WEST VALLEY CITY — Several times on Friday night, Joe Elliot paused to look over the vast sea of fans who came to rock out with Def Leppard on the last Friday night of the summer.
It was the 5th consecutive sold out show for the hard rock legends at the USANA Amphitheatre. But of all the five, this one seemed to be the most special. The band and the audience fed off each other for a synergy that created a magical evening, and the best Def Leppard concert in Utah in a decade.
The band seemed to be in extremely high spirits from the start. And maybe it was because the band recently recorded their first album of new material in seven years, but many commented on how Elliot’s vocals were the best he’s sounded in Utah in recent memory.
Bringing their typical arsenal of lights, large digital screens and the large production show that Def Leppard is known for, the band opened with “Let’s Go” off their great new self-titled album. It was one of three songs played off the new album – the driving “Dangerous” and the funky “Man Enough” being the others – that fit well with the older material.
Other than the three new songs, there were no surprises or deep cuts. All the remaining songs were from the band’s biggest selling albums in the ’80s and early ’90s, High-N-Dry, Pyromania, Hysteria and Adrenalize. The crowd clapped, waved their arms, pumped their fists and sang along to “Animal,” “Let It Go,” “Rock of Ages,” “Photograph,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Let’s Get Rocked,” “Hysteria,” “Bringing on the Hearbreak/Switch 625,” “Armageddon It” and “Love Bites.”
It was basically the same set list the band has been playing for the past 15 years. But again, Elliot’s vocals combined with the enthusiasm of guitarists Phil Collen, Vivian Campbell, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen made it seem like they were playing many of those songs for the first time.
Even after the final notes of “Photograph” had been played, the band continued to stay on stage looking out at the crowd for several minutes. Just when you thought they were done, Elliot grabbed the mic and addressed the audience again from the center catwalk, promising that Def Leppard would be back.
Classic rock veterans REO Speedwagon delivered an hour+ set of all hits, including some of the biggest hits of the early ’80s in “Take It on the Run,” “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Time For Me to Fly.” The band played extremely well, like a tight unit that has been touring heavily for the past decade. Guitarist Dave Amato is probably the best part of the band right now, walking around all parts of the stage with a big grin and a blazing guitar solo seemingly at all times. But while Def Leppard has mastered the art of playing the same songs while making them sound fresh, REO’s set is getting stale. The same songs are played at the same point in the set with the same banter and the same stories as the year before and the year before that. Yes, Kevin Cronin is a great showman and remains high on enthusiasm the entire time. But at times it feels like he’s going through the motions. And his voice isn’t nearly what it used to be. I get that you have to play the hits in a summer tour concert package like Friday night. And REO has been touring hard in recent years. But maybe it’s time to go back to headlining a longer show, mixing up the set list and adding a few more songs, like when they featured the Hi Infidelity album a few tours ago to mark one of the album’s milestones. That was a great REO show!
Hard rock veterans Tesla opened the night with an outstanding set. Again, possibly because the band has been busy while on the road this summer recording a new album with Phil Collen of Def Leppard, Jeff Keith’s vocals were the best they’ve been in recent memory. Guitarists Frank Hannon and Dave Rude put on their typical clinics. Rude seemed especially animated during Friday night’s show. And the rhythm section of Brian Wheat and Troy Lucketta is constantly steady without a lot of fanfare.
Watching Lucketta on drums is particularly fulfilling. The band delivered the hits in their brief eight song set, even starting 10 minutes earlier than the scheduled 7 p.m. time to make sure all the bands got in their full sets before the hard 11 p.m. USANA curfew. “Edison’s Medicine,” “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out),” “Signs,” “Little Suzi,” “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Love Song” all brought back memories for fans from their early albums. The band also played their new song, “Save That Goodness,” written by Collen, who joined them on stage. The song sounded just as good live as it does on the studio track. A great new song by Tesla, capping off a great set by the blue collard rockers.
Overall, an incredibly enjoyable evening of music at USANA on a beautiful summer night, outdoors under a full moon. No doubt this show will sell out again next year. This was easily one of the best shows of the summer at USANA.