By Gary Singh
BRET MICHAELS, lead singer of the seminal '80s hair-metal band Poison, descended upon San Jose a month ago with his own solo band to play at a superprivate party. The restaurant where it all went down shall go unnamed and, as far as I know, I was the only member of the general public to infiltrate the event. I conned the general manager into sneaking me through the kitchen and into the section of the property where the show took place. The entire event had been planned for quite a while, and the gig was kept so under wraps that even the employees of the restaurant were not allowed to attend. Arena-style security goons decked out in yellow polo shirts lurked everywhere and black drapes blocked off any possible view from outside.
But here's the real love story: The aforementioned general manager told me that the party was thrown by a woman for her husband's 40th birthday. Poison was her husband's favorite group from the '80s, so she apparently flew in Bret Michaels just for the occasion. Even though only about 60 people comprised this party, the band spent all afternoon loading in all the goods: a lighting truss, two Marshall stacks and a 48-channel soundboard just for the monitor mix. And they spent a few hours doing an arenalike sound check. You just wanted to scream, "Dude! There's only going to be about 60 people here. Why do you need all this equipment?" And during the show, folks crowded the stage and threw their hands into the air just like at an arena show as Michaels held his microphone into the small group so they could sing along.
But that's rock & roll and that's definitely '80s hair-metal. To all the Poison fans in Silicon Valley, I have this to say: I hope you are thoroughly crushed that you missed this intimate gig. I was there and you were not and I hate this freakin' music.
Michaels played all the Poison classics plus a bunch of '70s rock covers. He even did "Sweet Home Alabama"—one of the most overplayed songs in human history—and he did it twice. He also announced the Poison Twentieth Anniversary Tour, which hits the Chronicle Pavilion on June 30. Personally, I can't think of anything in the world more unnecessary than a "Poison Twentieth Anniversary Tour," but I guess there exist folks who will show up.
To see Mr. Michaels at a private party was a prime experience indeed. Even if you despise the music, he's a seasoned frontman who knows how to rock out and please the crowd. His website even says this: "Michaels, Poison front man and primary singer/songwriter, and a lifelong juvenile diabetic, has survived 20 years in the entertainment business. He has not only sold over 22 million records and had fifteen top 40 singles. After nineteen years and twelve albums, he continues to sell out arenas and amphitheaters worldwide."
At the party, Michaels also announced that on Poison's 20th anniversary tour, they will be playing the ancient Grand Funk Railroad tune, "We're an American Band," a track that Bay Area punk legends Verbal Abuse covered with 8,000 times more balls and grit 24 years ago—and, ironically, a band I had just written about a week before I showed up at this secret Bret Michaels gig.
On the good side, at least Michaels has finally given up the '80s glam metal look—the pink lipstick and a hairdo that looks like it was done in a washing machine. Now, apparently, he's a cowboy and crossing over into the country realm ("Every Rose Has Its Thorn" does not count, and you know it). It just makes you want to say: Jesus Christ, the inhumanity of it all.
Lastly, for this private gig, one good thing is that the band did not supply a ridiculous rider asking for no brown M&Ms the way Van Halen notoriously did back in the day. The event planner at the restaurant told me that all the band required was beer and food. And at the party, both were both indeed plentiful. Unfortunately, I walked out with that dimwitted turd of a song "Unskinny Bop" stuck in my head for weeks. Thank you, Bret Michaels, and rock on.