For many, Poison are synonymous with the worst excesses of 1980s hair metal on the Sunset Strip. The spandex, Aqua Net, strippers and bubble-gum pop tunes framed with a rock & roll swagger — critics claimed that Poison were intellectually empty and entirely derivative. By the ’90s, Poison and many of their ilk were considered a joke.
These things are, of course, cyclical. The likes of Poison had to be patient and ride out the relatively lean times, but as the 2000s turned into the 2010s, a general acceptance that sleaze/glam/hair rock (call it what you will) always was a valid art form — to hell with the snobs — made itself apparent.
Poison haven’t released a full studio album of original material since 2002’s Hollyweird (not including live albums, cover albums and compilations), but the four original members — singer Bret Michaels, guitarist C.C. DeVille, drummer Rikki Rockett and bassist Bobby Dall — have come together intermittently over the years for high-grossing tours. This week, they’re in Irvine with power-pop pioneers Cheap Trick.
“I’m still as excited and passionate about going on the road,” Bret Michaels says. “With Poison, when we go on that stage, honest to God, everything else is put aside. It is really still a great time. It’s about making music, putting on an awesome show, connecting with three generations of fans, and I genuinely get excited to see these guys when we start rehearsals, because we all grew up together. We all fought the battles together. Living behind a dry cleaner in a warehouse. To be able to do this 30 years later, it’s an amazing feeling. There’s still that chemistry. An excitement and chemistry and real energy on that stage that makes it awesome.”
That these four men have been through a war together is inarguable. Following a backstage fistfight between DeVille and Michaels after a performance at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, DeVille was replaced by Richie Kotzen. Kotzen had a fling with Rockett's then-fiancée and was replaced by Blues Saraceno. As recently as 2006, Michaels and Dall had to be separated during a show in Atlanta.
They always patch up their differences, though. There’s a genuine brotherly bond that holds the original four men together. At one point, they were the hardest workers on the Strip, plastering every surface with their flyers. That blood and sweat is impossible to forget.
“Poison put in a lot of hard work and a lot of time going out there, and knowing that, if you want to live the dream you’ve got to pay your dues,” Michaels says. “You’ve got to work hard and still love what you’re doing, but you find a way to get it done. To be able to walk out there all these years later, and be able to kick the tour off in Irvine, to be on the road with Cheap Trick and Pop Evil, honest to God it’s an amazing feeling. I feel gratitude and I feel blessed and humbled. The word is grateful, for all the fans who came along with us for so long, and all the new ones that have come along since. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Michaels agrees that there has been a resurgence in ’80s-esque rock & roll in recent years, though he also says that Poison were among the lucky few that managed to stay on top during the ’90s.
“Fortunately for Poison, Bon Jovi and a few other bands, during the highs and lows, we managed to stick to our guns and ride through it,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to see that it’s cyclical and comes back around. At the same time, even in the ’90s, Poison were one of the few bands playing the arenas from our genre. When I saw things changing, we had Alice in Chains out on the road with us. Even if you look back into the Poison early-’80s club days, we would have bands like Armoured Saint, Redd Kross — different genres or styles of rock music play on the same bill with us. People would come out and see it, and think it was a great show with diversity.”
At the moment, there isn’t a new Poison album on the cards, but Michaels is hopeful that they’ll write together again soon. For now, new material isn’t the priority. Rather, Poison resurface every few years for a tour and, while they go a little lighter with the mascara nowadays, the objective is to put on as great a rock & roll show as possible. Irvine will be no different.
“I was just working on the set the last couple of days, with all of us having our input,” Michaels says. “Without a doubt, putting in all the songs that were big hits. But also, there’s a lot of stuff I love to put in there, like ‘Good Love’ where I get to do the harmonica. You mix it in there with ‘Look What the Cat Dragged in,’ which to me is my favorite opening song for Poison. The band’s fired up, and then we hit them with everything: ‘Talk Dirty to Me,’ ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn,’ ‘Something to Believe in,’ ‘Unskinny Bop’ — all of it, but make it seamless. Make it exciting for the band at rehearsal. Put in our hard work there, and then when we hit that stage it’s time to party.”
Michaels’ ongoing passion for his old band is infectious. It’s impressive, too; it’s not as if Poison are the only thing he has to think about. He has a new TV show called Classic Acoustic Songs and Stories, which will feature songwriters and performers recalling anecdotes about a beloved song. More importantly, there’s his Life Rocks Foundation.
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“I’m a lifelong Type One diabetic,” Michaels says. “Five shots a day since I’ve been 6 years old. With that foundation, it started out as sending diabetic kids to camp. Also adults with onset diabetes — how to deal with it. In addition, I come from a family of all veterans. I say this every night onstage and put all politics aside — I just say a big thank you to the men and women that sacrificed so much. We raise a lot of money for our wounded warriors, we do it for childhood cancer. Every dollar in goes right back out. There’s no administration fee. Most of the time, I eat that stuff myself.”
He has an ongoing and successful solo music career, too. But the truth is, when the four men of the classic Poison lineup get back onstage together, special things happen.
See for yourself.
Poison play with Cheap Trick and Pop Evil at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 18, at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine.