Monday, August 27, 2012

Poison and Def Leppard: Rock of Ages 2012

On Saturday August 25th, three hair rock bands from the 1980's arrived at the Chaifetz Arena on the Saint Louis University Campus for an evening of nostalgia. Def Leppard, Poison, and Lita Ford all graced the stage and played the songs we all remember from the free wheeling 80's.

Lita Ford opened up the show with a short six song set with her new band. I was never much of a Lita Ford fan. Of course I knew her big songs, "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Close My Eyes Forever." I knew she had been talking about touring again for at least the last ten years. I had long since given up on her making good on the threats which made me very happy that she decided to get back on the road supporting her first album in forever, "Living Like A Runaway." She opened with "The Bitch Is Back," how apropos, no? What really struck me were the new songs she played. My companion and I were really blown away at the musicianship, the lyrics, and the emotion that went into these songs. I immediately went and purchased the CD at the merch table. Lita then ripped into the aforementioned big hits. She played a short and sweet set. Her new guitarist handling most of the leads even though Lita was always quite adept at handling those herself. When her new guy let loose on a the new songs, I saw why she let him take over. The dude just smokes. I haven't listened to the CD yet, but her performance was good enough to convince me to lay down fifteen bucks for it.

Poison came out next and they just lit it up from the moment C.C. hit the opening chords. The moment Brett came up on an elevator from behind the stage, it was on like Donkey Kong for the next hour and fifteen minutes. This was the third time I've seen Poison and though they never disappoint, this time they were just absolutely on fire. The role of nostalgia band really seems to suit them. The entire night they were very thankful to be playing live in front of a packed house. I cannot remember the last significant piece of music Poison has released and they neither tried to remind me nor convince me of any such pieces of music. The entire show was full of songs from their classic albums. I may have been the only one, but I was disappointed that they didn't play "I Hate Every Bone In Your Body But Mine," perhaps had they more time. All in all, I had naught to be disappointed by Poison and their set.

During his extended guitar solo, the fourth song of the night, C.C. demonstrated some very learned chops. I had no idea he had it in him, and this is the fourth time I've seen him live (thrice with Poison and once with Samantha 7). He played some very amazing two hand tapping licks that frankly impressed me a great deal. Another thing about C.C., it really seemed like between the last time I saw Poison, on the 20th Anniversary Tour, and now it seemed like he had purchased some old Poison records and listened to them, because he was playing the actual solos from the records instead of just noodling something completely different every time Brett yelled "C.C.!!" For Rikki's extended drum solo, the band started and finished it by playing "Moby Dick." I will claim that neither the riff nor the solo were as good as the originators, but still quite enjoyable. The bottom line is that Poison has passed on into nostalgia territory, but they don't seem like they could be happier about it and still put on a great show.

Def Leppard I had also seen once before and I did not enjoy that show at all, but I was hopeful. They came out and they played like the meant it and it ended up being quite a good show as well. Def Leppard has never stopped recording new music, but this show wasn't about their newest music. This was a setlist that was very heavy on "Pyromania" and "Hysteria." After all, it was the 25th Anniversary of the "Hysteria" album which was not only their biggest hit to date, but one of the biggest records of all time. The first time I saw them, I didn't recognize half of what they played because they were doing so much from the new records and this time was obviously quite different.

What I enjoyed about this set was the homage to the first phase of the band. I always think of them as an 80's synthy band with the giant choruses because that is the majority of their career, but their first three albums were nothing like that. They were hard driving rock albums with some classic tracks that have been somewhat forgotten over the years after they morphed. I was thrilled they played "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" which is by far my favorite tune of theirs and they did it justice. They also played an acoustic medley of their later songs with four of them playing on acoustic guitars and Rick Allen shaking a maraca. Then they finished off the show with blistering versions of "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and of course, "Rock of Ages." Sadly, Joe didn't pull out a giant sword for the latter.

One thing I had forgotten about Def Leppard though is what amazing guitarists they are. With the synths, the overdubs, and all the trappings therein, it's easy to think of them as a studio band, but they recreated those songs masterfully. Phil Collen said in an interview promoting "Slang" that he was glad the 80's were over and he didn't have to "do the Olympics on the guitar anymore," and that's precisely what his, and Vivian Campbell's, fingers were doing all night during their solos. It was just amazing, but it did keep them a bit sedentary while they were playing which made it seem like they lacked the energy of the Poison show.

I want to also give super props to Vivian who was the only member of Def Leppard who wasn't wearing a Union Jack during the show. Even Phil Collen who was not wearing a shirt for the entire show had the flag draped off of his belt. It was also fun to watch Vivian's endless stream of oddly colored and sparkly Les Pauls. Phil played the same kinds of guitars he did back in the old days, shredders.

All in all, this was a very fun show that I'm glad I attended. All three acts are getting long in the tooth but they all still brought it and the fans enjoyed it just as much as they did.