Open Up and Say Reunion
When Nirvana released Nevermind in 1991, hair-metal bands like Poison seemed hopelessly irrelevant.
"The pendulum swung," Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille recalls. "The backlash was strong, instant, and venomous. But time changes things."
That it does. Nirvana is long gone, along with most of the bands that followed in its flannel-flying wake. But a few of the so-called "hair bands" that were so suddenly made extinct now find themselves selling out arenas and amphitheaters once again. But that wasn't the case a decade ago. DeVille parted ways rancorously with Poison after falling out with lead singer Bret Michaels. DeVille then watched as his former bandmates tanked with 1993's Native Tongue. The follow-up, Crack a Smile, went unreleased for several years. However, it didn't take long before reunion seeds were being sown; Michaels and DeVille buried the hatchet.
"We started talking and said, 'You know, this is really stupid. We're having this goofy little hissy fit about both of us being divas. Why don't we see if we can put a tour together?'" DeVille recalls. "I think we secretly missed playing with each other." The original Poison lineup Michaels, DeVille, bass player Bobby Dall, and drummer Rikki Rockett hit the summer tour circuit in 1999 and began playing to ever-increasing crowds.
"There's a lot [more] younger kids than I would have thought there'd be," DeVille says. "I don't know if it's from parents who saw us in the day telling their kids and their kids telling their friends or if it's just that with the Internet, kids are more aware of things that went on before them. Thank God we still bring some sort of exuberance that's translating to the younger audience."
Of course, you also have to have hits at least enough to keep the crowd screaming, throwing devil horns, and flicking their Bics for a couple of hours. "That, I think, is why we get to still play," DeVille says. "Because no matter what we look like, songs like 'Fallen Angel' or 'Something to Believe In' or 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn' stand up."
Proof of that came several months ago, when The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock debuted at number 17 on the Billboard 200, the quartet's highest chart ranking in 13 years. DeVille is optimistic that Poison will soon go to work on its first studio set since 2002's Hollyweird. "Ultimately, that's what floats my boat getting into the studio and doing something new."
Whether Poison ever has new hits to play, the band won't stop rockin' now. And all four band members, now in their 40s, have come to terms with their respective pasts.
"Without a doubt, the first line of my obituary will read 'guitarist from Poison,'" DeVille says. "We have to embrace that. With 20 years comes a lot more acceptance, a lot more humility, and a lot more pride." Chris Neal
Poison and Cinderella perform Sunday, August 20, at Sound Advice Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. The show starts at 7 p.m. with openers Endeverafter. Tickets cost $15 to $45. Call 561-793-0445, www.livenation.com.
How to view the regrouping of the Pixies, one of the most mercurial bands of the late '80s, a group many claim opened the door for Nirvana and the grunge generation of the early '90s? Those early efforts still sound shocking menacing, malevolent melodies pierced by torrents of jagged guitar and stuttering rhythms, all underscored by leader Black Francis' nihilistic pontificating. Internal dissension caused the band to split a scant five years after its first recording the superb Surfer Rosa and a mere three years after its major-label breakthrough, the dazzling Doolittle.
Following the breakup, Black Francis opted to reverse his moniker and venture out on a prolific if uneven solo career as Frank Black. His two most recent opuses, Fast Man Raider Man and Honeycomb, showed him newly entrenched in Americana territory and soaking up a sizable infusion of Blood on the Tracks. Bassist Kim Deal went on to moderate success with the Breeders and struggled with sobriety. Drummer David Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago formed the Martinis before Lovering left to tour with Cracker, study engineering, and reinvent himself as a performance artist, or, as he terms it, a "scientific phenomenalist." Santiago's lately settled into a more urbane occupation as a soundtrack composer.
What a surprise, then, that a tentative Pixies reconciliation resulted in a 2004 tour that found the band as potent as ever. Two new DVD releases LoudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies and Acoustic: Live in Newport show opposing views of this perpetually conflicted outfit and its retooled presence in the new millennium. The former is perhaps the most revealing, an intimate portrait of the personalities involved who, between various concert clips from their recent reunion gigs, lay bare their inner souls, a tack that makes them decidedly less intimidating to their fans and, one supposes, to one another. The acoustic offering shows them in the most unlikely of circumstances at the venerable Newport Folk Festival, the venue where Dylan went electric and was bombarded by catcalls in return. "We're a rock band," Deal announces before they launch themselves unplugged on an opposite route, managing to make angst-ridden anthems like "Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Bone Machine," and even "Wave of Mutilation" less a series of sanitized sing-alongs than actual hints of the essential if irascible melodies that lie at their core.
So how do the Pixies fare? Remarkably well considering their infamous in-fighting and the passage of time. By allowing themselves to reveal their own humanity and accessibility, each offering demonstrates in its own way that while one might mellow, it doesn't have to be at the expense of passion or purpose. At the very least, it's a case worth considering. Lee Zimmerman
La Vida Soca
After Carnival's sequined costumes have been discarded and the body glitter has been scrubbed off, Ash Wednesday restores a sense of calm to the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Most Trinis recuperate from the weeklong celebration by washing away their sins in Maracas Bay or receiving religious recompense at a Lenten Mass. But not Machel Montano. For the crown prince of soca, the party never ends. The past two decades have been one long blur of grinding bodies, alcohol-fueled fetes, and high-energy performances.
"Soca music is made for Carnival," Montano says in a voice rough with exhaustion. He's a busy guy, trekking around from Jamaica to Toronto and New York and nearly every Caribbean island. But he's been around long enough to handle the jet lag. Montano's 24-year career has allowed him to observe slow, socially conscious calypso evolve into the pulsing, manic rhythms of soca. After years of being marginalized during Carnival and in insular Internet communities, soca is finally on the crossover border. "I think that it's something that takes time, and it is happening," Montano says. "Big things are coming for soca music.
"I was there when it was [Lord] Kitchener and [the Mighty] Sparrow. Then the change came with people like Scrunter. Then there was David Rudder, Tambu, and Charlie's Roots they did a little more socially conscious music. And to see the change come up to the infusion of dancehall and hip-hop now it's all in the youths' hands."
Montano and his band, Xtatik, have performed alongside musicians ranging from TLC to Destiny's Child, Shabba Ranks to Buju Banton. In Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" video, Montano drizzles dollar bills on an enthusiastic crowd. But despite the recognition and the celebrity pals, Montano sounds weary. "I think I've come to the end of the major part of my career, and now the rest of it will be focused on helping others and leaving behind a different kind of legacy. I'm trying to make music that will be around years from now."
Montano's ambition is to make the new material from Xtatik more structured, melodic, and unique. His latest album, The Xtatik Experience, features collaborations with Wyclef Jean and Doug E. Fresh. While Montano and others are now making their big push stateside, soca has flirted with mainstream recognition for the past two decades.
"Learning the essence of writing good, meaningful, long-lasting songs," he says, "is one of the things that I think is going to help us develop our music further towards international success." Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik Machel Montano performs Friday, August 18, at Ole Ole Mexican Grille, 300 SW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale. The show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets cost $20. Call 786-319-1477.
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