Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Concert review: Def Leppard, Poison and Cheap Trick at Ford Amphitheatre (with pics)

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 12:10 AM

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All photos by Mike Wilson.

Remember the days when you, a wide-eyed high school student, were starved for entertainment? Remember when going to a "rock concert" (a phrase that's sadly, never really heard anymore) was a real event? The crowd at the Ford Amphitheatre sure remembered those days. And they got to relive them for one night this past Friday.

The mostly 35-plus crowd that packed Ford Amp to near-sellout capacity all seem to be there for the same reason: to re-live their youths and to cheer on bands that have dominated their CD collections for over two decades. The rare chance to see three bands on the same bill, each with the the ability to headline arenas in their own right was a real treat. Is it a sign of the lagging economy? Or a truly righteous move on the part of the bands to treat us, the concertgoers, to plenty of bang for our buck? In any case, what was promised was surely delivered on this hot, steamy summer night.

In a noticeable and welcome change of pace from the typical 1980's multi-act bill, this show got off to a punctual and precise start. Tickets listed the showtime as 7 p.m., and lo-and-behold, the first band on the bill, Cheap Trick, hit the stage at 6:59. (Robin Zander pictured, more photos after the jump)

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A witty and well-paced audio track blared through the

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PA before the band took the stage. Soundbites re-affirming  the band's place in pop culture from sources like animated TV family The Simpsons to the '80s classic film Fast Times At Ridgemont High were heard in tribute to this veteran outfit. And before you knew it, the band ripped their set wide open with a rocker from their heyday, "Way of the World," and proved that despite all the years they've been touring the world, they still have what it takes to please, and the crowd responded enthusiastically. In what turned out to be a compact 40-minute set, Cheap Trick had little time to waste and managed to squeeze in all their gimmicks and their shtick in this condensed version of their normal show. Guitarist and class clown Rick Nielsen (pictured above), clad in lavender sport coat,  showered the crowd with fistfuls of guitar picks in traditional fashion. Lead vocalist Robin Zander proved he hasn't lost any of the growl or grit in his pipes despite singing his ass off for the better part of 30 years. Trick staples "Surrender," "Dream Police" and "I Want You To Want Me" sounded as fresh as ever and went over tremendously. The band even managed to squeeze in a couple of tunes from their brand new studio release, The Latest. You'd be hard pressed to find a better band to open this show ... these warriors have been at it for a long time and they managed to show off all their tricks and talents during a too short set.

Fast and furious roadies and stagehands wasted no time either. Equipment was broken down and set up at rapid-fire speed. The stage was set and ready for ’80s hair-metal favorites Poison, who made their entrance at 8 p.m. on the dot. Getting things started with the title track off their 1986 platinum-selling debut, Look What The Cat Dragged In, Poison managed to dig into their own bag of tricks. Flashpots and bursts of flames lit up the stage as the band's set unfolded. Poison had a reputation of upstaging the headliners they'd opened for in their early days and they seemed to be on pace to do the same on this Friday night. Drawing mostly from their first two albums, hits and MTV favorites "Fallen Angel" and "Nothin' But A Good Time" were met with roars and screams of approval and recognition. Unnecessary guitar solos and drum solos by members C.C. Deville and Rikki Rocket, respectively, slowed things down a bit, but the band managed to pick up the pace a little more effectively after those segments. The tune that epitomizes the term "power ballad," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," had the effect of a trance-inducing anthem. Arms waved as the audience indulged lead singer (and star of VH1's top rated reality show Rock of Love) Bret Michaels' invitations to sing along. "Talk Dirty To Me," the band's best-known song, got the wildest response, though -- as it usually does at a Poison concert. The unofficial theme song of the late-’80s Los Angeles-based glam rock scene still whips crowds into a frenzy 23 years after its release. A worthy and reliable band to get a crowd good and ready for the main attraction, Poison proved they can still elate and excite.

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Roadies managed to prepare Def Leppard's gargantuan stage set in record time. Exactly 30 minutes after Poison's exit, lights dimmed and AC/DC's "For Those About To Rock, We Salute You" boomed and thudded from the speakers as headliners Def Lep prepared to take center stage. A two-tiered set drenched in lights and sporting state-of-the-art video screens served as the platform for the night's closing attraction. In no way to be outshined or shown up by the preceding acts, Leppard quickly took flight with "Rock Rock ('Til You Drop),"  the opening cut from their 1983 breakthrough album Pyromania. The band's 90-minute set played like a greatest hits jukebox: "Rocket," "Animal," Rock of Ages" and "Love Bites" served as reminders of Leppard's sturdy grasp of singles and albums charts in the 1980s. The band had the luxury of being blessed with massive radio airplay and MTV airtime throughout that decade (and into the early 1990s as well). Their sales were staggering and 1987's Hysteria was the pinnacle.

All of that album's several hits were prominently featured and the crowd ate it up. All of it. Even the two-song acoustic set that found the entire band (minus drummer Rick Allen) front and center at the lip of a walkway that extended into the first few rows of seats. "Two Steps Behind" and "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" got the acoustic treatment before the latter broke back into its more recognizable full-band, electric reading. The only time the band didn't dip into its vault of well-known hits was when they performed "Nine Lives," a minor hit  from their latest studio effort, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge. Otherwise, the crowd got what they came for: "Photograph," "Rocket" and, of course, the band's best-known hit and pole dancer favorite, "Pour Some Sugar On Me." Admittedly, lead singer Joe Elliot can't quite reach the high vocal register he was known for anymore, but no one seemed to mind. Guitarist Phil Collen and bassist Rick Savage pouted and hammed it up and again, the mostly female crowd went nuts. The night came to a close with encore "Let's Get Rocked." After three strong performances during a night of solid reminders of what made attending concerts so special, the crowd surely walked away "Rocked."

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