Springfield, Illinois is know for many, many things (its the capitol, politics, Abe Lincoln, prison bound former governors, etc.) and while these are all true, there is oh so much more to the city. Sure its been the home to Abe Lincoln and his tomb, sure its the place where politicians have destroyed the entire state with mis-managment but clearly its known as the real hub of music in the entire Midwest isn't it? What do Springfield and Bret Michaels have to do with one another, and am I really serious about it being the "real hub of music'? Stick around and find out...
I spent New Years Eve (December 31st, 2011) in Springfield, IL to attend a New Years Ever "party" with the Bret Michaels Band and although I have seen Michaels twice with his other band Poison, I hadn't seen this iteration. Beside the fact that it was New Years Eve and I was attending a concert in Springfield (its about a four hour drive) I was a little excited to see the show.
Anyone that has read my previous posts about Poison, hair metal or even heard me rant incessantly would immediately assume that I just went to either appease my wife (who I went with) or to just try to rip the crap out of the artist and his band. Certainly it is true that I have been critical of seeing Michaels (in any capacity) but I really don't think people know why. The fact of the matter is that while Poison is not one of my favorite bands, nor do they have many songs that I really like but I do understand that the persona of Poison (and many other bands from the same dawning era) was to sell records and to try to get as much fan attention as possible (duh that's why they do this stuff right). I also understand that because of all of that baggage coupled with preconceived notions built by MTV, substance abuse, misogyny, and acting holier than thou were the bane of enormous amounts of bands of the same genre in the same era.
It is important to understand that none of that should be surprising, with the exception of MTV, bands and performers have been the same way since a caveman began to beat two rocks together and another caveman thought it sounded cool. Poison has been reviled by critics, performers and fans since its inception but for me it had to do with a combination of many things but also musical taste. Although I have always been a huge KISS fan, many of the bands of the '80's looked ridiculous painted up, wearing weird female clothing and following the same script as every other band like them. Poison fell into that category as well as the subject matter of their music and their fan base and much like other bands they felt that smashing guitar in the back of their heads by bands like Nirvana (who I still do not like), Stone Temple Pilots and Alice In Chains.
Now lets look toward today, I know Poison's music, I do like a few songs but they never grabbed my attention like they do their core fans. As I mentioned earlier, I have seen Poison twice, (as recently as 2011 in fact) and they have become more what I think they should have been back then. The band is much cleaner musically, they have a harder, nastier edge and they have lost their defining persona's so I was interested to see if all of that would translate into Michaels solo act.
When Michaels took the stage it was with the pomp I would have expected and I actually respected. With lots of noise, smoke and deafening screams by the fan base. Michaels came out with a fire any performer should come out with and he came out with something more important, appreciation. I've preached it before that one can tell if a band is in it because they just want a paycheck or if they are indeed doing it for their fans and the moment he came on the stage it was obvious that he was there for his fans.
Michaels breaking into the (in)famous "Look What the Cat Dragged In" was much, much harder sounding than I expected (although I have seen them before this was the first time I have heard the song live). With the natural skills of any lead singer (or frontman), Michaels took control very quickly of the crowd with that song and I found myself almost slack jawed listening to it, I never expected to hear it and this good for that matter. I've babbled incessantly before about songs no band should ever touch and Michaels went down that road with one of the most iconic songs of a legendary band and I thought that this might be the place where the wheels could come off.
As Michaels talked about his recent medical scares and surgeries and how certain people stuck with him during it all and he talked about one band in particular Lynyrd Skynyrd. Michaels talked about the relationship that he has with the members of the band and he informed the crowd (once again to a slack jawed me) that he was going to play "Sweet Home Alabama" (yup that's one of those songs). As the band began to play that slack jawed expression withered away and I was blown away. Michaels did that song as well if not better than any band I have ever heard attempt it, he was just damned good.
Remiss would be a term I would use if I didn't talk about the band Michaels brought with him, and what a cast of characters they are. From watching the cyclonic drummer, to the bass player hobbled by a very recent, very nasty injury to his leg (and surgery just TEN days before the show). Michaels has surrounded himself with the type of band I would expect, they have a really hard edge, they are a blast to watch, they are energetic and they are really, really skilled. As I mentioned earlier, the injury to the bass player was nasty (compound fracture of the leg) but at one point he threw the hat he was wearing up in the air and began to whip his hair in a fashion that ANY self-respecting headbanger would be impressed by.
Michaels is used to having a larger-than-life character as a lead guitar player (in C.C. DeVille) and as I watched the show unfold, I realized that he has a guy who is just as talented as DeVille and is much more lower keyed than DeVille was in the "heyday" of Poison (and more like DeVille today). Gifted isn't the right term, blessed would be the right term in describing the two bands Michaels has at his disposal.
I went to Springfield, Illinois to have a little different view of New Years Eve in a much different locale and I tried to leave all previous preconceived notions at home in hopes of enjoying myself and maybe making the first article I wrote about a band in 2012 a really good one. I came home the next day having had a great time (except for the venue) and I saw a kick ass rock and roll show without all of the crud that follows a "hair" band. I saw a band and its lead singer understand what is important and watched them do everything in their power to make sure everyone had a great time. Michaels did just that, hey I had fun and that could have been the single greatest feat of his career (man that sounds self-important on my part now doesn't it).
Bret Michaels went to Springfield, Illinois on December 31st 2011 and left on January 1st, 2012 and kicked the crap out of everyone there. Will I see Michaels again? Wait until March when he comes back to the Mississippi Moon Bar and find out. Did I enjoy myself? What do you think... Is Springfield the "real hub" of music in the Midwest? Uhm, no BUT this was a great way for them to start 2012.