Motley Crue and Poison with special guest, The New York Dolls (the latter not reviewed due to circumstances that can only be described by the first line of Poison's "Look What The Cat Dragged In".)
6:17 p.m., Saturday, July 30th, 2011
"C.C.: A Flying V for 'Victory'"
A palpable anticipation was in the air as the sun began it's slow descent behind the stage in a still bright blue sky as my ex-lead guitarist and I stood point blank, huddled right up front with all the diehard superfans, bikers, cougars, pumas, groupies, rock families with their 12-year-old eye-linered sons, teeny boppers and well over-aged Beavis & Butthead types like ourselves, in the shade of the stage superstructure, awaiting the onslaught of Glam Metal legends, Poison. As I stared at the supergraphics of their second album, Open Up And Say Ahhh!! plastered all over the amps and monitors, suddenly, I could hear a very distinctive and familiar sound -- manic bursts of high speed lead guitar notes from offstage that could only emanate from none other than the great unheralded king of Glam Metal guitar, one Mr. C.C. DeVille. After what seemed like an eternity of soundcheckers double-checking soundcheckers scampering about the stage adjusting this mikestand and that drum head, out onto the stage burst an interloper unpursued by the jumpy gaggle of hipsterized, overly earlobe guaged and goateed versions of Jerry Springer Show-like security wandering about on the stage periphery. This phantom wild man was dressed all in black right down to his Chuck Taylors, holding a spray can and wearing oversized Dior sunglasses with a black bandana over his face. This crazed Rock'n'Roll would-be graffiti artist quickly raised his spray can as he rolled up in front of the drum set and spray painted the name "FRED" in black on one kick drumhead and the word "ROCK" on the other, then, in a flash, tore off his outfit to reveal his true identity -- Rikki Rockett, in a black sleeveless Hammerjack's T-shirt, no less.
At once, Rockett starts to bash out those trademark unmistakeable first drum beats of the opening of "Look What The Cat Dragged In." In kicks the bass line belonging to the one and only Bobby Dahl, who, with his short, almost buzzcut hair, looks more like an insurance salesman, if not for the huge black Fender bass strapped over his shoulder. Then out pops Mr. DeVille, resplendent in a black subtle skull print shirt and two-tone black and gold snakeskin print jeans, donning a purple and orange flamed Flying V. Deville and Dahl jumped around the stage like a couple of Glam Metalized Marionettes as Rikki pounded away, when, lo and behold, their self-imagined Gepetto, the cartoonish, omnipresent cowboy hatted Brett Michaels (is that thing glued on his head?), appears up on a scaffold behind Rikki, above the stacks of amps festooned with rip offs of G'n'R skulls and roses and "Open Up" album cover graphics.
As Michaels sang that classic first line, "Went to bed too late and got up too soon", it felt like it was 1987 all over again. I, as well as the rest of the audience, was ready for action and "I Want Action" was all I wanted to hear next. But, unfortunately, it was not to be, when it all came crashing back to Brett Michaels focus grouped reality with the opening chords of "Ride The Wind." Seriously, "Ride The Wind"? That's really what people want to hear? Or is it just what we were force fed by FM Radio back in the day and therefore, had to settle for, and that's why it was a "hit." Still, there was no denying, these guys were on, particularly man of the hour (well, 1 hour and 15 minutes, to be exact), C.C. and total pro, Bobby, who were cycloning all over the place like dual Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devils.
To be honest, I thought these guys were gonna go through the motions going in but I didn't see any of that -- at least, not from C.C., Bobby and Rikki. It's like they were totally possessed by Rock'n'Roll and they were dead set on taking us with them on their little hell ride. I suppose "Ride The Wind" (I can't believe I'm still only on the second song of their set!) was a nod to the biker crowd. This was Outlaw Jam, after all, though it was a "no colors allowed" event and everyone was checking each other out trying to figure out who was a biker or biker chick, save for the throngs of Metal Kids and Teenyboppers, who I was so happy to see peppered throughout the 12,000+ audience (Glam Metal is alive and well in the Tri-State Area of D.C., Virginia and Maryland!).
Poison then launched into "Something To Believe In," which was way surprisingly more amped up than the studio version. I was by now, really getting obsessed with C.C. who was absolutely killarious! Ripping through his leads and power chords like a speeding banshee, gritting his porcelain perfect set of chompers (Yes, we were so close, that if I lived in L.A., chance are I probably would have been able to guess which dentist was responsible for his incredible cap job). They then cranked it up for two covers -- Grand Funk's "We're An American Band" and "Your Mama Don't Dance" by Loggins and Messina. I still don't get quite who they front load their set with other people's songs and some of their own weaker "hits," when they've got much stronger material in their very own catalog. It comes off like they don't believe in themselves, but it's probably Michaels callin' the shots more so than the boys, I'd be willing to bet. I actually think Michaels is most likely second guessing Poison fans, assuming what will go over the best is the biggest chart-topping hits.
But I believe time changes those song's validity. What they should play are their songs that more closely define THEM and not just lifts from Michael's solo set or wherever he's getting his lack of inspiration. Yeah, I know, I know -- "We're An American Band" is from one of their live albums and "Your Mama Don't Dance" got a lot of play. I can actually see keepin' the latter in the set if they had to, but I think they've got better originals -- basically, anything off the first two albums they don't perform now. They really outta take a clue from their self professed idols, Cheap Trick (and so should Crue who also sights them as a major influence), who never play the same exact set twice, instead choosing to mix it up every night (it may have something to do with talent, hate to say).
