. Hey, I had a good time and so did everyone else, but at some point, you've got to move forward and strive to make new music. They have now been touring four summers in a row doing a 70-minute set that is almost identical each year. They do throw in a few old songs here and there for the old fans, but most of the set is played exactly the same way it has been every summer. To most people's surprise, Poison does have a new album, Hollyweird. They played two songs from the album ("Squeezebox" and "Emperor's New Clothes"). However, they had such little impact on the audience that I doubt that anyone would actually go out and buy the album after this concert. This brings up a good question: Why don't they play a 100-minute set? This way they can continue to play the set they are now playing with another 3 or 4 new songs and even a few more classic Poison songs to boot. In the process they would also give the new album exposure, something they are not getting from any other outlet.
While all four bands played solid sets and proved that these guys are actually capable musicians (anyone who can learn how to play an instrument should be given their dues), there was something that was overwhelming about the whole experience - nostalgia. There is nothing wrong with it, however, I get the feeling that each one of these bands would love to move forward and possibly prove everyone wrong, that they can still be relevant. However, the lack of new material from Cinderella brings that into question. Even more mysterious is that Poison has recorded 18 new songs since 2000; why not play them? Granted, I don't feel that all of them are great, but they have recorded a number of really good songs like "Strange," "The Last Song," "Shooting Star" and "Wishful Thinkin'." These are songs that I feel would be welcomed by the older fans. Many of these people will never hear these songs any way other than live.
I just can't see people forking over money every year for the same show. Don't get me wrong, $26 for four bands, pyrotechnics and the chance to see a bunch of women dressed in next to nothing is a great deal. However, do you think the Stones could charge $300 for tickets if they toured every year? I got the feeling that I was at a high school graduation party while at this show. When you graduate, it is an exciting time, you have completed one piece of the puzzle we call life. There is an excitement about what lies ahead; the possibilities are endless. But what happens when you throw a graduation party every year? At some point people will stop bringing you presents because you don't deserve them. The next time they will grace you with gifts is at your next milestone, which involves moving forward with life. Each one of these bands proved that they do have the talent and ability to have 10,000 people show up for their show - demonstrating that there is an audience for this music. Maybe next year, however, instead of bringing 4 bands out on tour, how about bringing only 2 or 3 and increase the length of their sets to include new material? Who knows what will happen, but Poison will need to change their set at some point because they graduated high school quite some time ago.
In a time when ticket prices and service fees are soaring, the chances of people skipping the Poison show next year are good. Not because they are a bad live band, but because these people may choose to see Aerosmith, Bon Jovi or Metallica on tour who will be plugging their new albums. Instead of watching life from the rearview mirror, these bands are going to have to get in that car, start the engine and head down a new road.
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