This show was headlined by Bret Michaels, which for the most part is a bit unfair. Lita Ford and RATT are classic acts in their own right and often headline shows. This concert at McGrath Amphitheater Saturday night, June 4, 2016 was came about by the performers being available at the same time, not because they are touring together. As a result, the only real “opener” was Downtreat, and next up I will explain why they were appropriately classified as an opening act.
There’s a certain “star quality” that true headline performers have. They have a way of making their concerts into more than listening to music: they get people to participate in a sort of “cult of personality” rite in which being in the presence of the performer(s) is itself a sort of religious experience. People get excited and have a good time because that is what the performer does for them. It’s almost like hypnotism or casting some sort of spell.
Opening band Downtread isn’t quite there yet. They are solid musicians, with a decent playbook. Except for an exciting drummer who many thought was going to cause his platform to shimmy across the stage, the band lacks that “star quality” that makes their performances an “event” rather than just a concert. Now, I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the style of very hard rock/metal Downtread plays, so maybe I’m missing some nuances of the genre during live performance. Still, when performers take hits of beer in the middle of a song, it strikes me that either they are being pretension in their efforts to be cool, or just don’t give a damn about the audience.
OK, maybe the swallowed some gnats.
I enjoyed some of their set, but not enough to think about paying to see them. Again, I rate Downtread as a solid opening act, and a group that could develop a good regional following, but something is still missing that could launch them into A List status.
Ah, Lita… A Rock Icon. I detest the fact that for years people would say “Lita Ford can sure rock for a woman”. That’s selling her short, because she can rock, period. Playing off the puerile interest and “Lolita” angle The Runaways endured was their manager’s idea, and the girls deserved better. Lita Ford, like so many female rockers, can just plain rock and get an audience pumped up not because she’s a woman, but in spite of it.
That ability, that star quality, was abundant when Lita took the stage. Starting with an opening audio “skit” that gave a tongue in cheek nod to her start in rock, everyone in the audience knew we were in for a ride no other Ford could provide. She was having a good time and wanted to make sure everyone else was.
Her combination of past hits and newer material was impeccable, satisfying the crowd that wanted to hear older songs they loved, while also providing some newer material to keep things interesting. She also made sure her excellent sidemen all had a chance to shine. It’s a shame she only had about 40 minutes of playing time allotted to her, because she could have made it a full night and the audience would have loved it. She wrapped things up with “Cherry Bomb”, performing with a freshness that showed her “rock and roll attitude” is undiminished over time, without it seeming like she was clutching at past glory.
Note: It started pouring down rain during Lita’s set, but other than a lot of people heading for some sort of cover, the rain didn’t diminish the energy level of the show at all. If anything, it made it more fun.
Next up was RATT. I will admit again, that I was never a big fan of the group. It had some hits, including some huge ones, in a genre I never found that appealing from an appearance stand point. Fortunately the teased hair and spandex has given way to more current wardrobe and accessories found among the rock crowd.
I want to also qualify my review of RATT by pointing out how tumultuous the band’s history has been, with sudden departures of key members and the apparent dissolution of the band. That takes a toll on a band’s cohesion and even attitude. At times, despite best efforts, this affects the band’s performance. Long time member Bobby Blotzer has tried to overcome these issues with RATT’s current lineup.
Maybe Saturday night was an off night for lead singer Josh Alan. There were some sound issues (a dead mic for part of a song, and he kept fiddling with his earpiece monitor). He lacked that star quality I mentioned above. He is a capable singer, and made all the “right moves” for a glam rock type lead singer.
But it was as though he was just performing as the “guy hired to be the lead singer for RATT this tour” and not as THE LEAD SINGER OF RATT. He sounded good, but the energy level and his demeanor were more like he was recording in studio rather than trying to keep a revved up crowd at the energy level they had encountered with Lita Ford. If RATT had performed right after Downtread, I think I would have enjoyed their show more. They certainly have great chops. But in terms of shear energy and entertainment, Lita set a high bar, and so RATT suffered for it as far as I’m concerned. Even the catchy harmonies of their megahit “Round and Round” sounded messy and uneven.
Still, many in the audience had a blast during RATT’s set.
Next up was Bret Michaels.
The former Poison front man displayed that star quality Lita Ford had in abundance as well. He knows how to light up a stage, but also be accessible to the audience. Some performers of Bret’s style and stature can parade on stage as though saying “I’m a rock god, come bow before me”. Bret, on the other hand, let’s people know “hey, I’m here to party, and want you to party with me.”
He did what truly secure performers often do: he played covers of a number of his favorite songs, unabashedly praising the original artists as having a strong influence on his own musical career. So, we were treated to his version of songs like Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama’ and KISS’s “Rock and Roll All Nite” mixed in with past Poison hits and Bret’s own material. It all made for a wonderful musical excursion.
Another thing Bret did to show just how down to earth he is: he invited a couple of his road crew to join him on stage for some songs. Many roadies are musicians in their own right, so it was a class act by Bret to give them a chance to share the stage.
Bret also uses his fame and presence to promote some very important issues. He made strong statements about diabetes. He invited the audience to light up their smart phones and do much of the singing in “Something to Believe In” as a tribute to our troops overseas. Meshed with masterful performances that gave his band mates plenty of room to shine, it all showed Bret to be someone who gives a lot out of the abundance and fame his career has given him. He even auctioned off a post show meet and greet session, with the money going directly to local (Cedar Rapids) charities.
When some performers talk about how much they love performing in a certain city or state, people are left with the feeling that it’s just an act. Bret Michaels made sure it was more than that. In an age where some performers put on airs of being far better and more important than they are, coupled with auto-tune supporting, lip-synced performances, Bret showed his the real deal with it comes to partying to good rock and roll music.