Houston/The Woodlands, TX - Media Reviews
The foot traffic around Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion was one of the largest crowds I’ve witnessed at the wooded amphitheater Saturday, as I arrived mid-set just in time to hear Tesla’s “Signs” and “Little Suzi." Not only was every seat filled, including the lawn, campers outside the grounds covered all areas. Blankets, strollers, and foldable chairs dotted the vista surrounding the venue. Hundreds of people had happily camped in the weighted, oppressive humidity outside of the Pavilion just to catch a listen of the night’s three acts: Tesla, Styx and Def Leppard.
One of the most underrated bands of the '80s, Tesla had the shortest set of the evening. Within minutes of the set change, Styx was onstage in full soft-rock glory. Keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan, with rotating keyboard, went from shaking his ass at the audience to a spotlight solo performance. He transitioned into a medley of classic-rock hits beginning appropriately with Elton John’s “Rocket Man." Clearly familiar with classic-rock radio favorites, he led into Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” praising the crowd for knowing the words verbatim. (As if any red-blooded American didn’t know those lyrics already...)
Styx has passed on into its golden years of playing radio hits. Songs like “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Foolin’ Yourself” kept at least the front half of the Pavilion on their feet. Whether uninspired or tired, the back half sat peacefully, applauding when appropriate and sipping quietly from their stovepipe beer cans. The over-40 set doesn’t get quite as wild as they used to.
Yet despite having such a positive set, Styx failed to play classic hits “Mr. Roboto” and “Babe." Apparently, the rift between ex-lead singer Dennis DeYoung is still painful despite the lineup remaining intact since 1999. But when a band doesn’t play those songs that are so adored by fans, the set feels unfinished and the crowd feels cheated. Whatever the reasons for the omissions, it needs to be addressed. Nostalgia acts are for reliving memories, and while Styx may want to forget those tunes, their fans clearly did not.
The audience was in a reminiscent mood, with more than one group wearing '80s themed outfits complete with Karma Chameleon eye makeup, miniskirts and fluorescent accessories. Like, so totally rad.
Def Leppard came to the stage looking for the most part aged yet happy. Guitarist Vivian Campbell, who has been battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and risked missing this tour, looked healthy and energetic. Smiling drummer Rick Allen, in his signature bare feet and a flashy British-flag patch over his missing arm, played a drum solo to a standing ovation. Even shirtless lead guitarist Phil Collen looked fresh from an intense crossfit session, sporting an unusual greasy sheen. His pecs and abs were so well-oiled, I was momentarily blinded from the reflection of the stage-light glare. I feared his safety from slipping onstage. Once he slipped, could he be stopped? Could he possibly slip and slide the length of the stage?
Not to worry. The group opened with a string of hits from the '80s. Spanning their greatest albums: High ‘n’ Dry, Hysteria and Pyromania. (Thank you for stopping there and not playing anything from that horrible and ironically titled album, Euphoria.) Faithful to perform the favorites, Def Leppard played “Rocket,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Love Bites,” “Foolin’,” and “Armageddon It” among others.
Def Leppard sounded great. They appeared happy. The music was incredible. Yet, something was off.
Lead singer Joe Elliott was oddly clad in heavy leather pants and jacket (not the miniature one he famously wore in the '80s) and sporting a shoulder-length, strawberry-blonde highlighted bobbed haircut (think: your middle-aged 6th-grade teacher). Regrettably, there were no ripped-up jeans, permed mullets, Reebok hi-tops, or over-teased bangs.
Like, gag me. This is not what I imagined. I needed Def Leppard to transport me back to the '80s in all of its smoke-filled, roller-rink, junior-high fantasy awesomeness. I needed to be reminded of the Def Leppard that glossed the covers of Circus, Metal Edge and Hit Parader that 7th-grade me stole from the grocery store by stuffing them under my Guns N' Roses T-shirt and jean jacket. I needed to remember what the world was like when Def Leppard was (get ready for it) heavy metal, much more than my tiny goblet of $10 Pavilion wine would allow me.
