golden girls: C.C. DeVille and Bret Michaels of Poison.
Leppard, Poison, Cheap Trick
Performing Arts Center, July 3
you wanna get rocked?” Well, no, not if the song in question
is Def Leppard’s cheesy 1992 single “Let’s Get Rocked.” The
proudly British rock vets paradoxically closed Friday’s show
with that question and song, soundtracking the walk to the
car for much of the audience. “Rocked” isn’t so much dated
as it is just plain corny—why they would follow two of the
biggest and best rock singles of the 1980s (“Pour Some Sugar
on Me” and “Rock of Ages”) with this clunker is beyond comprehension.
But that’s accentuating the negative, which is not what Def
Leppard are about. Met twice with tragedy at the height of
their popularity, the band have soldiered on to an improbable
30-year run. They’re survivors; how fitting that the one new
song in their set would be called “Nine Lives.”
At SPAC, the band burned, sometimes slowly, through 90 minutes
of their hits, in front of, and atop, a giant, LED-laden stage
that rivaled the sets from their ’80s heyday. From the opening
“Rock! Rock! (’Til You Drop)” to Hysteria hits “Animal”
and “Rocket” to a bevy of great power ballads, it was a dream
setlist for the Bic-lighter-hoisting masses.
There were some expected soft spots: Singer Joe Elliott doesn’t
have quite the throat he used to. And the pacing was sluggish,
even for such an abbreviated show.
But give it up for the band! Guitarists Phil Collen (shirtless,
looking fresh from the weight bench) and Vivian Campbell were
all class, trading leads and holding down the gargantuan backing
vocals (along with bassist Rick Savage) that helped define
the band’s sound. And Rick Allen is, still, one of the most
impressive musicians on planet Earth. You can usually tell
a Def Leppard song by the drumbeat—how many drummers can you
say that about? Give it up, too, for the invisible sixth member,
producer “Mutt” Lange, whose contribution to the Leppard sound
is immeasurable; with him, this band cooked up some of the
best pop-metal ever made. Why aren’t these guys in the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame?
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Poison are eligible in two years.
Take a moment to dry your eyes. In the night’s middle slot,
the band who once could have required an entire storage trailer
for their supply of Aqua Net played as if they had been cryogenically
frozen for the last 18 years—not a single song recorded after
1990 made the cut.
And that’s just fine, because of those big, dumb, sing-along
hits: “Unskinny Bop,” “I Want Action,” “Nothin’ but a Good
Time,” “Talk Dirty to Me.” Don’t lie to yourself. These are
damn good pop songs and you know it; put some firepots behind
’em and you’ve got a show-stopper. No matter how many interminable
guitar solos C.C. DeVille splays around (his solo turn onstage
was truly shitty, like Nigel Tufnel come to life) it’s not
at all about skill. Poison are about all-American, put-the-top-down,
grab-your-girl-and-a-cold-brew rock & roll music.
In their 35th year, openers Cheap Trick played like a bunch
of ragged 19-year-olds, rough and dirty and breathing fire
into their vintage hits. Robin Zander sang like he had something
to prove, sounding not the least bit shy on the soaring high
notes. As usual, guitarist Rick Nielsen garnered the spotlight
even when he was just banging out power chords. And bassist
Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos churned out a ferocious
backbeat, proving once again why Cheap Trick are the consummate
power-pop band. I’ve seen this band several times over 20
years and they sound better every time—check them out the
next time they come around.