JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

August 31, 2012
Zoo Amphitheater
Oklahoma City, OK USA
Review by David Huff
Photos by Barry Bond

Def Leppard - Def Leppard, Poison, Lita Ford

Back in the '80s, as was often the case, some rock bands were built to last, like Def Leppard. Many more were built for the moment, like the spawn of Sunset Strip, Poison. The British rockers lived up to their billing by selling more than 25 million records in the U.S. alone. As for Pennsylvania to L.A. transplants, they didn't get the memo. Not only did they manage to record three straight multi-platinum albums during the last half of the '80s, they proved over the last two decades they were indeed made for the long haul.

The combination of Def Leppard and Poison and on the road sharing the same stage together would have drawn scorn and ridicule back in the day. However, with the dawning of a new age in music - and an aging public totally turned off by today's watered down version of forgettable rock music - there's a greater appreciation for bands born and bred in the '80s. Today, this unlikely tandem is not only packing in arenas and amphitheaters, it's creating a new generation of fans for both groups. This particular Friday night, these two former hair bands - one spandex the other totally glam - sold out the venerable Zoo Amphitheatre in Oklahoma City.

Kicking off the evening was veteran female rocker Lita Ford. Well, I should say thought she would be the one starting the evening off. The promoter, Howard Pollack, took to the stage to ostensibly introduce Ford to the audience. Instead, he lamented about losing his contract to run the facility, which he had done for over three decades, due to city politics, and his promise to be back. Lita Ford stood on the side of the stage with a stunned look on her face wondering if the promoter would ever say her name. Finally she exclaimed, "Hey, you going to introduce me or what?" Pollack kept on talking and LIta just started playing the opening chords to her remake of the Elton John classic, "The Bitch is Back". It was an appropriate way to take the stage, and end the promoter's soulful lament.

The festive mood of the crowd on this rare blue moon night was starting gear up while Ford ran through her short set. She performed three songs off new album, Living Like a Runaway, including the aforementioned Elton John song, the title track and "Relentless". The '80s rock goddess closed the show with her two biggest hits, "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Close My Eyes Forever." And then it was time for Poison.

Without a doubt, Bret Michaels, bassist Bobby Dall, drummer Rikki Rockett and guitarist C.C. DeVille are the most dysfunctional group of musicians on the planet. You would think that since Bret Michael Sychak, Robert Harry Kuykendall and Richard Ream have known each other since their teens, they'd get along as time marched on. And, since they plucked Bruce Anthony Johannesson out of obscurity, he'd be a grateful team player as well. Let's just say Bret and Richard never had a physical confrontation with one another. The other two, well, you can Google those warm and fuzzy moments Bret had with his two fellow band mates. Despite the rampant animosity that persists within this band outside of their yearly summer romps, on stage these four are definitely brothers in arms.

This evening, the singer proved to be a masterful ringmaster for the traveling circus he commands. Though I'm sure Bret would rather be on stage performing Poison music with his own band, this consummate showman made sure to give his fellow teammates their proper due throughout their 10-song set list that included two solos by DeVille and Rockett. He also did a brilliant job connecting with this packed house as well.

Michaels' stints on three reality shows - Rock of Love, The Apprentice and Bret Michaels, Life As I Know It - has endeared him to millions of people the past five years. His charitable work on behalf of the American Diabetes Foundation, as well as his unapologetic support for this nation's armed forces, has also contributed to his popularity, and subsequently Poison's as well. And let me tell you something, there were 10,000 fans strong singing every song the band performed.

There were many people in the crowd that weren't even born, or were just mere toddlers, when the band launched into the first song, the 26-year old "Look What the Cat Dragged In." From that point on, it was nothing but a good time, which incidentally, was the name of the tune that ended the night for Poison. Again, you have to give this band its due for creating a lasting legacy with music from just three albums that were routinely dismissed by rock critics upon their release. Poison is still here doing their thing. The critics who panned the band are nothing but torn pages from a distant past.

The real draw of the night, without a doubt, was Def Leppard. They were the absolute kings of pop metal in the '80s. Two of their albums, 1983's Pyromania and its follow up, 1987's Hysteria, earned these melodic British musicians the distinction of being one of only five rock bands to have two original studio albums sell over 10 million copies in America. Tonight, 11 songs from those two epic records would contribute to half the tunes on the evening's set list.

Tonight's show was also an ode, sort-to-speak, to the genius of guitarist Steve Clark, who died in 1990 from alcohol and drug abuse. The music he helped co-write appeared on 17 of the 23 songs performed this evening. That in no way is a knock on his replacement, Vivian Campbell, who has been with the band over two decades now. It does reveal, however, how deeply felt his loss was by the other band members when it came to his creative input. He was a key contributor to Def Leppard's musical brilliance that dominated both MTV and radio until his unfortunate death.

With a walkway from the main stage protruding several feet out into the crowd, it brought the band up close and personal with the audience in more ways than one. Singer Joe Elliott, guitarist Phil Collen and bassist Rick Savage took full advantage of the situation. They all took turns 'walking the plank' into an endless sea of outstretched arms. Elliott in particular enjoyed singing on the extension, leading the appreciative audience in numerous sing-a-longs of the Def Leppard hits he helped create.

As the band came out for the encore, "Rock of Ages", the second full moon of August proved to be a very bright beacon in this very starry, starry night. The rare occurrence also served as a reminder to just how brilliant the music they heard tonight truly is. And yes, it's a fact that a great number of people in attendance tonight were not born when Def Leppard first started 'bringing on the heartbreak'. By night's end, however, the twinkle in their parent's eyes had definitely grown up, and into, the same screaming adults mom and dad once were. It was a blue moon indeed!