They Came from the Eighties

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Geroge Rose / Getty

Poison, 1987
Rikki Rocket, Bobby Dall, C.C. DeVille and Bret Michaels pose on the red carpet at the MTV Music Awards.

If the reunion concert of Van Halen has you feeling like you've stepped into a time warp... Where have you been all summer? There was Don Dokken wailing "Unchain the Night" to hundreds of wild fans in Springfield, Virginia, as razor-sharp, screaming guitar chords pierced the darkness. A few weeks after, in the same venue, Ratt lead singer Stephen Pearcy stretched a mike over the crowd and sang "Round and Round" as bodies slammed together and fists pounded the air. In Thorpe, Pennsylvania, Warrant's Jani Lane was in concert, singing the band's classic '80s metal ballad "Heaven" as thousands waved cellphones and lighters in the air. And not to be left out, Motley Crue and front man Vince Neil launch into "Looks that Kill" as their Ocean City, Maryland, audience screams along with the lyrics.

The summer concert season of 2007 swept America back into the 1980s as scores of hard rock/metal bands from that decade began touring again, drawing large crowds, new, young fans, and solid revenues 25 years after first emerging. Who toured? Tesla, Dokken, Great White, Winger, Warrant, Queensryche, Poison, Ratt, Vince Neil, Firehouse, Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, L.A. Guns, White Lion, Skid Row, and Black Sabbath. "Despite the fact that it's two decades later, people still like to bang their heads, raise their fists, and have some fun," says Jeff Albright, president of the Albright Entertainment Group and publicist for numerous top-tier hard rock singers. "The opportunities for revenue are probably greater than ever before," says Albright, referring to concert video DVDs and downloads via iTune.

In some cases the crowds and revenues have rivaled those of the 1980s. Ratt and Poison just wrapped up a long, large-venue summer tour where they played regularly before 8,000 to 10,000 fans. Ratt lead singer Pearcy says he noticed an emerging younger fan base of teenagers and twenty-somethings who were born years after Ratt multi-platinum Out of the Cellar album released in 1984. "It has been a gradual buildup again. It's rock and roll — colorful, dangerous, exciting," Pearcy said.

"Rock music is something that will always be around and raise its head. I don't know if it will ever approach the level it was in the '80s when it was nothing to play to 20,000 or 30,000 people a night. Many of the fans that do come out are people that have been listening for years. They bring their kids. They know the history. It is nice to see that second generation Queensryche fan coming out," said Geoff Tate, lead singer of Queensryche, which toured with Black Sabbath this summer. The bands played to crowds 10,000 strong.

Live performance is part of the appeal. "There is this mystical thing that happens between the audience and the performer that is impossible to get from a DVD. It is an ancient thing that is very difficult to explain but you know it when you are there. As a performer I find that incredibly intoxicating," says Tate.

"It is pretty cool to play all these songs to sold out concerts and see younger kids, 12- to 13-year-old kids with "Shout at the Devil" T-shirts on," says Motley Crue's Vince Neil. "The whole essence of rock and roll is something that kids are latching on to. This is what Motley Crue was always about, the music and the show. We are in our heyday now. This is the time." Motley Crue is planning to record a new album this coming winter.

Dokken says he continues to be inspired by loyal fans, including a sizable number of U.S. military personnel. At a recent show in Oklahoma, Dokken spotted a U.S. Marine in the front row. "This guy was standing right down in the front row in full Marine uniform and he stuck out because he was in full Marine uniform, so I grabbed him and had him brought backstage. He said 'I just got back from Iraq. I just got back. I survived it and I wanted to see Dokken.'"

If Dokken and the other big-hair survivor bands of the '80s have their way, they will be around to welcome back the troops. Says Pearcy, "When I'm 60 and some cool grandpa dude, I'll be rocking."