Def Leppard, Styx & Tesla Take Over Jones Beach, NY 7-23-15

Def Leppard, Styx & Tesla Take Over Jones Beach, NY 7-23-15

Every Summer season, a new Rock-n-Roll touring package that surprises concert goers pops onto the map, igniting excitement. Perhaps one of those surprises came back in February when it was announced that Def Leppard would be teaming up with Styx and Tesla for a lengthy tour that would extend from June until October, covering over forty cities in its tracks. With all three extremely active in recent years touring, recording new music, and headlining gigs of their own, the billing has been seen by fans as nothing less than a powerhouse trio that is a must see. That is why when Thursday, July 23rd came, Long Islanders flocked to Nikon at Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York to see the show. All three no strangers to the theater, Def Leppard last visited back in August of last year with KISS, Styx back in July of last year with Foreigner, and Tesla back in July 2012 with Scorpions. With extensive history that dates back even further, this was a night full of comfortable surroundings with some of the best acts the second wave of Classic Rock has to offer.

Opening the show was Sacrmento, California’s Tesla. Formed in the early ’80s, Tesla released their debut album, Mechanical Resonance, in 1986 which would go on to attain platinum status. Going from strength to strength, their follow-up in 1989, The Great Radio Controversy, went double platinum. This was followed by 1990’s live record, Five Man Acoustical Jam, which was released at the height of MTV’s Unplugged series, and thus would also go platinum. Proving themselves as one of Hard Rock’s elite after only two full-length records and a live record, Tesla has gone on to sustain a three decade plus career and sell approximately fourteen million records in the USA alone. Consisting of long time members Frank Hannon (mult-instrumentalist/backing vocals), Brian Wheat (bass/piano/vocals), Jeff Keith (vocals), Troy Luccketta (drums), and newest addition since 2006, Dave Rude, Tesla continues to be a well-oiled Rock-n-Roll machine. Recently releasing their eighth studio record Simplicity in 2014, the band continue to support the material, and Jones Beach was ready for their return.

Welcoming the crowd with 1991’s “Edison’s Medicine,” a pounding drumbeat and screeching guitars immediately had everyone’s attention. Keith’s signature gritty voice moved the song along while Hannon settled down the guitar’s wail and strummed power cord after power cord. Another power cord drenched rocker, “Hang Tough” found Tesla showing they could produce top notch Heavy Metal as Hannon soloed throughout, layered over Rude’s foreboding riffing. The Country-Blues flavor of “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out) displayed the band’s versatility as they seamlessly transitioned from Honky-Tonk, to Hard Rock, to an undeniably catchy chorus.

The song “Signs,” performed originally by Five Man Electrical Band in 1971, was covered by the band on their Five Man Acoustical Jam live album, and became a major hit. On this night, it would draw a roar from the crowd as they sang along with every word and filling the air with excitement. The track that easily drew the most applause was the band’s most famous power ballad, “Love Song.” With its infectious guitar strumming to open, forlorn lyrics, as well as irresistible chorus, it is the penultimate crowd pleaser, and did not disappoint. In fact, the crowd managed to drown out Keith as they screamed “Love is all around you, love is knockin’ outside your door…………you’ll find love again.” Hannon punctuated the tune with a rollicking solo before the gentle coda closed it out. Closing out their seven song set with Ph.D.’s “Little Suzi” and “Modern Day Cowboy,” Tesla had everyone cheering loudly in appreciation.  While looking like many of their contemporaries who put out “hair band” music, Tesla has a gritty, edgy, Blues-tinged Hard Rock sound which set them apart from the likes of Poison, Warrant, Cinderella, etc. Seeing Tesla perform live, it is evident that being together for thirty years has paid off as they performed like the seasoned veterans they are, were supremely engaging with the crowd, and were clearly having fun.

