Def Leppard and Kiss both made strong opening statements Monday night as the pair of rock behemoths kicked off their 42-city national tour with a sellout show at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City.
The two bands each took the stage in unique fashion, setting the bar high for the remainder of their sets -- which both clocked in at a shorter-than-what-they're-accustomed 75 minutes in the co-headlining arrangement.
As showtime approached, a large Def Leppard curtain was raised as the music of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" emanated from the speakers. The majority of the audience no doubt expected the song to play out in its entirety before the band took the stage. However they were in for a well-timed shock.
As the song arrived at its iconic Roger Daltrey scream -- and if you don't know which part that's referring to, first, shame on you, and second, think the opening credits of "CSI: Miami" -- the band launched into the moment in full force as the curtain dropped, and then proceeded to play the remainder of the song before leading into its own opener of "Let It Go." It was a breathtaking one-two punch to jumpstart the set.
Kiss, as expected, displayed all the subtlety of a jackhammer when its show began. So it was that when the curtain dropped on its kickoff sequence, amid the cacophony of lights, smoke and pyro blasts, all four band members were elevated way above the stage as they began playing "Kings of the Night Time World." Eric Singer was atop his own raised drum kit while bassist Gene Simmons and guitarists Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer were all on top of the lighting rig -- which was in the design of a giant spider. The trio were on a platform that made up the spider's body, and all the "tentacles" of the lighting rig lowered themselves, as a spider would, before finally depositing them on stage.
The two disparate sets showcased exactly what makes each band great in its own right. Def Leppard's performance was tight musically and sounded pretty spot on to its meticulous recordings, albeit with an enjoyable bit of raw edge. Lead singer Joe Elliott's voice sounded strong and fresh -- certainly an added bonus of catching the tour's opening night -- and the band was crisp, dynamic and straightforward on the whole.
By contrast, Kiss' show was filled with bombast, which of course, is completely expected. It was a fun, eye-popping performance with nary a dull moment or opportunity for the crowd to sit down or take a break of any kind. The band hit on all its iconic concert tricks including Simmons breathing fire (at the end of "War Machine") and spitting blood (during the bass solo intro to "I Like It Loud," shooting fireworks from Thayer's guitar ("Black Diamond") and flying through the air (Simmons for "I Like It Loud" and Stanley for an in-audience vocal spin in "Psycho Circus.")
In addition to a Stadium of Fire-esque arsenal of fireworks, and shock-and-awe explosions there was also quite possibly the largest confetti blast on record, which fell upon fans in the front sections without letup like a Point of the Mountain blizzard in December.
According to reports, the show apparently reached sellout capacity of 20,000 sometime during Def Leppard's performance. That prompted Stanley to proclaim, "Just in case you didn't know, this is the most people to ever attend a concert here!"
Kiss eschewed the strategy of slotting mostly hit songs into its shortened set, and added numbers like "War Machine," "Hide Your Heart" and "Makin' Love." Even Stanley couldn't initially remember what album the latter song was originally on when he introduced it.
"I think it comes off 'Love Gun'," he said, before shrugging his shoulders and adding, "I just write them." Receiving an apparent epiphany as the song started, he rushed over to the microphone to correct himself and say, "It's from the 'Rock and Roll Over' album."
In case there was any doubt about how Kiss likes its music played, a mid-set, back-to-back package featured "Shout It Out Loud" and "I Like It Loud." Soft sarcasm, perhaps?
The delicate intro to "Black Diamond" was a momentary change of pace late before ramping up intensity, the song giving Singer a turn on lead vocals. It was supposed to be the band's main-set closer -- but due to the approaching 11 p.m. curfew at USANA, the band stayed on stage and went right into its "encore" numbers, "Detroit Rock City" and "Rock and Roll All Nite."
Near the end of the final song, while his three other bandmates were playing atop elevated lifts, Stanley bashed his guitar at center stage in classic rock star excess. Moments before, however, he had meandered over to the side of the stage and casually switched out his main guitar, substituting it for the one to be destroyed. Isn't that considered cheating? Don't you have to at least play a guitar for one full song to break it to bits?
Apparently not, and after all the spectacle of Kiss' performance Monday -- which, incidentally, opened its '40th Anniversary Tour' -- no one in the audience left feeling cheated.
Going back to Def Leppard, the songs filling the band's show Monday were only slightly different than those the group has been playing for ages. The opener "Let It Go" and the hit "Two Steps Behind" were the only songs that haven't been staples as the band has played at USANA Amphitheatre six of the past eight summers. Even the order of the setlist had a pretty familiar flow -- but that's almost to be expected within the confines of time limits in co-headline performances.
The tour with Kiss has moved Def Leppard into rare open-band territory, and one wonders when the Brits have last had to perform more than half their show with the sun in their eyes. Much of the band wore sunglasses early on, and drummer Rick Allen was somewhat obscured and covered by a tarp over his head throughout, ostensibly for sun screen.
The members of Def Leppard are all very active live, roaming and jogging about, with no one neglecting any side of the stage or section of the audience.
The guitarists, Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, are fun to watch, as much for their talent as their differences in performing personality. Collen definitely peacocks around the stage, whipping off well-known solos with flair, playing up to the audience, and posturing at center stage -- such as when he holds his guitar at arm's length only by the whammy bar, wiggling it at the appropriate end-of-solo spots. Campbell, meanwhile, is much more understated and handles most of the rhythm guitar duties. He does get his moments to shine, however, especially in "Armageddon It."
The band did a brief acoustic section with "Two Steps Behind" and the first half of "Bringin' on the Heartbreak," before launching into a full electric assault for the remainder of the song. And the segue into instrumental "Switch 625" -- pretty much the only song in the set that isn't a hit -- is always a welcome addition.
The backstretch and encores were a march through songs that have graced the rock airwaves for decades: "Hysteria," "Armageddon It," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph."
One date in, and it seems obvious this Def Leppard-Kiss pairing works, despite the differences in the bands and their respective fanbases.
What didn't quite work was the set of Kobra and the Lotus in the opening slot. The Canadian speed metal band seemed a bit out of place during its 30-minute assault on the senses and may be a better fit in shows more of its genre.