Mullets, Hairspray and a Bunch of Bad Music
Poison + Cinderella + Winger + Faster Pussycat
10 Jul 2002: Tower Theater Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
It was outrageous, it was amusing, it was loud and it was oh so ‘80s. A quadruple bill featuring some of the main violators of the now decade and a half old hair metal genre pranced and preened its way into the Tower Theater, just on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Long forgotten riffs and power chords emanated from middle aged men sporting a lot less make-up, a bit more paunch, but no less cheese than in their heyday.
For a few hours, it was 1989 all over again, and not just on-stage.
Unfortunately, no one told the majority of the crowd that in the early nineties, grunge came along and wiped the mist of Aqua Net off the musical map, banishing it back to the Los Angeles bars where it originated. The clothing styles then were never that good anyway, with only a select few being able to pull it off—none of whom were in the Tower on this night.
The sights were unreal: girls who were once the hot rock chicks in high school had the bad idea that they could still fit into outfits that they hadn’t worn since they were teens. They wore short leather skirts, fishnet stockings, suede boots and the requisite bad dye jobs held firmly in place with ozone depleting chemicals. Their faces were animated canvases, as the make-up looked like it was applied directly from a palette. Fat was hanging out, emerging crows’ feet weren’t hidden well enough, and the hair was turned to a straw-like brittleness.
As for the guys, it only got worse. String tank tops and sleeveless T-shirts exposed tattoos bad to begin with, now horribly faded like vomit in the sun. Those convinced they were less dated donned net shirts, which did nothing but reveal beer-enhanced waistlines. And of course, when the colored bandanas came off, it was exposed: The Mullet. Looking more like a Nascar gathering than a rock show, the short on top, long in the back haircut was everywhere. There was the straightened mullet, the feathered mullet, short ones, long ones, dyed ones and curly ones. Mullets galore indeed.
The fashion, or lack thereof, took a backseat once the main focus of the night somehow became the music.
Faster Pussycat should get points just for trying so hard to earn a place on the hair metal radar over the years - they changed their image, sound and basically their name when singer Taime Downe went off to form The Newlydeads with members of another forgotten ‘80s act, Bang Tango. It was all for naught as they proved their irrelevance is just, and that retrospectively, they should simply be happy that they still have a home on the L.A. strip.
Winger, the punch line to every hair band joke, make a good case for themselves, but still, they will perpetually be known as the band slagged endlessly on Beavis and Butthead. It’s such a shame too, as “Seventeen” from their eponymous 1988 debut remains one of the defining songs of the genre, right up there with “Cherry Pie” from Warrant and “Smooth Up In Ya” by Bulletboys.
Cinderella has always been sort of the odd band out when it came to the ‘80s categorization. They took more from the bluesy side of Led Zeppelin than the look, and never really did the T&A songs. Their first album, Night Songs, came out in 1986, almost a year before Poison blew up. Their music was solid, with the party songs being no more egregious than “Rock and Roll”, and lyrically themed nothing worse than any AC/DC number. The sole reason they’re included in hair metal culture lies no further than the cover of said first release—the height of their hair was insane. Guitarist Jeff LaBar’s may have actually been taller than the rest of his body.
Originally from Upper Darby, Cinderella was given a hero’s welcome with their homecoming, playing to the biggest local crowd since 1990. With a huge faux gothic typeset “Cinderella” looming in the background, the group tore through flat out rockers like “Somebody Save Me”, “Gypsy Road”, and “Shake Me”, while waxing wistfully about the history of the Tower. “I remember coming down here in the ‘70s and spending time with UFO and Van Halen,” recalled singer Tom Keifer of his concert going days at the venue. “Philadelphia, you’re just as badass as we remember ya!”
In between the weepers “Heartbreak Station” and “Don’t Know What You Got (Till it’s Gone)”, Cinderella pulled out every trick in their arsenal. Keifer and Labar brought out six double neck guitars total—sometimes each at the same time, five more than the Mighty Zep ever produced. Though, all things considered, either guitarist would never claim to be half the guitarist Jimmy Page was at his peak, but it made for a good show.
