By MIKE CHAIKEN
The last time I saw Poison, it wasn’t a great moment in the band’s history.
I saw them at Lake Compounce in Bristol in the late 1980s when the park hosted concerts. The glam metal band was coming off some of its biggest hits and the fans were excited to see their favorite band.
But infighting within the ranks took its toll and the band’s performance at the time suffered.
Jet forward to June 14, 2018 at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford, Poison is a little older. The hair-spray lacquered hair is now freed from its confines. The band—Bret Michaels, C.C. Deville, Bobby Dall, and Rikki Rockett—are a little grayer and, as Peter Frampton once sang, there are lines on their faces.
But, Poison may be getting older, but this a revitalized band that in some ways puts their younger selves to shame.
As the band zipped through its greatest hits such as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “Nothing But A Good Time,” “Unskinny Bop,” and more, the band was tighter than I remembered at Compounce or even their live album, 1990’s “Swallow This Live.” The energy crackled through the air. And they clearly were a band excited to still be playing and playing for loyal and excited fans.
All four members—who now appear to be the best of friends again— brought their A-Game musically.
One of the best things about Poison and its peers from the late 1980s is they knew how to play before a crowd. Michaels was the consummate front man with banter that included the audience in the experience. And whenever he stepped out on to the proscenium—and he had a bit of a break from his vocals—he high-fived the fans in front. And, at one moment, he even allowed some of the fans to touch and strum his acoustic guitar.
Poison, simply put, knows how to put on a show with a capital “S.”
It would have been nice for Poison to be able to present some new music to fans. However, I doubt anyone on hand would have traded a song like “Ride the Wind” (in which the band brought out members of the military and first responders to salute their service) for something that they had not committed to memory yet.
Cheap Trick, who appeared immediately before Poison, may have a four decade plus career going but they demonstrated—like the headliners—that they’re not just getting older, they’re getting better.
It probably helps that the veterans of the group—singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, and bassist Tom Petersson – have brought a new generation into the fold with Rick’s son Daxx taking over the drum kit and Robin’s son Robin Taylor Zander stepping in on a second lead guitar. The young bucks definitely brought an energy to the stage that bolstered the long-time members.
Cheap Trick’s vitality also was boosted by their willingness to inject a dose of new material, “Long Time Coming” and “You Got it Going On” from its latest album, “We’re All Alright.” Freed by the confines of having a “hit,” they’re back to doing what they always did best—making great music.
Also, the band, which always has a history of tasty covers, took on the Velvet Underground’s classic “Waiting for the Man,” with Petersson taking over vocals after offering up a solo on his 12 string bass. It was a pleasant surprise—and helped illustrate the band’s edgy roots.
Pop Evil, which opened the evening, clearly took its lead-off role seriously. They stepped onto the stage dead-set on grabbing the audience by the throat and building up the energy to prep the crowd for Cheap trick and ultimately Poison. They may have been openers but they acted like headliners, with lead singer Leigh Kakaty boldly wading into the audience and making his way to the upper tiers of the Xfinity to conclude the band’s all too short set.
I give Poison, Cheap Trick, and Pop Evil at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford four out of four stars.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN