IT IS 1988 ALL OVER AGAIN BUT EVERYONE SEEMS A LOT OLDER!
It is hard to believe that twenty seven years has already passed since the first time that I saw Def Leppard play live. At that time, I was still just a kid and quite picky about which concerts to attend given what I felt were astronomical prices ($20 or so) to attend them. Ironically back in 1988 when I had the opportunity to see Def Leppard during their now infamous Hysteria tour with their in the round stage, the main attraction for me and reason to attend was the opening band Tesla whose debut record Mechanical Resonance I was a BIG fan of. Funny enough, although I may have gone to see Tesla back in 1988, it is Def Leppard‘s strong performance on that night back in 1988 that I still vividly remember and that made a lasting impression on me.
This time around, the main attraction was to see Def Leppard rather than opener Tesla. Styx was scheduled to open this time as well but that group’s heyday with the exception of “Mr. Roboto” was slightly before I really got into music. Accordingly, my level of enthusiasm to see Styx perform was pretty low. Although there is no question that I still rank Def Leppard‘s Hysteria tour performance as one of the best concerts that I ever attended to this day, I had never gone to see them play live again largely because I haven’t liked any of their studio records since Hysteria and even Hysteria was a real shock to my system back in the day. I got to say that after seeing Def Leppard play twenty seven years later, I really missed out on some great shows because these British (and one Irish) lads still got it and know how to tear the roof down with their live performance.
At around 6:30 pm, new fellow Sleaze Roxx writer Eduardo and I arrived at the Molson Amphitheatre, which stage faces and its sound goes towards the water. As usual, parking was a bit of a nightmare with long line-ups for the one pay parking machine that was working near where we had parked. Luckily, other pay parking machines a little further away were much less frequented so we were able to get on with that fairly quickly. Next step was to get through the huge line-up of people that extended onto the pedestrian bridge that went over the rather large Lakeshore Boulevard. I noticed that there was a very short line-up towards the side so Eduardo and I proceded there despite many people being turned away ahead of us. Luckily, this was the “Front of the line” line sponsored by American Express. Once again, my American Express card, which I specifically obtained years prior for events such as these, paid immediate dividends since we were able to get into the venue right away and we were able to avoid the nightmarish line-ups that would have likely caused us to miss the first opening band Tesla. Given that it had rained the night before and dark clouds were still looming to some extent, we made plans and were able to upgrade our lawn tickets into one of the many covered seated sections.
We stood for the first few songs of Tesla’s set before finding our new assigned seating. Although we had a much improved view of the stage compared to where we would have been with our lawn tickets, we were still quite far from the stage and it felt weird seeing Tesla perform from so far away. Tesla opened their set with “Edison’s Medicine” from their third record Psychotic Supper. I considered this song choice surprising given that the band has, in my mind, many better tracks to play which were omitted on this night such as the classic “Gettin’ Better” and the “newer” track “I Wanna Live”. Mechanical Resonance may have been the record that got me into Tesla but after hearing the band play four tracks from The Great Radio Controversy, I remembered just how good that second album was as well. After a blistering rendition of “Hang Tough”, Tesla frontman Jeff Keith addressed the crowd stating something to the extent of “It’s been 28 years and we’re still kicking some fucking ass!” to which I agree.
Unfortunately for Tesla, a lot of the crowd was still making their way into the venue so there were still quite a few empty seats and most people were seated rather than standing in the area that we eventually settled on. This and the distance between where we were located and the stage made it quite hard to fully get into Tesla‘s set. Tesla must have been given some stage restrictions because no one from the band ever ventured onto the long catwalk that went pretty deeply into the audience. In addition, although the Molson Amphitheatre has two “big” screens — this is quite relative as they are probably two of the smallest big screens that I have seen for a concert venue — they were not activated for Tesla‘s set. Perhaps this was because it was still broad daylight when Tesla played their set. In any case, it would have been nice for Tesla if the band members could have taken advantage of that catwalk and if those big screens could have been activated while they were playing.
Similar to Twisted Sister with lead vocalist Dee Snider and guitarist Jay Jay French, there are two people in Tesla that seemingly like to and are capable of addressing the crowd. It was therefore no surprise to hear guitarist Frank Hannon speak to the crowd on at least two occasions including once where he stated the almost obligatory “It’s great to be back in Toronto. It’s been way too long!”. Aside from the opening song, all of the tracks that I was expecting Tesla to play were performed on this night from their cover of the Five Man Electrical Band‘s “Signs” to their moody ballad “Love Song”. It always amazes me how I seemingly know all the lyrics to songs these days that I only hear once a year or even less but I knew pretty much all the words to all of the Tesla songs played on this night. I guess that I must have played all those Tesla songs so much back in the day that the song lyrics are now engrained in my memory. Tesla closed off their set with the easy to sing along classic “Little Suzi” and the first song to put them on the map, “Modern Day Cowboy”. Overall, Tesla put on a strong set but I would have definitely liked to hear more songs from Mechanical Resonance.