Instead, Def Leppard reminded me of our shared current predicament: aging. Bravely, the band displayed a photo montage of their '80s heyday during the encore, “Photograph.” (Yes, these included ex-guitarist Steve Clark, RIP.) As if inviting comparison, the fresh-faced youths that appeared onscreen looked far different than the current lineup.
Bass player Rick Savage looked positively frightening. With bedazzled fingerless gloves, a glittery guitar strap, and permed mop top, he appeared like a cross between my grandmother’s Pekinese and a Rocky Horror fan in costume. Not my Rick…the one from my wall poster circa 1988. The one who most embraced '80s male androgyny. The one whose big eyes poked from behind his hair-sprayed bangs to witness me leave my room to catch the school bus every morning.
Oh, Rick! I, too, have aged. Some things change while others remain. I rarely pick up men in roller-rinks these days, but still shoplift magazines under my JC Penney career casual top and elastic-waist jeans. I laugh at Minion memes and have traded in the Camaro for a sensible Camry.
Today’s magazine titles have changed, from Metal Edge to O Magazine, More and Prevention. I, too, wear strawberry-blonde highlights and sing into my hairbrush in the mirror, “POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME!” and bedazzle my clothes with a million tiny diamonds.
Maybe we’re still alike, Rick and I. Maybe, Rick has a poster of me on his wall…middle-aged mom in Def Leppard T-shirt peeking out at him through reading glasses as he leaves his room to catch his tour bus. The '80s got the best of us, didn’t they?
Has our Rock of Ages become the Rock of the Aged?
I pondered these things while I sang to the steering wheel sitting in the carpool pick-up line at my daughter’s elementary school, thinking of Rick, my dreamboat bass player of yore, “You got the best of me, OH-WHOA! Can’t ya see? You’re bringin’ on the HEART BREAAAAAA—-YAAAAK.”
By Houston Press 2015.
The best concert tour of the summer arrived in the Houston-area this past weekend and left little doubt why it has been a smash success.
Rock titans Def Leppard and Styx returned to The Woodlands just outside of Houston for a sold-out concert this past Saturday night. The tour has quietly been one of the most popular tickets across the country this summer concert season and proved why on Saturday.
Tesla hit the stage promptly at 7 p.m. and blasted its way through a hit-laden 40 minute set of crowd pleasing material. Most opening acts at this early hour are fortunate to perform in front of a half-full venue, but Tesla is no ordinary opening act and the Texas faithful were in full rock mode from the start.
Although there was little time for idle banter with the crowd, vocalist Jeff Keith and company gave fans every second of rock and roll it could from the opening notes of “Edison’s Medicine” to hits such as “Hang Tough,” “Love Song,” “Little Suzi” and show closer “Modern Day Cowboy.” Hopefully these guys come back very soon for a full headlining show.
Styx occupied the middle slot of the night and packed nearly a full headlining set of material into just a mere 60 minutes.
The band’s career spans 40 years now, so it is impossible for the group to include all of its better known songs into a headlining set, much less a co-headlining performance. However, Styx left little doubt why the band is still on the road and a popular draw with fans, as the audience was up on its feet the entire set singing the words along to “The Grand Illusion,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Come Sail Away,” “Blue Collar Man,” and “Renegade.”
Def Leppard hit the stage shortly before 9:30 p.m. and gave every fan a show to remember with a 90-minute performance of hit songs packaged with a state of the art digital backdrop the size of the stage. The songs were enough to make the night unforgettable, but the new production was well worth every penny spent.
Fans knew they were in for a great night of rock music when the band hit the stage to “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” and segued into popular songs “Animal” and “Let It Go.”
Joe Elliott’s voice, once a source of discussion and concern on previous tours, as some fans stated, was in fine form Saturday night in Houston, especially during the songs “Love Bites” and his own solo-acoustic performance of “Two Steps Behind.”
