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Sunday, 8th July 2007

Columbus, OH - Media Reviews

High school reunion from hell By Bill Eichenberger

Def Leppard, Styx, REO Speedwagon demonstrate nostalgia has its limits. Chalk one up for the proletariat.

Before 20,000 fans in a jam-packed Germain Amphitheater last night, English hard rock band Def Leppard took average to new heights.

Lead singer Joe Elliott is affable enough in a bloke's sort of way, but his voice is the very definition of mediocre and the years have not been kind to it. He sang off key for much of the band's hour and a half set and strained to reach high notes on hit singles that most assuredly were reached in the past thanks to the magic of the recording studio.

He's functional at best. And certainly there are better guitarists in rock 'n' roll than Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell. Not that there's anything at all wrong with Collen and Campbell. They're both fine players. They are simply unexceptional.

And yet, two of Def Leppard's discs have sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. and the quintet continues, long after grunge, alternative and rap supplanted straight ahead rock 'n' roll as the mainstream music that mattered, to play to appreciative sellout audiences all over the world. (The band's greatest hits collection has sold 7 million copies worldwide.)

Their secret live is no secret at all: play all (or at least most) of the hits the people want to hear, including Photograph; Hysteria; Mirror, Mirror; Rocket and, of course, Pour Some Sugar on Me.

(Is there anything more disheartening than a pair of 55-year-old suburban women who've been once too many times to the well attempting a little "dirty" dancing under the stars? We think not. Moves that were oh-so sexy back in '81 just wilted in the heat.)

Def Leppard definitely took long enough to get going: Rocket was oddly flat as the opening cut and Animal wasn't much better. Elliott's vocals were washed out in the mix and both tracks sounded monolithic.

It wasn't until the band covered David Essex's Rock On that things began to pick up, and that's thanks to founding member Rick Savage's excellent bass solo introduction. They took that momentum and almost squandered it, moving to the front of the stage for a pair of acoustic songs, Two Steps Behind and Bringin' On the Heartbreak.

Though both guitarists were consistently nondescript, they were awfully proud of all the hours they have logged in the gym. By the third (or was it the second?) song both Campbell and Collen were stalking the stage shirtless, tights abs glistening.

It was as if they were mocking the bellies of most of their middle-aged male fans, bellies that strained mightily to escape from the confines of whatever shirt (often a Hawaiian print) had been draped over and tucked under them.

Def Leppard's sum is larger than its parts. But just barely.

Its success is a byproduct of meticulous production (thanks Mutt) and a yeoman-like approach to the rigors of rock 'n' roll. In an outdoor season at Germain of only a handful of concerts, that'll have to be enough.

Illinois bands Styx and REO Speedwagon opened for Def Leppard. A pox on REO lead singer Kevin Cronin for reminding us that the band's first single, Ridin' the Storm Out, was released in 1973. As if most of us in attendance didn't already feel as if we were at our high-school reunion.

Styx sang Come Sail Away or, rather, allowed the audience to sing Come Sail Away. It must be something, even (or especially) for a has-been rock band to have penned a song that 20 times 20,000 fans know by heart 30 years after it first came out.

Likewise, REO let the audience take over the vocals on several of their hits including Keep On Loving You and Take It On the Run.

These bands mattered in their day, maybe more than a little. They don't matter now, not even a little, unless nostalgia counts for something.

By The Columbus Dispatch 2007.


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