Why not play "Cry Tough", a much better song than "Something To Believe In" and "I Want Action?" Don't they realize most of the people in that audience probably saw "I Want Action" a million times on MTV and would die to hear it, as well as "Cry Tough", which kicks off their iconic first album? Even if the audience was only there for Crue, they probably know Poison's debut through and through. Actually, I think they should have performed most of that album and the big ones from their second and called it a day. That would give Crue more of a run for their money on this tour, making Poison a tougher act to follow.
Still, for my money, C.C. ruled the day.
He was ON with a capital "O" and a capital "N!"
In between songs, just off stage, he primped in a Sharper Image titanium framed hand held vanity mirror held by a 300 lb. guy who could have been a stunt double for a younger Mike Tyson. C.C. primped and adjusted his stringy coif as he gazed at himself like he was The King of Glam Metal during his coronation, and to be honest, who could blame him? Obviously, looking at himself between songs was a ritual held over from the glory days, when these guys went through more AquaNet than a Miss America Pageant. But at this exact moment at Outlaw Jam, he WAS The King Of Glam Metal! It's a lesson in unbridled self confidence. Believe it and you are it. Be it. And he was. AND he is! (He even had a second back-up mirror closer to the edge of the stage for last second adjustments).
C.C. pulled on his bangs one final time as he confidently strode back on stage right toward us, blazing through the beginning moments of his big guitar solo, the musical centerpiece of the show, even pausing to crack his knuckles before blazing through a series of runs that would make Zappa, or maybe even Jimmy Page, blush.
After that, the band kicked it into high gear, cranking out "Fallen Angel" and "Unskinny Bop." At that point, Michaels had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Everyone except me, that is. He just makes it so "all about Bret" and in a much more gratuitous way than, say, a Jagger or a Tyler. Michaels actually tries so hard his face turns red and his head actually looks like it's about to explode. He should also rethink his stagecraft. His whole schtick now falls somewhere between Kanye West (the homey, "hands across the water" hand waves) and Garth Brooks (the be-hatted head moves and one too many crowd handshakes), instead of the genre defining moves he mastered during his Glam days.
Michaels is always trying to steal C.C.'s thunder, jumping in front of him and even talking over his leads like an old-time AM Radio DJ. Plus he must have introduced C.C. twenty times during the show, but I'm sorry, C.C. needs no introduction and if you don't know who he is, his guitar can speak for him, thank you very much. So, C.C. just barreled right over him, smiling at the audience with his perfect pearly white porcelain chompers through Michaels' all too transparent bullsh*t. Like I said, we were really close to the stage (a little left of center, toward C.C.'s side, natch) and I made a point of not acknowledging Michaels, solely focusing on C.C.'s fretwork as much as humanly possible with the neon cowboy blocking my view. At one point during "Unskinny Bop", Michaels even popped over, leaning right in front of me and during his line, "What's that?" and pointed right at me. Of course, I just smirked, more resolute in my determination to ignore him and just concentrate on C.C.'s guitar pyrotechnics.
Rikki looked bewildered during his solo, which I found bewildering, but he was actually pretty good, more or less. He was making noises with his kit that sounded like he was playing the melody (if there is one) to "Unskinny Bop", kinda like a jazz drummer would, which was way cool. It was also cool how Rikki's mom (she looked just like him) took pictures of him from just off stage on C.C.'s side. Bobby was fully engaged and firing on all pistons. He came over to where we were standin' and leaned over, looking at all of us gathered there each in the eyes several times, as if to say, "Are you punks Rockin' out enough, or what?"
The show climaxed when they did "Every Rose Has It's Thorn." I gotta say, I felt like I was witnessing Rock'n'Roll history watching these four cats, together for 25 years, playing right before my eyes, one of The Top 5 Power Ballads of All Time (Maybe #2, behind Crue's "Home Sweet Home"), as far as I'm concerned. When C.C. punched into those power chords and played those pretty leads over Michaels' acoustic, I felt like it was one of the biggest Rock'n'Roll moments of my life, as I confess, I've never seen Poison before.
Of course, Michaels had to gild the lilly, when, at the conclusion of the song, he said, "Here's the three most recognizable chords ever played on an acoustic guitar, right here!" and then proceeded to slowly play the last three chords of the song. I guess he was being sarcastic, but, was his comment really necessary? Does the audience really need the play-by-play of the obvious? Sorry, this guy just doesn't get it. Why can't he just realize how great he is without having to tell everybody?
Regardless of Michaels' obvious psychological problems, things got radically better, when he clearly went on autopilot and hopped into the time machine back to his glory days for the rest of the show, and they blew us all away with "Talk Dirty To Me," giving even more credence to my theory that Poison should go even more balls out with their set play list and just play the bulk of their first two records and that's it.
The 12,000+ crowd was screaming for an encore and they got their wish...
One last look in the mirror with a laff and a wink in my direction, swear to God, and off C.C. went, launching into "Nothin' But A Good Time" as the audience roared. After all, wasn't it more than obvious that everyone, band included, knew that a good time was, indeed, had by all.
Note: Motley Crue next...