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The golden girls: C.C. DeVille and Bret Michaels of Poison.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Rock Brigade

By John Brodeur

Def Leppard, Poison, Cheap Trick

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 3


Do 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.

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