As Poison pounds out the triumphal closing bars of "Love on the Rocks," C. C. DeVille bounds to the microphone and addresses the 12,000 adoring fans crammed into the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. "I wanna know if you missed me!" the bare-chested guitarist shouts over the crowd's roar. " 'Cause I missed you bad!"
Poison is two months into a sold-out reunion tour that also features Ratt, Great White, and L.A. Guns. In the eighties, these blow-dried metalists racked up sales figures well into the millions. But in the wake of Nirvana's 1991 Nevermind, when the music industry went gaga for grunge, record companies dropped glam-metal acts by the fistful, and MTV and radio followed suit.
Out here in Jersey, though, metal fans never lost the faith. Clad in lime-green and fuchsia spandex, her three-inch stilettos digging into the sloping lawn at the top of the arena, Stephanie Salvimina sways to Ratt's "You're in Love" and crows, "We're finally getting back to some real music!" Her companion, Eric Muller, whose Ur-Beavis look includes a faded Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt and shoulder-length blond hair, flashes a smile full of blackening teeth and adds, "Music sucked in the nineties!"
Indeed, now that the brooding sound of Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains has become an anachronism in its own right, party-hearty hair metal is once again becoming music to the industry's ears. "These guys do way bigger business on the road than most alternative acts," says veteran A&R man John Kalodner, who recently signed Ratt and Great White to Sony's new Portrait imprint. Other eighties stalwarts now in the major-label fold include Cinderella (also on Portrait), Queensryche (Atlantic), and Def Leppard (Mercury). Improbably, Poison has actually become the object of a bidding war between the band's old label, Capitol, and Portrait.
Still, the bands aren't exactly partying like it's 1989. Their hair is thinner, their waists are thicker, and the labels are hunting for bargains. Kalodner is offering advances of about $200,000 per album, compared with the $1 million superstar metal acts commanded in their heyday. "It's a different business model," the executive admits. "We're not going to spend a fortune on marketing. They don't need to make videos, 'cause who's gonna play them?"
The first two releases on Portrait, from Ratt and Great White, debuted July 6; both sold fewer than 9,000 copies in their first week. Meager as the numbers are, Great White vocalist Jack Russell -- who just last year was playing to crowds of less than 500 -- is grateful for every CD and ticket he sells. "A club gig is like masturbation," the singer muses. "A gig like this is an orgy."