One down, 42 to go.
The first show of the Def Leppard/Poison "Rock of Ages" tour is in the books, and if opening night was any indication, fans in the remaining 42 cities across North America can expect nothing but a good time. The two bands toured together previously in 2009 and the pairing seems to make even more sense now since it coincides nicely with the Friday premiere of the "Rock of Ages" movie, which features the music of both bands prominently in its 1980s story line.
British rockers Def Leppard seemed especially at home Wednesday night at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City -- and why not? The band has now performed there five of the past six years, and as lead singer Joe Elliott pointed out during the show, it is a little-known fact that much of the group's live "Mirrorball" album, released last year, was recorded at the venerable outdoor amphitheater, which is marking its 10th anniversary this summer.
As such, there were many aspects of the live Lepp show that had begun to seem familiar, you know, things such as setlist structure, stage design, video board content and the overall live presentation. But just as things seemed on the verge of settling in to the same routine, Def Leppard unveiled some new wrinkles that longtime fans should find especially exciting this summer.
The addition of adrenaline-inducing "Let It Go" early in the set was not a total surprise, but it's always a welcome addition whenever it makes an appearance. Things took a complete left turn several songs later, however, when the band launched into "Gods of War," a deep cut off the band's tremendously successful 1987 album, "Hysteria."
Immediately following "Gods of War," the band slipped into its popular mid-set acoustic breakdown -- a standard section of the past several tours. But that was where the band dramatically switched things up again. Instead of the "Two Steps Behind" into "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" acoustic treatment of recent memory, the band instead played a five-song medley featuring, as Elliott noted, "Some songs we haven't played in a long time and some songs we've never played."
The acoustic set exuded an extremely casual vibe, starting out with Elliott at the end of a ramp jutting about 10 rows deep into the audience sitting on a tour equipment storage case. He was subsequently joined, one by one, by the rest of the band, until everyone was parked on the rolling tour case playing acoustic guitar, except for drummer Rick Allen, who was shaking maracas. The just-under-10-minutes medley included parts of "Where Does Love Go When It Dies," "Now," "When Love and Hate Collide," "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad" and "Two Steps Behind." Elliott remained on the ramp alone to finish the latter song as the others repositioned themselves to play the traditional electric treatment of "Women."
One other deviation, albeit a return to norm, was a switch back to the full electric version of "Bringin' on the Heartbreak." As mentioned, the band had been giving it a mostly acoustic treatment for a half dozen years and it was nice to see the group's first hit return to its roots, followed, naturally, by its album segue, the instrumental "Switch 625."
Guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, of course, are a big part of the Dep Leppard sound and live experience. Their styles complement each other nicely, with the shirtless Collen being the more flashy of the two and Campbell, with his cadre of sparkly Gibson Les Pauls, a bit more understated. The two effortlessly jumped back and forth between lead and rhythm roles -- often in the course of the same song -- and some of the evening's best highlights were when the pair teamed up on melodic doubled guitar solos before venturing off into their own separate lines.
Allen and bassist Rick Savage held down the rhythm section with authority during the band's 1-hour, 40-minute set. And Elliott's voice seemed the strongest its been in recent years -- perhaps a benefit of catching the band on opening night, before the rigors of a grueling touring schedule begin to take effect. Speaking of opening night, there appeared to be a few minor technical issues. Both Campbell and Collen could occasionally be seen wandering over to offer direction to their side-stage techs mid-song, and Collen even had what appeared to be an unscheduled guitar change in the middle of one song early in the set. Nothing too unexpected, though, for the first show of a tour.
Stage spacing is something Def Leppard has always seemed to manage well, dating back to the band's in-the-round style tours during the "Hysteria" and "Adrenalize" eras. There always seems to be something going on at most portions of the stage at almost all times. Band members, for example, made copious use of both the ramp that went into the crowd and the walkway up behind Allen's drum kit. They often did so solo, allowing the others to hold down other positions of the stage. There was a lot of movement by everybody, yet band interaction on stage didn't seem to suffer because of it. It was an engaging show all around.
The video board behind the band was broken into five different panels, which flashed lots of accompanying visual pop and circumstance mixed with live action. It was especially effective when each panel showed a different band member, allowing fans in the cheap seats on the grass a more up-close-and-personal view of the proceedings.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of "Hysteria," and the album was the clear focal point on the evening with eight songs making it into the set. The record charted seven hit singles, and Def Leppard played every one of them Wednesday. Highlights included "Rocket," "Animal," "Love Bites," "Armageddon It" and the title track. The main set closed with another, the ubiquitous and party-hearty "Pour Some Sugar on Me." As cliche as that song has become, one can't deny that it is an extremely catchy and powerful live anthem that gets most everyone on their feet and making some, often-humorous, attempt at dancing.
The band returned for a one-song encore, which, to no one's surprise, turned out to be "Rock of Ages." As Elliott states early in the song, "It's better to burn out than fade away." It may be 29 years since Elliott first sang that line, and the band's big hit-making days may be behind it, but as to the question of whether or not the band is still capable of lighting a fire live, the answer is a resounding, "You betcha!"
Poison lit the fuse Wednesday with a tight 55-minute set featuring nine well-known songs along with the requisite guitar and drum solos. Admittedly, I have not been a big Poison fan over the long haul but the band has apparently been wearing down my resistance over the past few years with its sheer exuberance and energetic stage show. The band just seems to be having so much fun on stage that it's hard not to eventually give in.
Frontman Bret Michaels worked the crowd like he was running for office. He was constantly pointing in direct acknowledgment to individual members of the audience, and he also frequently reached down to shake hands with or fist bump those in the front rows and along the sides of the ramp. It was easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm as the band -- which also features guitarist C.C. DeVille, drummer Rikki Rockett and bassist (and Salt Lake City resident) Bobby Dall -- jammed out uptempo songs like "Look What the Cat Dragged In," "Ride the Wind," "Fallen Angel," "Unskinny Bop," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and "Talk Dirty to Me."
Poison closed its set with the infectious rocker "Nothin' But a Good Time." Let's face it, if you can't get caught up in the catchy guitar riff and groove of this song, it's not a Poison problem, it's a you problem.
Rocker Lita Ford kicked the show off with seven songs over 30 minutes. The former member of the all-girl band The Runaways, Ford played two songs off her brand new album, "Living Like a Runaway," which was just released Tuesday. She opened things off with a rockin' rendition of an Elton John hit, which might seem at complete odds with her brand of music, until you consider the title and the statement she no doubt is intending to make. I'll let you ponder the possibilities, but you can check out the accompanying setlist for the answer.
Ford and band closed the set with her two best-known songs, "Close My Eyes Forever" and "Kiss Me Deadly."