Singer Joe Elliott (L) and Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard perform… (Kevin Winter, Getty )
Def Leppard and Poison performed at Merriweather Post Pavilion Tuesday night. Midnight Sun contributor Jay Trucker was there.
At around 10 Tuesday night at Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, a pair of fans were relieving themselves of $12 margaritas and $10 beers when the following disagreement took place:
Fan No. 1: “Poison should be headlining this show, man. They’re better than Def Leppard.”
Fan No. 2: “No way. Def Leppard’s still got it! Poison is just collecting a paycheck.”
The importance of this conversation is not which fan is right (though for the record, I stand with and directly next to fan No. 2), but that this conversation is still taking place in 2012.
Twenty-five years after Def Leppard’s Hysteria album and 13 years, even, since Poison kicked off the '80s amphitheater revival with its 1999 comeback tour, the veteran acts still refuse to either burn out or fade away.
Though neither Def Leppard, Poison, nor opener Lita Ford is likely to put out a new record that'll go platinum (is that a word anymore?), their fans are willing to shell out $50 to spend a perfect summer evening dancing and fist-pumping to back catalogues and reliving decades past, when they did exactly the same, only with bigger hair and fewer bills to pay.
For the most part, the bands delivered as if Hammerjacks were still packing the house on a Tuesday night.
Ford took the stage for a short set at 7 p.m. Though the crowd had not yet filtered in and her four-piece band only had a tiny portion of the stage to work with, she proved she has shaken off any rust that may have accumulated during her lengthy break from performing in the late '90s and '00s. At 53 and incredibly fit, Ford donned a black leather jacket and leather pants that may have been the same pair she wore in her MTV heyday. She strapped on a gigantic white double-neck guitar for the sing-along “Kiss Me Deadly” and closed the set by singing both parts of her duet with Ozzy Osborne, “Close My Eyes Forever.”
Poison followed, opening with the traditional first song, “Look What the Cat Dragged In.” They ran through all of their hits, including “Unskinny Bop” and “Talk Dirty to Me” as well as two-and-a-half covers, Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band,” Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and bits of Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.” These guys prefer to rock out to songs about rock.
Of course, Brett Michaels, 49, has also embarked on a second career as a reality TV star, and he was sure to plug an upcoming appearance on Donald Trump’s "Celebrity Apprentice," all but asking the female-dominated crowd to set their DVRs. Solo career choices notwithstanding, however, Poison is a band better suited to open a show like this than headline. The band simply doesn’t have the hits for a full headlining set, as a 50-minute performance sprinkled with covers, guitar solos and drum solos proved.
Def Leppard, on the other hand, has amassed a collection of singles that can rival any group of its era. That’s why opening with a new song, “Undefeated,” was an odd choice. Typically, the new single marks an opportunity for fans to fork out a few bucks for another drink and find a bathroom mid-set.
But Def Leppard’s presence and command of the audience built from a relatively weak start to full steam by about the fifth and sixth songs, Hysteria’s “Animal” and “Love Bites.” Singer Joe Elliot, 52, a man who once admitted to shooting needles full of Jack Daniels, now looks like a distinguished British gentleman. Lead guitarist and apparent ab-roller enthusiast Phil Collen, 54, on the other hand, may have the same intense personal trainer as Lita Ford.
The band’s audio included plenty of reverb and layered vocals, but their acoustic miniset proved that they didn’t need flashy studio wizardry to keep the crowd happy. In fact, drummer Rick Allen, 48, who lost his left arm in a car accident in 1984, got one of the biggest pops of the night when he joined the band on the catwalk during the acoustic set to play a maraca.
The band churned out crowd-pleasers as the night drew toward its conclusion, closing with a string of chart-toppers that included “Hysteria,” “Armageddon It,” “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”