The gang's all hair: C.C. DeVille, left, and Bret Michaels of Poison.
The gang's all hair: C.C. DeVille, left, and Bret Michaels of Poison. (2007 Photo By Gus Ruelas -- Associated Press)
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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Freddy Cole Quartet

Whether crooning a romantic ballad that quietly evoked his family ties or swinging as nonchalantly as someone without a care, singer-pianist Freddy Cole turned in a charming, seemingly effortless performance at Blues Alley on Thursday night.

Despite his own prolific recording career, Cole could delight some listeners by spending all his time onstage paying tribute to his older sibling, the late Nat King Cole. Over the years, however, he's developed an engaging repertoire that blends pop and swing standards with fresh, casually delivered novelties that mirror his genial spirit.

Fronting an agile quartet, Cole kicked off Thursday's opening set with a dreamy collection of ballads, delivered in a hushed baritone, before moving through a program laced with colorful contrasts, from the ruminative "Blame It on My Youth" to the effervescent "On the South Side of Chicago." Cole occasionally sang without accompanying himself, relying instead on guitarist Randy Napoleon's resourcefulness. But more often Cole punctuated his performances with a mix of soulful harmonic accents and bright, single-note-driven choruses.

Napoleon, a young, swing-centric guitarist who could pass for John Pizzarelli's younger brother, was accorded plenty of solo space, revealing an exceptionally nimble finger-style technique. Rounding out the quartet, and often producing a buoyant swing pulse, were bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Curtis Boyd. The engagement runs through tomorrow.

-- Mike Joyce


"The tour starts here!" yelled Big John, Bret Michaels's "Rock of Love" bodyguard/sidekick at Nissan Pavilion on Thursday, rejiggering the reality show's buh-bye catchphrase to introduce the other thing Michaels is known for: fronting '80s hair-metalists Poison. Some familiar and seriously rockin' riffage then blared over the PA, making you think, "Hey, maybe Poison isn't as girly as I recall." Then you realized that the song is actually Guns 'N Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle." And that, in contrast, the upcoming tunes will probably be as "jungle" as a Rainforest Cafe.

Still, what Poison does, it does well, even 22 years after its debut, "Look What the Cat Dragged In." Unlike other comrades-in-Aqua Net (such as Motley Crue), Michaels, bassist Bobby Dall, drummer Rikki Rockett and guitar shredder C.C. DeVille proved during their 90-minute set that they haven't decayed into a pitiful nostalgia act. Michaels's voice may be lower, but he didn't rely on singalongs a la Vince Neil to carry the vocals. And the band was tight and tireless, making smashes such as "Talk Dirty to Me" and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" sound as infectious as they did when Reagan was president.

The foursome did take two breaks, however, tasking first DeVille and then Rockett with solos while the rest got their B-12 boosters. (DeVille, mikeless, weirdly tried to communicate with the crowd, mouthing stuff like "Make some noise!" or, perhaps, "There's a white pickup with its lights on.") And though Michaels, buff and bandanna'd, promised "a lot of music," he delivered only 12 songs -- including two covers, "What I Like About You" and a pretty sweet version of "Your Mama Don't Dance" -- effectively turning the show into a pyro-accented hit parade. If it was on the charts, it was in the set -- showing that Poison also has gotten pretty good at knowing what the fans want.

-- Tricia Olszewski

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