RockFest 2016 - Featuring: Bret Michaels , WARRANT, Lita Ford - Erie County Fairgrounds, Hamburg, NY - August 10, 2016
Review - John Jeffrey, Photos - Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Hamburg, NY - If one were forced to come up with a cliche headline for the Erie County Fair's opening night concert on Wednesday night (aka "Rockfest"), the most fitting one I could think of would be, "The Good, The Bad, and the Not so Ugly."
The "Good" would definitely apply towards the mid-card act of the night, WARRANT. Even though the band's sound suffered from a terrible mix (extremely bottom heavy, borderline distorted and uneven guitar levels), the group - now in it's 8th year being led by former Lynch Mob vocalist, Robert Mason, despite the blazing heat - put on a very solid performance. The outdoor elements wreaked havoc on lead guitarist, Joey Allen's axes - causing several unplanned breaks in between songs, which allowed Allen to re-tune his guitar. Unfortunately, while Mason is a great vocalist and performer, these 'pauses' magnified Mason's shortcomings in his ability to interact with the crowd, as he seemed to struggle with coming up with things to say during the time it took to make sure everyone was in tune.
Aside from playing one song from the 2011 'Rockaholic' album ("Sex Ain't Love"), the band played all of the most well known songs from their early hit records. Unfortunately, due to the dismal turnout (only about 90% of the reserved seating seemed to be filled, with a few stragglers sitting in the covered grand stand - most likely to avoid the heat and take cover from the direct sunlight), most of the audience seemed to be 'casual fans' and really didn't respond as you think they would have to great songs like "So Damn Pretty" and "Downboys." It wasn't until the end of their set, when they pulled out their 3 biggest hits ("Heaven, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Cherry Pie") that the crowd erupted, screaming all the lyrics at the topic of their lungs, creating a scene reminiscent of WARRANT opening up for Motley Crue at the aud in 1989.
The "Bad" was definitely headliner, Bret Michaels. Before I go any further, I have to say that Bret Michaels really comes off as a sincere and passionate musician, who proudly flies the flag for 80's rock and roll. He comes across as a super nice guy and the current lineup of his band, featuring Eric Brittingham (of Cinderella fame) on bass, is really top notch and sounded great on this night. The thing that really turned me off about the whole BMB's set had more to do with the presentation than anything, and it really made me question whether or not I would ever subject myself to a Bret Michaels show ever again.
First of all, let me say, Bret Michaels is in great physical condition and still sounds great, especially considering all of the health scares he's had over the past few years. Now I can deal with the wig-danna, the eyeliner/stage makeup and the fake tan, but Bret's skin tight blue jeans - which are perfectly tailored to highlight and accent his crotch - allow anyone in the first few year rows, to perfectly see the exact outline of Bret's "manhood." And to make it even worse, Bret could not resist touching himself (or maybe he wanted to, I don't know?) like a 4 year old boy, who has to use the bathroom REALLY bad. I fully understand that there's a large percentage of his female fans that enjoy seeing this, but perhaps he could have saved this part for the $200 meet and greet experience??
The other thing that was really annoying was the fact that Bret appears to be trying to pass off this "solo career" of his as something legit, when ultimately, all he is doing is covering songs from the Poison catalog (with a few other cover songs thrown in here and there - this year we got "Sweet Home Alabama"), which he kept referring to as "new songs" from his latest solo album, 'True Grit.' 'True Grit' is actually a compilation CD, which features sub-par quality re-recordings of Poison songs, along with songs from his other previously released solo records. Bret has released 4 compilation CDs since 2000 and 5 solo albums since 1998. Sadly, only his first 2 records ('Letters From Death Row' and 'Songs of Life') are complete albums of new material, while his other 3 solo albums and the compilations are mainly comprised of songs that appear on all of his other records. And the fact that Bret was the headliner and played fewer songs than both of his opening acts didn't impress me much either.
Lastly, Bret told the crowd, just like he did when we saw him back in 2013, that he would back on the road the following summer with Poison and also doing solo shows as well. This time, Bret told the crowd Poison would be teaming up with Def Leppard again in 2017, when many reports have indicated that Def Leppard would not be touring in 2017. And considering Poison has not toured since 2012, I question the validity of these 'tour announcements.'
The "Not so Ugly" would refer to opener, Lita Ford. Actually, this 57 year old veteran rocker is a beautiful woman, and FAR from 'ugly.' Lita looked great, wearing a white leather jumpsuit and added some pink highlights to her trademark, platinum blonde hair-do. Her current band was tight, featuring former Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Nelson drummer, Bobby Rock. Lita started the night strong with "Gotta Let Go" and kept it rocking until she pulled out the dud of a song, "Blueberry" (most of the song is Lita singing the word "blueberry" over and over and over, ad nauseam), which seemed to kind of kill the momentum of her set. The lull continued as she played the unfamiliar "Living Like a Runaway" (from her most recent solo album), and then after giving the deceased Lemmy Kilmeister an honorable mention, she continued the show with a drum solo?? I was really scratching my head at the inclusion of a drum solo, placed three quarters way through forty-odd minute opening set?
Lita revived the crowd with her cover of the Runaway's "Cherry Bomb" and then proceeded to kill it with the one-two punch of "Close My Eyes Forever" and "Kiss Me Deadly." While lowest in volume, Lita probably had the best sound of the night and her vocals were top notch, as she was perhaps the best vocalist on the bill. Unfortunately for Lita, her musical catalog lacks consistency and this is what most likely prevents her from moving upward from opening act status.
While "Rockfest" 2016 may have looked good on paper, unfortunately, the show itself was lackluster in attendance and it's overall content. While glam rock is certainly not dead and buried, perhaps some of these artists may want to rethink their approach, before they wind up being sad caricatures of the personas they once were in the 1980's.
Lita Ford setlist
Gotta Let Go
Larger Than Life
The Bitch is Back
Living Like a Runaway
Can’t Catch Me
Close My Eyes Forever
Kiss Me Deadly
Sure Feels Good to Me
I Saw Red
So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against The Law)
Song and Dance
Sometimes She Cries
Sex Ain’t Love
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Bret Michaels setlist
Talk Dirty to Me
Look What the Cat Dragged In
Sweet Home Alabama
Your Mama Don’t Dance
Something to Believe In
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
Nothin’ but a Good Time
For more on WARRANT, please visit www.warrantrocks.com