Next on the agenda was Midwest based Progressive Rock heroes Styx. Debuting in 1972 with their self-titled record, Styx followed up strongly in 1973 with Styx II. Quickly releasing The Serpent Is Rising in the Fall of 1973, it was 1977’s The Grand Illusion which would launch the band into a different stratosphere. It would in fact be the first of four consecutive multi-platinum releases by the band. Always a band who experimented with sounds and themes, Styx have attained sixteen Top 40 US hits, and while they have not recorded a studio album since 2005’s Big Bag Theory, the band still light it up live year after year. While original vocalist, Dennis DeYoung, parted ways with the band back in 1999, founding members James Young (guitar) and Chuck Panozzo (bass) remain, as well as Tommy Shaw, who joined the band for the start of their meteoric rise on The Grand Illusion, took the stage accompanied by Todd Sucherman (drums), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keys), and Ricky Phillips (bass/guitar) for an exciting lineup.

While the absence of DeYoung and his epic voice may lead to some being skeptical about the Styx’s ability to put on a worthy live performance, the band dispelled any concerns immediately as they tore into “The Grand Illusion” to start their set. With its classic Prog-Rock lead on the keys, the band delivered a sound reminiscent of genre pioneers Yes and King Crimson, but with none of the pretense. Rather than self-indulgence, the song’s lyrics tell a tale of humility and commonality. A smooth melody was punctuated with strong guitar punches throughout and a solo that echoed the best of Psychedelic Rock. Following with the Sci-Fi sounds of “Too Much Time on my Hands” found the band sounding like the best of early ’80s New Wave, which is no surprise since the song was released in 1981. Not completely abandoning their roots, they managed to sneak in a guitar solo that captured the best of ’70’s Hard Rock. Another Prog leaning track, “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) delivered a lengthy intro with spaced out keys before falling into a silky melody. The melody escalated to an anthematic chorus before a funky break on bass by Phillips, which led to an intricate keyboard solo by Gowan, and another round of the chorus before a final flourish on the keys. Playing on with The Grand Illusion track “Miss America,” the band then rocked into fan-favorite “Lady” as vocals soared high. Mixing in a rare treat with 1978’s “Blue Collar Man,” the energy level stayed high as Gowan dazzled with medley of Elton John’s “Rocketman,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Otis Redding’s “Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay.”

Closing the set,“Come Sail Away,” the band’s most popular song, and a staple of Classic Rock radio, left the crowd wanting more. With its extended, mellow opening, the song then took off into an absolute rave up with the crowd chanting along before descending into a trippy break before the electric guitars took center stage again and then gave way to more fist-pumping and singing along. A two song encore featured the fast-paced “Rockin’ the Paradise” with an over the top upbeat jaunt and adrenaline pumping “Renegade.” The latter, one of the bands heavier songs, had keys that would not seem out of place on a Classic-era Deep Purple track and screaming guitars that channeled the best of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It was a great ending to the set as it reminded the crowd how diverse Styx is. Those who missed the band at the beach should not distress as Styx have made a habit of visiting the Long Island area often, but next time, do not miss out.

With the sun now down, it was almost time for UK Rock band Def Leppard. Def Leppard are, quite simply, one of the biggest bands in the history of Rock-n-Roll. Two of their albums, 1983’s Pyromania and 1987’s Hysteria, have sold over ten million and twenty million copies, respectively. Delivering Hard Rock with touches of Heavy Metal and a clear Glam influence of the likes of David Bowie, T. Rex, and Slade, Def Leppard is the epitome of Hard Pop Rock perfection. Consistently touring for over thirty years, the band is comprised of Joe Elliott (vocals), Rick Allen (drums), Phil Collen (guitar), Rick Savage (bass), and Vivian Campbell (guitar), Def Lepard were ready to bring their lively performance back to Jones Beach with a bang.

Taking the stage to a thunderous ovation, Def Leppard let the crowd know what it had to be prepared to do as they opened with “Rock Rock (Till You Drop)” from Pyromania. As Elliott put forth a powerful vocal and announced to the crowd they were in for a rocking night, he was not lying. Going into “Animal,” they kept the entire theater on their feet and in the groove. If there is one song that exemplifies why Def Leppard is so big, this is it. It has all the elements that make the band so appealing; a world-class melody, a hook that could reel anyone in, a seemingly out of place heavy sounding guitar solo, and top notch backing vocals. Going back to Pyromania, “Foolin’” followed with a laid back, gentle opening, the song then exploded into the Hard Rock stratosphere with a pounding riff. Doing what they do best, the heavy riff was complemented, expertly, with yet another Pop-styled hook.

