ATLANTIC CITY — It may have taken a brain hemorrhage and a win on Donald Trump’s reality series “The Celebrity Apprentice,” but Bret Michaels hasn’t been this popular since his hair-metal band Poison topped the charts in the 1980s.

Based on past solo appearances in Atlantic City, Michaels’ Friday night show at the Atlantic City Hilton would have probably been about half full. But everyone loves the underdog who overcomes life’s obstacles.

And Michaels, who suffered the hemorrhage in April followed by a mild stroke in May, has certainly done that, resulting in a Hilton Theater that was packed to capacity to witness Michaels’ comeback from near-death first hand. (The guy also has a small hole in his heart, which will require surgery.)

Some would call Michaels crazy for getting back on the road so soon, but Michaels has always been the kind of guy to plow forward.

As the 47-year-old, long-haired, blond rocker walked on stage to the sounds of Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” wearing his trademark bandanna and cowboy hat, it was clear that there was no need to feel sorry for this rock star. High-fiving his appreciative fans, Michaels looked great and sounded almost as good.

Opening with Poison’s megahit “Talk Dirty to Me,” the concert became an immediate sing-along and got the festivities started in rocking fashion.  After thanking his fans for all of their well wishes and prayers during his medical crisis, he told the crowd he was “ready to throw a party.”

And a party it was — a short party, but a good party, nonetheless. Michaels and his talented band only played 12 songs for approximately 70 minutes, a pretty lame amount of time considering that there was no opener. Maybe it was doctor’s orders.

Michaels, however, made every song and minute count, dancing, and playing harmonica and guitar, and he seemed to have a great time doing it.

The night was mostly full of Poison songs and covers. The highlights of the night were certainly the Poison chart-toppers that still hold up more than 20 years since they were written, particularly the upbeat “Unskinny Bop,” the infectious “Fallen Angel,” the encore “Nothin’ But a Good Time” and the band’s biggest hit, the ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”

His choice of covers was inspired and fun. He nailed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” played the Poison staple “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” which is a Loggins & Messina cover, and surprised the crowd with a metal guitar-fueled version of Sublime’s “What I Got,” even though he lied to the crowd and told them that it was the first time his band played it; they played it previously on this tour.

Surprisingly — and thankfully — Michaels only played two solo songs: “Go That Far,” a mediocre track from his new country-influenced album “Custom Built” that serves as the theme song for his “Rock of Love” reality series; and “Bittersweet,” his catchiest solo song from 2003’s “Songs of Life.”

Michaels seemed to have some difficulty hitting a lot of the high notes from his Poison material, showing age has definitely affected his range. On the acoustic ballad “Something to Believe In,” he took the easy way out, singing low while his backup band took the high notes, something he did throughout the show.

His four-piece ensemble was a like a cover band on steroids. In fact, guitarist Pete Evick’s clean, precise playing was welcome over Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille, whose fretwork has grown sloppy and rushed over the years.

The amiable Michaels spoke to the crowd throughout the night. He made it abundantly clear he is now more than a performer — he’s an American pop icon (or wants to be one). He told the audience he would love to be a judge on “American Idol” and he will be back on VH1 in the fall on the reality series “Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It.” Whether he will make out with scantily clad women on that show like he did on “Rock of Love” is still uncertain.

Despite the short show, Michaels and his crew made plenty of time to plug his merchandise, including an announcement before the encore. Tacky. Selling everything from bandannas to “specialty items” that included a meet-and-greet on the tour bus, Michaels is becoming a solo version of the equally money-hungry KISS.

Michaels said after his solo tour wraps, he plans to reunite with Poison for the band’s 25th anniversary, mentioning a possibility of touring with Motley Crue and Cinderella next summer. Sounds like fun.

He did say there is one TV show he will never appear on: “Dancing with the Stars,” telling the crowd, “That’s a disasta comin’ at ya.” At least he has some standards.

Contact Scott Cronick:

609-272-7017