Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Concert Review: Def Leppard & Styx

Joe Elliott wasn’t left stranded at sea during Def Leppard’s inaugural fan cruise experience in late January, but the same couldn’t be said for his voice.

Elliott contracted a severe case of laryngitis during Def Leppard’s ill-fated “Hysteria on the High Seas” event—a four-night voyage-from-hell aboard the MSC Divina that redefined Murphy’s law (Def Leppard cancelled its performance; the ship encountered horrible weather throughout its Miami-to-Bahamas itinerary; and a member of one of the other bands performing on the cruise, former Rainbow and Dio bassist Jimmy Bain, was found dead in his cabin).

The band cancelled its Jan. 27 appearance with Styx and Tesla in Greensboro, N.C., to give Elliott’s voice time to recover. But even with two days rest, the singer was in no condition to take the stage during Friday’s triple bill of classic rock at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

As much as possible, Elliott relied on his bandmates’ backing vocals and an enthusiastic crowd—one that seemed to be willing Def Leppard through its 15-song set—to handle the power notes in songs like “Love Bites” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.” When he did try and carry a verse or two, the 56-year-old had to sing in a lower octave; there wasn’t a number in the set that didn’t somehow feel off because of it.

That said, give Def Leppard credit for taking the stage at all. Elliott knew going in that his typically powerhouse voice—as integral to the band’s sound as Phil Collen’s gritty guitar or one-armed drummer Rick Allen’s astounding percussion work—had betrayed him. But he tried to tough it out; musically, the rest of the band tore through one hit after another intent on giving the half-capacity crowd its money’s worth.

“Yes, my voice is f—-ed up, it’s gone,” Elliott said early in the show. “But we don’t cancel. We [perspire].” The next night in Orlando, Def Leppard did indeed cancel its show.

As for the undercard, Styx turned in the performance of the night, led by charismatic keyboard player and vocalist Lawrence Gowan. Just like another classic ’70s/’80s band, Journey, which hired a Steve Perry doppelgänger in lead singer Arnel Pineda, Styx found the perfect replacement for founding member Dennis DeYoung in Gowan, who joined the band in 1999. Gowan takes the stage like he won the rock lottery—one minute, he faces the audience while playing keyboard behind his back; the next, he channels the spirit of a Broadway performer, strutting about and striking dramatic poses. Most importantly, he owns the DeYoung songs on his plate—like the soaring “Suite Madame Blue,” which, dare I say, sounded better than the original.

The core members of Styx, guitarists James Young and Tommy Shaw, seem to be having a late-career blast on stage. The band, which has toured nonstop the past decade with other acts from its era, knows what its audience wants—trotting out a selection of greatest hits, from “Fooling Yourself” and “Blue Collar Man” to the set-closing “Renegade”—but it also takes stage with the enthusiasm and energy of a group just starting out.

Prior to his pitch-perfect renditions of “Lady” and “Come Sail Away,” Gowan paid homage to the late David Bowie with acoustic keyboard versions of “Starman,” “Life on Mars,” and “Changes.” It was a not-so-subtle reminder to appreciate our legends of rock while we still can.

Def Leppard

Let’s Go
Animal
Dangerous
Foolin’
Love Bites
Armageddon It
Rock On
Rocket
Bringin’ on the Heartbreak
Switch 625
Hysteria
Let’s Get Rocked
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages
Photograph

Styx

The Grand Illusion
Too Much Time on My Hands
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Light Up
Starman
Lady
Miss America
Suite Madame Blue
Blue Collar Man
Life on Mars/Changes
Come Sail Away
Rockin’ the Paradise
Renegade

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