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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Breaking in a Pavilion With Poison : Rockers put on a competent, crowd-pleasing show but are outshined by the new venue, which has good sight lines and good sound from all spots.


Whoever picked the shortest time in the office pool on how long it would take to drive from downtown Los Angeles to the Blockbuster Glen Helen Pavilion for the Poison concert on Tuesday: You won!

The actual time from The Times' garage to the Blockbuster parking lot--a rush-hour trip of 60 miles--was even less than anyone guessed. The lowest estimate was 90 minutes, with most predicting it would take at least two hours to get to the first real concert in the new amphitheater near San Bernardino.

The actual time: 87 minutes.

Some stretches were stop-and-go, but for the most part it was smooth sailing. In fact, getting into the Glen Helen Regional Park, where the Pavilion is located, was such a breeze that it if hadn't been for the Caltrans truck on the freeway with a sign flashing "CONCERT . . . NEXT . . . EXIT" you might have thought the show had been canceled.

That's the good news. The bad news is that it meant an arrival early enough to see Firehouse, which opened the three-act show with a set that virtually defined faceless, brainless rock. At least the second-billed Damn Yankees were entertaining, thanks to veteran Ted Nugent in all his gonzo, gum-chewing, guitar-slinging glory. And Poison put on a competent, crowd-pleasing show.

Unfortunately, that crowd was only about 5,000--not even a third of the 16,000 capacity. The low attendance Tuesday may have been due to the Pavilion's unfamiliarity to concert-goers, and to another Poison show scheduled for the well-established Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Wednesday. Upcoming "exclusive" Southern California appearances by Def Leppard on Friday, Don Henley on Saturday and Rod Stewart on July 31 and Aug. 1 may be a better test of the Blockbuster drawing power.

But conversations with about two dozen fans showed an overwhelming thumbs-up for the facility. Those who live nearby were rejoicing that they wouldn't have to drive to Orange County or Los Angeles to attend major concerts, and everyone seemed pleased with the Pavilion itself, a well-planned outdoor venue with good sight lines and good sound from all spots. The only real complaint was about the dirt parking lot.

"They should either pave it or give you a free car wash," said Christina Rouw, 19, from nearby Etiwanda.

As for the music, Poison gave the fans just what they wanted--nothing less, though nothing more. Singer Bret Michaels, having completed his transformation from a mid-'80s glam-rocker to a sub-Axl working stiff, is a genial and natural frontman. But the band lacks the spark of originality that makes a Guns N' Roses--or even a Motley Crue--a hard-rock icon rather than just a crowd-pleaser.

Poison does have a new wild card in the fluid, sometimes stunning dexterity of new guitarist Richie Kotzen. But song after song on Tuesday sounded like knockoffs of either Aerosmith or the Sweet, and even when Poison showed good intentions (the faux-gospel, why-can't-we-all-get-along "Stand"), it didn't show much imagination.

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