Did you ever get the feeling you made a mistake buying tickets for a show? It never happened to me until I checked the setlist for the Def Leppard tour a few days ago. I know, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I still held out for the hope they’d surprise me.
You see, I hold the firm conviction that Def Leppard’s music went down the drain after the first 3 records. My rule of thumb is simple: if Rick Allen still has both his arms, you’re good to go. One armed drummer? Crap. Don’t get me wrong: this has nothing to do with Allen, who’s an icon of perseverance. It just happened like that.
Now, I very well know that album #4 sold 25 million copies worldwide (although judging by the number of copies you’ll find in used record stores, I was not alone in my disappointment). But to me, that’s where Def Leppard lost its edge. And don’t get me started on the post-Hysteria albums. Their current setlist only has 4 songs pre-Hysteria. So I was starting to think I’d made a mistake, but hey, it could have been worse: in Europe, they played the whole album!
Tesla opened the night, to my delight. Its been 14 years, and they played for an hour, so that was a big positive. They had the ungrateful task of starting the show at 7PM on a week day, in front of a sparse crowd, but they kicked things off with an excellent trio of classic tracks: ‘Cumin’ Atcha Live’, ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ and ‘Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)’.
The musicianship level is as high as ever in Tesla, although singer Jeff Keith looks and sounds a little rough. Armed with an arsenal of Gibson guitars (I’m guessing that when the endorsement came in, they asked for ‘one of each’), their bluesy rock sounded loud, raw and heavy. The crowd filled in quickly throughout their set, and they got a pretty good reaction, but some puzzling song choices in the middle of the set kind of killed their momentum. Luckily, they finished strongly with ‘Love Song’, ‘Little Suzi’ and ‘Signs’.
The band doesn’t have a huge catalog, but their best songs have stood the test of time, and they remain a very underrated band from the 80’s/90’s. The debate still remains though: are they a hair band, or not?
After Tesla’s set, the lads in Def Leppard conveniently provided us with a 30 minute countdown clock to their set. The lights dropped right on time as their cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ ended, and they launched into the first two of seven tracks from ‘Hysteria’ (and yet none of them were ‘Women’). As grumpy as I am towards that record, ‘Rocket’ and ‘Animal’ were great openers and got the crowd pumped. Then it all went to hell for me, for the next 8 songs. I’ll spare you the details, but think sappy ballads and by-the-numbers rockers.
The obligatory nod to their sophomore record ‘High ‘N Dry’ came from ‘Bringin’ On the Heartbreak’, followed by its instrumental epilogue ‘Switch 625’. Then came the title track to ‘Hysteria’, and the set closed with ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’. I’ll admit: it has a great chorus, but also some of the stupidest lyrics in rock. And I’m a KISS fan, so you know my bar is set pretty low. But the best part of that song is seeing how much joy it’s bringing to people. Hey, that’s what music’s all about, right?
Serious question: are there any people out there that got in at the time of ‘Pyromania’, and when ‘Hysteria’ came out, thought “Wow, NOW they’re cooking?”
The band then left the stage, and for a while, I was worried they wouldn’t be back. Nah, I’m kidding. The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and the encore at a rock concert.
Finally, the moment I was waiting for! ‘Pyromania’ sold over 10 million copies in the US alone, so it must have a few fans, right? ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Photograph’ closed the show on a high, but hearing Joe Elliot, who was otherwise in great form tonight, squeeze his falsetto to try to reach the notes, you start to think that maybe they ignore that record because he can’t sing them properly. Growing old’s a bitch.
But hey, the band played great, Joe sang great, and the close to sold out crowd loved it (it was full save for a few sections in the balcony that were closed off): what can you ask more of a Wednesday night?
Don’t mind me, I’m just a cranky old guy. But get off my lawn all the same.