A highlight of the night was the band’s cover of “Rock On” by David Essex, which kept the crowd energized and let the band reload for the second-half of the set which was nothing short of amazing.
With songs such as “Rocket,” “Bringing on the Heartache,” and “Hysteria,” Def Leppard worked the crowd into a frenzy before unleashing fan favorites “Let’s Get Rocked,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Rock of Ages” and show closer “Photograph.”
If this tour is coming to your city for the remainder or August or into September, grab a ticket fast because you will not be disappointed. If the tour has already been to your city and you missed it, well, you will know better next time.
By The Orange Leader 2015.
Saturday night in The Woodlands, fans packed their way into yet another sold out show at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Amphitheater to see The Def Leppard 2015 tour. Rock veterans, Tesla, from Sacramento California, joined them, along with the band, Styx. Together, this stellar lineup sold out the venue packing it with over 16,000 fans!
Tesla took the stage first with a limited eight song set, very short of what their fans are used to hearing.
You may remember this five piece rock band from their more popular radio hits “Love Song” and “Signs”. If you’re a Tesla fan, then you know their true hits and flawless performances stem much deeper than just a few songs. Tesla has four of its original five members, vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Frank Hannon, bass guitarist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta. Later member, guitarist Dave Rude, joined them in 2006. Tesla definitely had their own dedicated fan base throughout the crowd, including myself, as the cheers of excitement greeted them on stage. The show started a few minutes early forcing some to hear their set while waiting in food, merchandise and chair lines due to the amount of people in the venue.
Our seats were on the front row of lead guitarist and founding member, Frank Hannon’s side of the stage. Several people that I spoke with were shocked to find out Tesla was opening the show and expected a longer set. Although a short set for them as an opening act, it was an excellent opportunity for them to play in front of a much larger crowd than what they have been in recent years. The chance to remind people who may have forgotten their music or maybe hadn’t heard it before.
Tesla jump starts the show with Edison’s Medicine, from their 1991 album, Psychotic Supper. Frank incorporates the use of a Theremin during this song which intrigues the fans and instantly brings something a bit different to the show. Vocalist, Jeff, immediately starts working his way around the stage, engaging fans in every lyric and move. He always seems to have a lot of fun on stage and really that’s what it’s all about. This band always pays attention to their fans which is just another highlight of their shows.
Troy’s drum set sat high on a large, raised three tiered platform, allowing the rest of the band members to join him as they please. After the intro, they follow up with one of my personal favorites, “Gettin’ Better” followed by “Hang Tough” and another hit of theirs, “Heaven’s Trail”. For those in the crowd who couldn’t quite recall Tesla at first, they surely came alive when they heard the acoustic intro to the famous Tesla cover of “Signs” that they re-popularized when it was featured on their “Five Man Acoustical Jam” live album in 1990. “Now they remember”, I thought, as they joined the diehard fans to sing each and every lyric of this tune. After Signs, it was on to the dual acoustic guitar sounds of guitarists, Dave and Frank, as the intro of their huge hit “Love Song” started, giving crowd pleasing back to back hits!
Tesla has commonly been referred to as an eighties “Hair Metal/Hard Rock” band, yet this is somewhat of an unfair classification. Their music incorporates the sounds of many eras of rock and metal, southern rock, blues and country. Frank plays slide guitar in several of their songs, bassist Brian plays keys for others and they frequently combine the sounds of paired acoustic and electric guitars as well as harmonizing guitar parts. Not to mention their four piece, harmony vocals found in many of their songs. One of the things that always made them stand out for me, is their song writing. It was much more intricate, versatile and thoughtful than that of what was typically heard by similar era/genre of bands they shared stages with or who the public media compared them too. Tesla hasn’t ever been about the glitter and glam; the make up or the sound effects.
It was something much deeper and why guitarist and songwriter, Frank Hannon, inspired me as a musician. In fact, we talked with Frank after the show who said the ladies on the tour suggested updating their style a little bit; get some new clothes, scarves and some bling. They took that advice and were definitely all looking very sharp on stage Saturday night! Tesla’s set was finished with their hard rock song and fan hit, Modern Day Cowboy, from their debut album, Mechanical Resonance, released in 1986. When it ended, they left the crowd begging for more. New fans were gained and old fans were left wanting to hear the rest of their massive catalog of tunes.