Although Toronto is a mighty metropolitan of over 5 million people, when it comes to 80s hard rock / heavy metal enthusiasts, it feels more like a small town with a lot of familiar faces showing up at the various events. For example, one familiar face / person that I keep seeing at shows recently is Reverse Grip bassist Kramer White. As Tesla‘s set was winding down, I spotted my friend Greg in the audience who usually attends the bigger name concerts like KISS or Def Leppard. Greg’s friend Rick turned out to be an interesting and jovial guy who eventually divulged via Greg knowing some rock celebrities and most namely the one and only Sebastian Bach. I quickly put two and two together and realized that Rick was the childhood best friend that Bach had referred to at his Toronto gig back in late December 2014. I pointed out to Rick that Bach had told a story about Rick involving motorcycles. While everyone seemed amazed that I would even remember such a story, I had actually covered it in my concert review of Bach‘s gig that night. Rick advised that Bach‘s story was not completely accurate and he proceeded to provide his own version of those events.
Eventually, we made our way to the bar area which could only be accessed with an American Express card or seemingly one of the higher priced tickets. At that time, Rick began to regale us with stories from his youth including that he was the frontman Ricky Blade from the Toronto area Daggers ‘n Dolls band that were almost signed back in the late 80s before he decided to walk away from it. Rick’s tales from the past were so entertaining that all of us seemed to forget that Styx were scheduled to play soon. Indeed, it was only when Styx was well into their set that all of us made our way back to our seats. The good news about missing a good portion of Styx‘s set is that Ricky Blade agreed to share his stories from the past with Sleaze Roxx readers so stay tuned for an interview hopefully in the not too distant future. By the time that we got back to our seats, all of the lights were placed on presumably keyboardist / lead vocalist Lawrence Gowan who led the band through a spirited version of “Come Sail Away” that had just about the entire audience singing along. It was actually quite the sight to see as the Molson Amphitheatre seemed packed by that time and it was only then that I realized just how popular Styx were and why they were playing after Tesla. Styx played a couple of other songs which I was not really familiar with. It is only when speaking to some friends a couple of days later that I realized that Styx were the ones that played the song “Mr. Roboto” (which I knew quite well). At that point, I thought that Styx must have played “Mr. Roboto” while Eduardo and I were chatting with Rick but it seems from www.setlist.fm that Styx surprisingly did not play that song.
Def Leppard started off just about as good as it could get in my books as they kicked off their set with my favorite song of theirs — “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”. The major question mark in my mind for Def Leppard was quickly answered during that opening song given that frontman Joe Elliott‘s voice sounded pretty good right off the bat. From then on, the band simply never let up playing either a hit single such as “Animal”, “Hysteria”, etc. or occasionally simply a rocking tune from the past such as “Let It Go”, which is another one of my favorite Def Leppard tunes. There are really only a few hard rock / heavy metal shows in Toronto where you get over 10,000 people completely into the bands due to their multitude of hits over the years. Van Halen, Def Leppard and AC DC come to mind as bands that have reached beyond the typical hard rock / heavy metal crowd. It seemed a bit surreal to see so many people thoroughly enjoying and singing along to most of Def Leppard‘s biggest hits. Not that the crowd on hand did not cover a wide range of ages but I felt that I was a bit younger than the average age of an attendee on this night. This was in sharp contrast to how I feel when I attend a Steel Panther concert where I often feel like an elder statesman.
It was fantastic to see guitarist Vivian Campbell rocking out on stage and with some hair on his head suggesting that he is doing well after a cancer scare. It was a nice touch from Elliott to bring Campbell out just before “Armageddon It” early in the show and declare “Look who’s here? All the way from Belfast, Ireland, a very happy and healthy Vivian!”. The Def Leppard band members made good use of the ramp leading into the audience and Elliott even got to the tip of the ramp by himself with an acoustic guitar to sing “Two Steps Behind”. Just before beginning the song, I thought that Elliott connected well with the audience by asking whether everyone wanted to join the band for four minutes before declaring that everyone was now a member of Def Leppard for four minutes but work (i.e. singing along) had to be done. As usual, guitarist Phil Collen looked absolutely ripped with his sculpted physique shown off due to his seemingly always shirtless stage attire. I am not one for drum solos but given all that drummer Rick Allen went through to get back behind a drum kit after his horrible accident back in 1984, it was cool to see him get the spotlight and neat to see the presumably leather padded drum pedals for his feet.
With Pyromania and Hysteria — two Diamond selling certified records in a row under their belt — Def Leppard could simply do no wrong by playing songs from those stellar records. While I was shocked and even a little disgusted with Def Leppard‘s musical direction with Hysteria when it first came out in 1987, the record has certainly grown on me over the years and it helps that there were so many easy to sing along to singles that emanated from that album as well. Accordingly, I was even a little disappointed that Def Leppard did not play “Women” during the concert. It would have been nice to hear some more tracks from High ‘N’ Dry other than “Let It Go”, the obligatory “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” and the instrumental “Switch 625”. At the end of the day, I get why Def Leppard did not play some more obscure songs because quite frankly it was the hits that got the best crowd reaction and Def Leppard certainly had tons of hits to play! My favorite Def Leppard tracks played on this night were not surprisingly the earlier era and heavier Def Leppard songs such as “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”, “Let It Go” and “Rock Of Ages”. Overall, Def Leppard turned back the clock on this night about twenty seven years and delivered exactly what the crowd wanted to hear!
01. Edison’s Medicine
02. The Way It Is
03. Hang Tough
04. Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
06. Love Song
07. Little Suzi
08. Modern Day Cowboy
Def Leppard’s setlist:
01. Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
03. Let It Go
06. Love Bites
07. Armageddon It
08. Rock On (David Essex cover)
09. Two Steps Behind
11. Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
12. Switch 625
13. Drum Solo
15. Let’s Get Rocked
16. Pour Some Sugar On Me
17. Rock Of Ages