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Concert Reviews
Def Leppard wsg/ Styx
(DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI - July 17th, 2015)

As if the month of July isn't hot enough, we have just begun a long weekend of 90 degree + weather ... and to kick that off, into town come both 70's/80's rock giants, Styx and Def Leppard!

The time is 8:00pm, the weather is a balmy 92 degrees, and Styx collectively saunter out onto stage. Realizing however hot it felt to us, it must feel like a furnace to those guys on stage, a couple still with their jackets on, right out of the box keyboardist Lawrence Gowan asks if Detroit is ready for the 'Grand Illusion,' before hitting us with its intro. As it turns out, Gowan is Styx's ringmaster supreme, as he not only takes the entire show by the scruff of the theatrical neck, but he can play his keyboards facing away from them, and with his hands behind his back!

Tommy Shaw asks the crowd to "put your hands in the air," and then the guys launch into 'Too Much Time On My Hands.' "We're having ourselves a rock show in this house tonight," Shaw continues, as he then introduces to the stage original bass player Chuck Panozzo. A longtime member of Styx, he founded the group with his fraternal twin brother, drummer John Panozzo,and after three decades as a Styx mainstay, finally left the band shortly thereafter. These days he has since rejoined the band part-time and tours with Styx on a semi-regular basis. Tonight, with just his name being mentioned, the Styx gathering graciously welcomes their beloved son.

'Fooling Yourself' is next, and whilst Gowan once again plays his keyboard backwards, even managing to keep it spinning around with a flick of his back foot, for the next track, 'Miss America,' well, things just got even more incredible! Firstly, and as guitarist James "JY" Young is vocally taking the song for a ride, bassist Ricky Phillips flips a guitar pic into the air, then purposefully smacks it into the outstretched hand of Gowan with the backside of his bass guitar! Secondly, after successfully grabbing it mid air, Gowan goes and sits down at the base of his keyboard circular turntable, Shaw sits down alongside him, and Gowan proceeds to play a few chords on Shaw's guitar! Lastly, he then flips the said same pic into the outstretched hand of a front row audience member, smiles, bows, and goes back to the keys! Remarkable!!

Gowan then takes to the keys, once again, given that for most of this short set he is found to be bouncing, prancing around it like some uncaged tiger, talks about their recent trip to NASA (Styx has had their name used as a small natural satellite of Pluto whose discovery was announced on 11 July 2012), and his distinctive vocals open up one of the true highlights of the night, 'Lady.' Shaw then tells the Michigan audience that "the next song is very dear to me," that he wrote it when he was living here, and asks if the packed house can help him out. A full on, balls to the wall rendition of 'Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)' is that song and thereafter, they all leave the stage, save for Gowan on his keys. For the next few minutes it's as if he is filling in time as a piano bar player, because he simply performs songs such as 'Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time),' 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' and '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay'! "OK," he finally says, "I feel as if we're all ready now," and with that the band is back on and ploughing through 'Come Sail Away.'

Having all left the stage, they quickly come back for their two song encore, Chuck Panozzo on deck again, and first Gowan - complete with ringmaster top hat emblazoned - brings us the most theatrical stage version of 'Rockin' the Paradise' I think I have ever seen them perform! Closing out the show with a brilliant 'Renegade,' Styx may well have been opening for Def Leppard tonight, but they all but showed they still have enough fuel left in their tanks to headline their own shows too.

Def Leppard, in many ways, was the 'definitive' hard rock band of the '80s. There were many bands that rocked harder, and were more dangerous, than the Sheffield (UK) quintet, but few others captured the spirit of the times quite as well.

Taking to the stage one at a time, Rick Allen sneaking up behind his drum set virtually noticeably, it's quickly evident that guitarist Phil Collen has forgotten to pack a shirt for the tour - and, at the same time, has lost a fight with a bottle of cooking oil! And with both Vivian Campbell and Joe Elliott cloaked in black jackets, Rick Savage kitted out in nothing but a black leather vest, they barely have time to acknowledge the baying, sold out crowd before they launch into a blistering 'Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)'. Following that up with an even hotter 'Animal,' the band are on fire, which given the uber humid conditions here at this outdoor venue, was always to be expected!

"Good evening," says Elliott, "It looks like it's a hot one out there. It's good to be here tonight. Can you please now make some more noise for my friend, the man who puts the fast in Belfast, the happy and healthy, Vivian Campbell." With that, the aforementioned Campbell takes center stage to unleash the opening chords to 'Let It Go.'

"Oh yeah, it's definitely gonna be a hot one here tonight," Elliott repeats, as the band then bring forth a stunning 'Foolin'. These old school Leppard tracks sound so incredibly fresh, so powerful here tonight, and seem to blow the newer ones away, each and every time. With Allen wearing his distinctive British headphones, he leads the charge into the mid-tempo, and basically lackluster track, 'Paper Sun' from their 9th album Euphoria. Then, lit under a beautiful blue blanket, the stage is transformed perfectly, new backdrop videos included, for a quite stunning 'Love Bites.' "Thank you, thank you," Elliott praises the crowd, "Hey, looks who's here," he adds, pointing to an advancing Campbell, guitar slung, ready for action. And action is what it gets, as he introduces a pounding 'Armageddon It.'

Savage now stands alone on stage, save for Allen back there on drums, and coming slowly to center stage, the stage lights dim down to a bare minimum, he and his bass guitar then get lit by a single white beam from above. Then, and quite unexpectedly, he starts the intro to David Essex's massive hit UK single, 'Rock On.' Recorded by Leppard back on their 2006 album, Yeah!, it was, for me at least, one of the true stand out highlights of this entire show tonight. Elliott's voice may well still have most everything that it did back 30 years ago, but when the band come together for this track, well, it just couldn't have sounded any better. Studio or no studio.

"It's hot and sticky," Elliott comments, as he comes to the front of the stage, alone and with an acoustic guitar. "Just the way I like it," he adds, "so thank you all for being here with us tonight. It's now the part of the night where you all get to be in Def Leppard. So, if you know this one, sing-along with me," and with that he gently strums his way through the ballad, 'Two Steps Behind.' A blistering 'Rocket' is backed by a fiery 'Bringin' on the Heartbreak,' which then allows the guitarists to have their solo moments, before Allen gets his moment to shine on the drums also.

'Switch 625' allows the band to showcase a video montage of their late guitarist, Steve Clark, before a quite brilliant 'Hysteria' is brought to the fore. Saving two of their most powerful singles until last, Elliott says one final hello to the "Detroit" crowd, before asking if they "wanna get rocked?", which they obviously all wish to! After 'Let's Get Rocked' sounds out, they then launch straight into the final song of the set, 'Pour Some Sugar on Me' and ride that home to an electric audience wave of vocal participation. Coming back out a couple of minutes later, Elliott informs the audience that the first time they ever played Michigan they opened for Ozzy Osbourne. After a couple of band member intro's, but weirdly not all, a dynamite 'Rock of Ages' is then backed by the true final song of the night, 'Photograph' - complete with en mass of black and white photos from their heyday amassed as a fantastic, artistic back drop.

Review: Russell A. Trunk