Whether you’re an old fan or new, be sure to check out Tesla’s latest album “Simplicity” just released in the summer of 2014. If you’re an existing Tesla fan, you will certainly enjoy it as it is filled with the harder rock sounds you’ve came to love while also keeping the acoustic and southern rock throughout. The versatility of this band is something to admire and what sets them apart. Frank also has a side project, The Frank Hannon Band as well as his own solo albums. This is where you’ll find more of his southern rock, country roots with songs that he holds dear to his heart.
It was after a Tesla show in 2011 in Houston that I was lucky enough to meet all of the band after the show. I was finally able to meet Frank, the man who wrote the song, that made me want to play guitar and share that with him. I’ll never forget that moment when we caught up with them by the bus. He went and grabbed a guitar out of the cargo trailer and had a harmonica too. He told me to play “Love Song” but I was way too shy and nervous. So he said, “you hold the D chord and I’ll strum”. I was playing guitar with Frank Hannon! I can’t even describe how incredibly cool this was. All of the members were very kind and more than willing to share time with their fans.
I’ve met several famous musicians throughout the years but I’ve never met a more incredibly nice, thankful and humble group of guys than Tesla. Their extreme kindness and attentiveness to their fans isn’t something that’s always found in the music world. Frank is not only just one of my favorite guitarist and songwriters, but one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He immediately took interest in my passion for photography and at future Tesla shows would give me a photo pass which allowed me to have an opportunity I’d never had before. I would have never thought back in 1989 when I first heard “Love Song” that over 20 years later I’d be friends with my guitar idol.
Next up, Chicago’s Styx, took the stage. Styx is certainly no stranger to The Woodlands Pavilion. They play there almost every year it seems because of their pairings with other well-known rock bands of their era. Due to their constant tours, this was my thirteenth time to see them. I could probably recite the production of an entire Styx show to you from start to finish. This is not a bad thing! This band never leaves a disappointed crowd. From the moment they take the stage it’s an immediate high energy setting that rushes through you, with lights and sounds sure to bring awe to your face. Their music always tells a story to you.
Styx’s lineup consist of guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw, guitarist James “JY” Young, keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan, Drummer Todd Sucherman and Austin’s own, bass guitarist Ricky Philips. They take the stage one by one and start the show with “Grand Illusion” featuring Lawrence on vocals. The song’s reference to attending a live concert makes it a perfect opener. Then pass the mic to Mr. Tommy Shaw as they begin “Too Much Time on My Hands”. Always a crowd involved song that surely kept the excitement going. Just before the third song “Fooling Yourself”, original founding member and bass guitarist, Chuck Panozzo joins the band on stage for a guest appearance. Chuck and his twin brother, John formed the band with ex member Dennis DeYoung.
John passed away in 1996 and Chuck left the band shortly after. He now only tours with Styx as a part time member so you never know when you might see him. As Tommy introduces Chuck onto stage he gets a grand welcome from the fans!
As the hits just keep coming, Lawrence eventually gets the fans involved on a little singing. He begins to play and sing a medley of song clips including, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” while pausing after singing a few lyrics to allow the crowd to finish each song. He transitions this into the lyrics “come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me” and the crowd uproars with excitement as they begin to play one of their most famous hits. Thousands of lighters and cell phone cameras lit up over the hill for this epic tune as I glanced behind me.
After a short step off the stage they come out for the final two encore songs, “Rockin’ The Paradise” and another huge hit, “Renegade” only to leave the crowd pumped for the headliner of the night! I’m going to side track a bit real quick to tell you a story. My father passed away in 2010 and I acquired his large vinyl collection, about 800 albums. They were always part of his life and traveled with him for over thirty years, through several states that he moved to and from. He’s the reason I’m so heavily involved in music. After inheriting these, I decided to set out on a mission to get his albums signed by original band members and frame them in his honor as I go. I’ve been somewhat successful at this but I have tried for the past five years to get members of Styx to sign his album.