Keeping the crowd on their toes, back to back tracks from 1999’s Euphoria LP were an unexpected break from the band’s best known material. First was “Promises,” which proved to be an ideal mid-tempo song with strong harmonies throughout, proving that Def Leppard, in addition to being legendary hard rockers, can craft a song as well as any artist lurking in the Top 40. Then came “Paper Sun,” which is a similar vein to “Promises” but was brought along with it a howling guitar solo. Jetting back into crowd favorites, “Love Bites” continued to keep the heavier tracks at bay. One of several huge singles from Hysteria, the song is an all-time power ballad, and still sounded amazing live. Over the course of nearly six minutes, the band never deviated from the sound and avoids the temptation to slap on a heavy-handed solo, crashing drums, or howling vocals as they played “Armageddon It” before a killer bass solo by Savage.

Paying homage to one of the sounds that has clearly had a huge influence on them, Def Leppard segued into an astute cover of David Essex’ 1973 hit “Rock On.” Keeping it interesting, Collen put his own unique touch on the song as he played the guitar lead in even funkier fashion than the original. As fans whistled loudly, Elliott stood solo center stage with an acoustic guitar conversing with the crowd asking if they wanted to join the band before going into the heartwarming acoustic track “Two Steps Behind.” As the crowd joined in with the chorus, Elliott lead them through the track and reminded everyone of the beauty of the songs words. Picking it right back up with the entire band, “Rocket” pumped the beat again. While not a cover, is certainly a tribute song, and in grand fashion, the band paid tribute to those that came before who clearly had a deep impact on their style as Elliott sang, “Jack Flash, Rocket Man, Sergeant Pepper and the band, Ziggy, Benny and the Jets……….Jet Black, Johnny B, Jean Genie, Killer Queen, Dizzy Lizzy, Major Tom………..”, referencing the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elton John, David Bowie, and Queen, among others.

Not slowing down, 1981 High N’ Dry tracks “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” and “Switch 625” were next, and received equal love from the audience. As many may remember, “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” was the band’s first popular song that embodied their signature sound with its mellow verses punctuated with a heavier, more Rock-oriented chorus, a splintering guitar solo, and completed with a radio-friendly hook. Just like on the record, the song flows right into the instrumental “Switch 625,” which is interesting cut from Def Leppard as the guitars, while predominantly oozing Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, flourishes of both Punk Rock and Surf music throughout, which gave it an unexpected complexity. Winding down the set with more hits like “Hysteria” and “Let’s Get Rocked” came before show closer “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” which is probably the band’s most well-known song. The song was played in a free-wheeling manner with every member of the band struggling to keep from smiling as the crowd drowned the band out on the chorus every time around. It was the song fans were waiting for all night, and as veteran showmen, Def Leppard knows how to keep the crowd rife with anticipation.

After a brief exit, the band came out for a two song encore with both songs coming from Pyromania, and first came “Rock of Ages.” A song about, well, Rock-n-Roll, it is dripping with rah-rah lyrics, outstanding background vocals, an appealing guitar lead, as well as a heavy solo, and an unshakeable chorus. It is Def Leppard personified. Having everyone screaming, another gigantic hit from Pyromania, “Photograph” closed the show with a pulsating riff started the song off before falling into a textbook melody capped off with various “Oh’s” synched perfectly with the music. A concise, deft solo was placed perfectly after two verses and choruses before the chorus was repeated several times, along with more dynamic background singing, before an extended instrumental finish.

It comes as no surprise that Def Leppard has achieved as much as they have through the years. With snarling guitars coupled seamlessly with timeless hooks and melodies, their music still seems as fresh as ever. Rock fans looking to catch a show that combines all the best of Pop, Rock, and Heavy Metal, Def Leppard is a must see. With a new record ready for release sometime very soon, chances are Def Leppard will be around for the extended future much to the delight of the Rock world.

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Gerard Smith
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