UPDATED FOR CORRECTION INSERTED JULY 18
By MIKE CHAIKEN
James Young of classic rockers Styx told me in an interview several years back that bands no longer survive on their recorded output.
They survive on their live performances.
Chris Carrabba of indie band Dashboard Confession told me a similar tale when I spoke to him last month.
So if a band’s live show is their bread and butter, it goes without saying, they better have a stellar live show if they want to put food on the table.
And on July 5, Def Leppard, Styx, and Tesla all earned their right to feast like kings at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Def Leppard definitely is on top of its game for this summer tour.
I saw the band from Sheffield, England, a couple of years ago and I was less than impressed. For that particular tour, it seemed as if they simply were going through the motions.
This time around, however, Def Leppard were simply stellar. They clearly were jazzed to be in Connecticut and playing their hits for the sold out audience.
The band played the usuals, of course. Tracks like “Animal,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Foolin’” were expected. But they also pulled out some unexpected tracks such as their cover version of David Essex’s “Rock On” and a solo acoustic rendition of “Two Steps Behind” by Joe Elliott that wowed the crowd.
Elliot definitely brought his A-game to the show. The last time I saw him, it was clear his voice wasn’t up to snuff and he hid behind the band’s harmonies. But this time, Elliott was in fine voice, managing to reach the notes he did as a younger lad. (And the band’s trademark harmonies were as lush as always.)
Musically, the band was on top of its game too. Viv Campbell and Phil Collen did some stellar twin lead guitar work that evoked memories of classic Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash. And drummer Rick Allen, who lost an arm years ago in a tragic automobile accident, performed an exciting drum solo that demonstrated his great skill behind the kit despite his unconventional style of playing.
The best parts of the Def Leppard show, however, were the songs. Although Def Leppard is no longer a staple on the radio, their songs were always ripe with hooks even when they kicked serious butt. The evening was like one long hard rocking top hits playlist.
Def Leppard definitely came to play.
Even if Def Leppard wasn’t headlining, the July 5 show was great entertainment.
Leading into Def Leppard, Styx showed why they can still sell tickets summer after summer.
The band has the hits (they played tracks like “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Blue Collar Man,” and “Come Sail Away”). But it also knows how to put on a show.
Between James Young, Tommy Shaw, and Ricky Phillips taking rock poses, dancing with their guitars in choreographed sync and Gowan’s dancing with his rotating keyboard, the band never let a moment on stage go by where they were just simply playing their instruments.
Also, despite their vintage (think of it, their breakthrough album “The Grand Illusion” came out in 1977), the band still sounds great. JY and Shaw know how to sling their guitars. And although Gowan and Phillips are late comers to the band, they clearly know the music inside and out, and they clearly get excited by playing.
In the middle slot, Styx didn’t get to play a long drawn out set… although they did play two encores. But they did leave you wanting even more music, which is a sign of a successful performance.
Tesla is one of those bands from the 1980s, you kind of forget about. But as their set proceeded, I remembered how many hits they had on album oriented rock radio stations at the time. Many people remember their cover version of Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs.” But there were songs such as the power ballad, “Love Song” and the heavy rocking “Modern Day Cowboys” that brought a knowing nod to my skull and a smile to my lips.
Again, given the band’s vintage, I wondered how they would hold up in a live setting. But the band surprised me three-fold. First of all, musically, they were tight and precise. Secondly, like Def Leppard and Styx, they were intent on entertaining the crowd and they did so. Thirdly, singer Jeff Keith was in fine voice, hitting the notes just as he did when Reagan was president.
When their set was over, I began seeking out their old albums once again, which is clearly a sign of a good concert.
I give the bill of Def Leppard, Styx, and Tesla on July 5 at the Mohegan Sun Arena 3 ½ stars out of 4.
PHOTOS BY MIKE CHAIKEN