Review / photos: Def Leppard, Poison bring decades of rock excess to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa
“Until next time – and there will be a next time! – do us a favor: Don’t forget about us, and we won’t forget about you!”
That was how Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott closed his band’s concert Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The words testified to the band’s improbable longevity in the face of long odds, to its ability to survive entire seasons’ worth of Behind the Music-worthy escapades, and to its ability, despite it all, to draw 9,266 fans to downtown Tampa on a Saturday night.
Two nights after Coldplay brought a 21st century version of multicolored, multimedia, multi-everything rock excess to the Forum, Def Leppard showed how British rock gods did it in the ‘80s: With tight licks, tighter pants and sweaty, swinging swagger.
Compared to the Coldplay show – seriously, there must still be clouds of confetti floating around the rafters – Def Leppard’s set seemed simple, almost quaint. But the stage was wide, with multiple staircases and lots of room to roam, allowing the old chaps to stretch their legs, strut their stuff and wag their butts like they did in the days of Maggie Thatcher.
Coldplay and Def Leppard were both unintended beneficiaries of the Republican National Committee’s decision to host its 2012 Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Acoustic improvements to the venue’s sound system made both sets sound like crystal throughout the venue.
That’s always good news for an aging band like Def Leppard, which has never lacked for ability, but, y’know, time has a way of taking its toll. Here, though, the harmonies behind Elliott sounded on point, and the dual axe assault of Viv Campbell and Phil Collen was inspiring on Gods of War, from Hysteria, and Switch 625, sort of a coda to Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.
The band knows what brought ‘em here – of the 15 songs on its 1995 greatest-hits disc Vault, they played 14 (sorry, Miss You In a Heartbeat, but you weren’t missed) – and the result was a more loaded set than either of their last two gigs in Tampa, both at the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre. Newer material was not needed, and so Saturday’s setlist yielded a cheeky juxtaposition: Immediately after playing a new single titled It’s All About Believin’, Elliott introduced another familiar hit by asking the crowd, “But do you wanna get rocked?” The message was clear: Believe whatever you want; we can still melt faces.
Elliott took a break from stomping and swaying behind a sequined mic stand to lead the group in an acoustic medley (including Two Steps Behind and Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad) at the foot of a runway, just five guys sitting on a gear case at the edge of the stage. It was choreographed, sure, but this Def Leppard lineup has been steady for 20 years – they deserve a break from pouring sugar every now and then.
The band’s set-closing run is practically etched in stone, and for good reason. Photograph inspired such a feel-good vibe throughout the arena. Plenty of women (and more than a few men) showed off their movies during stripper anthem Pour Some Sugar On Me. And the comically outsized Rock of Ages brought all the fist-pumping furor the folks behind the musical probably hoped for when they selected that song as its namesake. Gunter glieben glauben globen, indeed!
Is Def Leppard’s best, as they sing on Armageddon It, still really yet to come? Probably not. That tends to happen when a band has been through about 10 of its nine lives, and has lived every possible rock ‘n’ roll fantasy a hundred times over.
But it’s worth noting that Joe Elliott still managed to hit the high note on the end of that same song. So maybe we shouldn't count them out just yet.
There will, after all, be a next time.
Just before Def Leppard took the stage, Poison came out to rock the Forum and show off their custom Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys (well, Bret Michaels did, at least). Here are some photos:
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photos: Andrew Carlton, tbt*