Some artists transcend music and become part of our culture, Bret Michaels is one of those artists. Best known for fronting glam rock icons Poison, Bret also has successful solo and reality television careers. This show was originally scheduled for mid-December but was postponed due to illness. Finally, on an unseasonably warm Friday night in February, Michales brought his Party Gras tour to Mohegan Sun.
The night kicked off with an opening set from FireHouse. FireHouse hit the rock scene with their debut record in 1990 at the tail end of the “hair metal” movement. I probably haven’t seen the band live since that debut tour, and I know they have had some personnel changes over the years, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The band put on an amazing show. Led by original members Bill Leverty and Michael Foster on guitar and drums, the band is joined by long-time bassist Allen McKenzie (original bassist Perry Richardson has been part of Stryper since 2017) and, filling in for ailing original vocalist C.J. Snare, American Idol alum Nate Peck.
While the band sounded great, I was very impressed by Peck’s vocals. His voice was perfect for the band and his stage presence felt like he’s been doing this for decades. Peck did mention that this was the first arena show he had ever played, but you couldn’t tell. Eight of the band’s nine songs were from their debut, and hearing them live reminded me of what a great record that was when it came out. I covered an 80’s Invasion tour a few weeks back with the current lineups of four 80’s bands, FireHouse put all of those bands to shame with their performance.
Finally, it was time for Bret Michales to take the stage. The energy brought by Bret and his solo band, led by long-time guitarist Pete Evick, was off the charts. Opening with Poision’s first big hit, “Talk Dirty To Me”, the crowd jumped to its feet and never sat down. The setlist was one classic Poison hit after another, mixed in with Bret’s trademark banter to keep the crowd hyped.
Throughout the night, Bret referred to Poison, whether it was mentioning the Stadium Tour before “Ride The Wind” or the first time they played Connecticut leading into “Look What The Cat Dragged In”. Perhaps the biggest shout-out to that band was when Bret announced that Poison would be back for a major tour in 2025.
Watching Bret Michaels on stage is a master class in live performance. He has honed his craft to the point where his vocals (and his band’s playing) are flawless and played 100% live, and the energy is always at full throttle for the entire show.
I’ve seen Poison live a dozen times over the years, including a one-off headlining show in 2022 at the start of the Stadium Tour, and they were always a great live band. Seeing Bret solo is a very different vibe. While the set is very similar, Bret seems much more at home with his solo band. The band itself is not only filled with fantastic musicians but having multiple guitar players and backing musicians on stage gives the songs a fuller sound than when played by Poison (who also has the incredible keyboardist Will Doughty to fill out their sound).
If there was one downside to the night it would be the length of the set. Throughout the night, Michaels kept telling the crowd that he “had nowhere to go” so they were there to play. However, the set was only 9 songs (plus a drum solo) and about 70 minutes. As strong as the performance was, and as rich as the Poison catalog is, you were left wanting more. However, if the choice is a short set that is played flawlessly with continuous high energy, or a longer set where the quality starts to drop, I’ll take the shorter set every time.
There aren’t many performers like Bret Michaels. He gives his all every time he steps on stage and expects his band to do the same. When you compare his performance to those of his 80’s peers, the difference is glaring. While many of those bands are still on the road, Bret Michaels is one of the only performers who can still bring quality and energy at perhaps even a higher level than back in the heyday of this music.