I’ve waited by busses, outside of venues and tried from the crowd. Well this time, guitarist James “JY”, saw me hold up the album “Pieces of Eight” from 1978 just as they begin their first encore song. He nods to me which is an indication he’s going to sign. I was already over the top with excitement. After the last song, they wave goodbye to the crowd and James comes over to me and signs the album! But then it got better. As Tommy is starting to walk off stage, he runs in front of us waving to fans so I hold it up to him and he saw it and signed it too! Not one, but two original members signed on stage! For those of you who don’t know, it’s pretty hard to get a band member to sign on stage. In fact, many bands just won’t do it.
I’ve never seen Styx sign on stage and was so very thrilled that both of them did this for me. If Tommy Shaw or James Young ever read this, I want to thank you both from the bottom of my heart as this means the world to me! You didn’t just sign an album, you signed an album that was cherished by a man with a love for music for thirty years after its production, who passed that love onto his daughter. An album that will forever be cherished by me and a memory that will never die. Not only did my father love Styx’s music and raise me listening to it. I chose to play their song “Come Sail Away” during his compilation of music at his memorial service.
As fans rush to get back to their seats in time for the main event, headliner Def Leppard’s back drop hangs tall from the stage, with their famous logo in the center. As “Disintegrate” is playing in the background, the back drop falls as they appear and begin their show with “Rock Rock”. With an enormous wall of vivid screens & tons of lights high above, Def Leppard brings the night to life! Vocalist Joe Elliott, guitarist Phil Collen, guitarist Vivian Campbell, bass guitarist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen were all smiles.
Honestly, at this point, I was so involved in the show I’m not sure how great I’ll be at describing it. This was my fourth Def Leppard show but never had I been this close. The sound was incredible, you could feel the bass in your chest. The energy could almost take your breath away. The band continues to take the fans on a hit filled set with “Animal” up next. People everywhere were dancing and singing and I even watched one lady fall over, ha-ha. They also performed a cover of David Essex’s hit single “Rock On” where Joe stands high above the stage on a platform behind the drums with a top hat. Their take on this song was very cool. A highlight of the show for me. You can check it out on their 2006 album, “Yeah”.
Joe eventually takes the center stage solo to deliver “Two Steps Behind” with just an acoustic guitar. It was absolutely beautiful. I do want to add, that this was by far the best I’ve heard Def Leppard perform and Joe’s vocals were top notch all night long. Just another reason to not miss this tour. During “Switch 625” Rick Allen performed a drum solo followed by a Phil guitar solo. If you weren’t aware, Rick lost an arm back in 1984 in a car accident but returned on stage in 1986 after a drum kit was designed for him to play with one arm. His challenges and determination is never forgotten by the fans and the massive cheers after his solo proved that. We also couldn’t help but notice that neither guitarist, Vivian or Phil played with effects pedals. Although not required, it’s not as common to see this. They play in a dual lead fashion taking turns throughout the night with their solos.
After another three back to back hits, “Hysteria”, “Let’s Get Rocked” and fan favorite “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, they leave the stage. No one moves from their seat. They just can’t wait for more and the roar of the crowd is all you can hear. Def Leppard returns to play their encore songs “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph”. At the end of the show, they take a moment to bow and give thanks. I didn’t see the immediate rush of the crowd to leave like I normally would at that point. The band wasn’t in a hurry to leave the stage which was a very nice touch. It was like they were taking the time to appreciate us while we appreciated the show they had just given to us. Rick Allen comes out from behind the drum kit and everyone just shows him so much praise. As Rick gives a continuous gracious smile, everyone is wishing them well and waving goodbye! Per the words of Joe Elliot, “We’ll see you next time and there will be a next time”.
By Woodlands Journal 2015.
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