Keifer seemed determined to prove that he was the real homegrown talent, playing said double neck, a mini-piano, keyboards, various acoustics, and even a saxophone. Meanwhile, LaBar—who was decked out in god awful stretch white jeans—played up to the audience by shimmying to the edge of the stage and spinning his guitar around his neck a dizzying number of times.
On the whole, Cinderella pulled off a fairly respectable showing. Proving at times that while musically they often eschewed what lumped them in the class of 1989, stylistically they fell right in line, at times able to hold their own with the heavyweights.
The heavyweight champs, of course, were and still are Poison, who showed what made the ‘80s so seductive in the first place.
The lights went down, the red siren lights went on and a spotlight illuminated the huge purple star backdrop embossed with the classic Poison logo. Out walked C.C. Deville, Rikki Rockett and Bobby Dall, who pounded out the opening riffs to “Look What the Cat Dragged In”, the title track of their 1987 LP, as the audience rose to their feet as one in anticipation of Bret Michaels.
The pyro went off, and out bounded the singer in a three quarter length white fur coat, looking like a blonde precursor to Kid Rock. Michaels did his best imitation of Steven Tyler, racing up and down the flame-scripted ramps on either side of the stage, stopping only to helm the front with his scarf draped microphone stand, pointing to the pretty girls, winking and giving the thumbs up.
The Harrisburg natives pledged allegiance to Philly as their hometown, as they most likely did in every Pennsylvania town, but the sincere delivery by Michaels made it entirely believable. “It’s good to be back home in Philadelphia,” began Michaels, who quickly shed the fur coat for a more sensible tight black tank top. “I see a lot of friends here and a lot of family . . . I am fired up right now!”
Playing the best of their anthems, “Fallin’ Angel”, “Your Mama Don’t Dance”, “I Want Action”, and—proving that no one wrote better ballads in the late eighties than “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Something to Believe In”—Poison unabashedly used every rock and roll party cliché imaginable. They counted off songs, told the light guy to “Turn up the lights so I can see these people!,” lowered a disco ball from the ceiling, dropped confetti (twice), carried out drum and guitar solos—which were both predictably dreadful—and led the crowd in hand claps and chants of “rock and roll.” Rockett twirled his drumsticks endlessly and donned a different hat for almost each song while bassist Dall, shorn with a spiked blonde cut, stalked menacingly with an “I’m acting like I hate this—but I really love it” look.
The amazing thing is—it works.
Adding to the appeal is the working tension that exists between Bret Michaels and the whammy bar obsessed C.C. Deville. The two are the best of friends and worst of enemies, a hair sprayed Mick and Keith. Each wants their own share of the spotlight, with only Michaels deserving, though Deville works brilliantly during his solo segment. Performing “Emperor’s New Clothes” from Poison’s latest, Hollyweird, Deville plays the “I’ll end up in therapy if you don’t love me and cheer for me” card expertly with his ear splitting whine.
Michaels is the consummate professional when it comes to rock frontmen, with his carnival barker rants, naming each band member before a showcasing spot during a song, and giving the people exactly what they want and expect—the music to come first. Remember, this is the singer who, during an awards show years back, when Deville played every song but the right one, put on a happy face for television and waited until the cameras were off to beat the shit out of the him. At the Tower, Bret extended his graciousness, telling the audience that anyone who had a ticket stub from tonight’s show was welcome to attend the show in Hershey that weekend.
“We’ve been friends for 17 years now,” said Michaels of his relationship with Philadelphia, “bring your ticket to Hershey—it’s on us!”
It’s hard to believe that what most consider to be a washed up hair band can command a near capacity crowd like Poison does. But what the band does is offer the same thing that killed their careers all those years ago—an alternative to the music that is currently topping the charts. While everyone else is bitching about how terrible life is, these guys are still singing about “Nothin’ But a Good Time”. Even those who look at the genre as pure crap with no musical merit have to admit that it’s a trip going to see the band. For whatever reason, there is still a sort of innocent charm in tight clothes, high hair and simple lyrics. Hopefully it doesn’t come round full circle, but who among us isn’t up for the ultimate guilty pleasure every now and again.
Bring back the ‘80s!—but just for a moment.
// Notes from the Road
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