Interview: How to slay a crowd, by Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels

Rocker Bret Michaels performs during the kickoff of the "Rock of Love Bus Tour" at the Palms Casino Resort January 31, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images / March 31, 2014)

Arguing over the set list has become a summer tradition for the four members of Poison. The guys each like to make their opinions on the set list known, and will argue about it before every summer tour “in true Poision fashion,” according to lead singer Bret Michaels.

Michaels, however, doesn’t have to worry about the hair band’s set list for its upcoming tour with Def Leppard just yet. The former winner of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” and star of VH1’s “Rock of Love” is currently on his “Get Your Rock On” solo tour, which will make a stop at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire Friday, and has his solo set list down to a science.

He shared his formula — from how many new songs he plays during a solo set to how he follows up a ballad — over the phone from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Start strong: “We created this intro tape that has AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses songs on it and play it before we come on stage to get the crowd excited. There’s this big build up and then ‘Talk Dirty To Me’ kicks in. That’s when we run on stage with pyro going off — if the venue lets us use pyro.”

Mix new with old: “I like to play a minimum of four (new songs). For me as a solo artist, I never want to be a nostalgia act. But you have to mix it up with the old school tunes. If you play nothing but new stuff, you will disappoint a lot of your fans who have been with you for years. If I saw Aerosmith and they didn’t play their older hits, I’d be disappointed. And I like their new stuff.”

Avoiding following a ballad with another ballad: “I never want to let the emotional energy go down. I never want to let it get sleepy. If I do three ballads in a row, it could get a little sleepy. So after I do ‘Something To Believe In,’ I’ll keep things rolling and say ‘This song is called ‘Unskinny Bop.’ You switch to two or three upbeat songs and then go to ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn.’ The audience won’t get settled in their chair because they know they’re going to have to come right back up.”

Make covers your own: “I’ve got to throw in a little ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for sentimental reasons. After I had a brain hemorrhage (last year), Lynyrd Skynyrd took me on the road with them when other bands backed away because they didn’t know if I’d make it through the summer. I do a breakdown in the middle of the song and go ‘Throw your hands in the air, and wave ‘em like you just don’t care.’ One song I throw in a lot is a Sublime song I remade, ‘What I’ve Got.’ I added my own personality and even added my own verse.”

Send them home screaming: The encore is always ‘Nothin’ But a Good Time.’ It gets people in a frenzy. I call it a ‘parking lot party.’ I tell myself in my brain — my hemorrhaged brain — that I want to hear them whooing and slapping five in the parking lot after. I want them to leave the concert jacked up. That’s why they came.

You can’t please everyone: “I do meet-and-greets at every show and meet a minimum of 20-35 fans at each. They never complain so much as throw suggestions my way (about the set list). They’ll say you should play ‘Bittersweet’ or ‘Raine,’ which is a song I wrote about my daughter. I try to change the set up every single night so it doesn’t feel like you’re watching the same set over and over.”

Twitter @TribLuis

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