DEF LEPPARD with REO SPEEDWAGON and TESLA
Alliant Energy Center || Madison, WI || August 06, 2016
Words and Photos by Tommy Leu || www.16imaging.com
I think some people forget… I mean it’s been 30 years or more since their heyday, so I believe it’s easy to forget just how big and successful some acts actually were/are after several years have passed since they owned the charts and the “radio” waves (remember radio?). We shouldn’t forget, but if we do, fortunately many of these bands are still touring to remind us of just how deservedly successful they were, and in many ways, still are.
The Alliant Energy Center (the old Dane County Coliseum to those of us who remember it by that name) in Madison, WI was packed to the rafters on Saturday, August 6, 2016 hosting the triple bill of Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, and Tesla. Three “new(er) classic” rock bands that have contributed some of the biggest selling, and most lasting rock music of all time. Both Def Leppard and REO Speedwagon are listed in the Top 100 best-selling acts of all-time in the United States according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Def Leppard and REO Speedwagon have accumulated a staggering 35 million and 23.5 million records sold respectively. Tesla, to my surprise, has sold 14 million records during their career in the U.S. alone. Doing the quick math, collectively, these three acts have sold nearly 73 million records to date since the 1970’s. By the way, these numbers now also include tallies for streaming volume AND digital downloads which I was happy to learn. It would be hard to come up with another triple bill, with success of this magnitude, to actually tour together. I think this fact was lost on many there this night, including me, until I did the research…
Tesla kicked off the night to a largely full arena, not typically the norm for most “opening” bands, but this ain’t Tesla’s first rodeo, and these modern day cowboys kicked ass playing a short set full of their hits. Tunes like “Getting Better,” “Little Susie,” “Love Song,” “Heaven’s Trail,” “Signs,” and the aforementioned “Modern Day Cowboy” to close the show. In honor of its 30th anniversary, Tesla is releasing a new live version of their debut album, Mechanical Resonance on August 26th. While not in sequential order according to bassist Brian Wheat, the new live album does feature all 12 tracks from the original album, and includes a brand new song, “Save That Goodness,” written and produced by Def Leppard’s Phil Collen, as a bonus track. The band is as tight as ever, and genuinely looked like they were having a good time on stage together 30 years into their career.
REO Speedwagon… what can I say… they were the surprise sleeper act of the night for me. Let me explain: I’ve always loved REO, but I guess I didn’t expect such a high energy and entertaining show from them at this stage in their career. I was wrong to make this assumption. Simply stated, they were fucking awesome! Of course REO has great, great songs going back over 40 years now, and Kevin Cronin and company played the majority of their biggest hits including “Keep Pushin’,” “Tough Guys,” “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Take It On The Run,” “Time For Me to Fly,” and the REO set-stalwart, “Ridin’ The Storm Out.” The highlight of the show though was Cronin on the grand piano pounding out their biggest hit from the ten million selling High Infidelity album, “Keep On Loving You.” And then from there the band moved right into the perennial pump-you-up/make-you-happy track “Roll With The Changes” to finish us off. It was impossible not to be moved by these songs if you’re an REO fan. And live, well, REO is still a band to be reckoned with believe it or not. Who knew…?
Finally, Def Leppard delivered a multi-media spectacle of sound, lights, and video from the first song to the last. Joe Elliot, Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Phil Collen, and Vivian Campbell also brought a high-caliber performance. The numerous requisite hits were played including “Animal,” “Foolin,” “Armageddon It,” “Love Bites,” “Let It Go,” “Rocket,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and the encore numbers “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.” Replicating 1981’s High & Dry record, the band performed the excellent “Switch 625” instrumental as a tag on to “Bringing On The Heartbreak.” This highlight of the evening featured drummer Rick Allen’s mini-solo at the end of the tune which moved the crowd to near hysteria. Allen nonverbally thanked the crowd with big smiles directly into his drum camera, and flew the double-finger peace sign high above his kit, which understandably brought the house down even more for obvious reasons. And speaking of hysteria, the band’s monster hit of the same name was another highlight tune augmented by a moving video of archive footage of the band’s long history on the giant screen throughout. This segment in particular brought back a lot of memories and reminded me of just how big a cultural phenomenon Def Leppard was for someone roundabout my age. The fact is, you couldn’t escape the mighty Lep back in the 1980’s whether you were a fan or not.
Now the truth is, I typically don’t fully enjoy, in the traditional sense, the concerts that I work as a photojournalist. I’m so focused on getting the shots, the reviews, and occasionally the interviews just right, that it leaves little time to really relax and enjoy the concerts as a “fan.” But this one was different… perhaps because for the first time in a while, the bill consisted entirely of acts that I grew up with and really like, so the music had extra-nostalgic value for me. These three bands, among others, provided the soundtrack to my early youth and teenage years. As such, the songs were very familiar, and brought back lots of memories; some great, some not so much. But either way, this nostalgia factor is the reason the Alliant Energy Center was packed for these bands on this night. Looking around the arena, you were hard-pressed to find too many who weren’t singing along, with hands raised, and huge smiles on their faces throughout the performances. One couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy at times… I know, I know… not very rock and roll to write, right? But fuck it; it is what it is. And IT was fucking great! The best music makes you FEEL something… and this music, from all three of these bands, made everyone feel good from my vantage point. As it should be…