Thursday, September 29, 2011

September ROCKS: Hard-Rockin' With HEART, DEF LEPPARD, and CHEAP TRICK!

It's been a pretty crazy month. This week alone, I turned 29, celebrated Rosh Hashana, and made it through another insane week at work. But I wanted to take a little time and look back at some of the reasons why this past September rocked. Literally. So indulge me for a minute as I recap two epic concerts that I was fortunate enough to attend over the last few weeks.

DEF LEPPARD and HEART at the Gibson Ampitheater:

- I saw Def Leppard a few years back, at an insane classic rock triple-bill with Foreigner and Styxx. But the prospect of a Def Leppard / Heart one-two punch just seemed too awesome to pass up, and so I snagged some last-minute tickets to the show, which took place at the beginning of September. It was one of those shows that clearly attracted all ages - you had your middle-aged 80's-rock groupies out to recapture their youthful years of rock n' roll craziness. You had your twenty-something metal-heads who at some point declared that yes, they loved the 80's (I certainly d0). You even had a multi-generational thing going on, with parents bringing their kids to experience a taste of what rock n' roll was and is all about. LA may not always have the wildest or craziest concert crowds, but at this concert, I definitely felt like I was living in a city built on rock n' roll.

The concert was opened by HEART, and the original rock divas were true show-stealers. Anyone who thought of them as a gimmick band or as stock 80's rock clearly had another thing coming. These women rocked and rocked *hard*. Truly, I was blown away. The Wilson sisters were absolutely in top form, and reminded the crowd why they are true icons of rock. Singer Anne Wilson's vocal talents are still ultra-formidable, and her piercing, powerful voice rocked the Gibson arena over and over again. And man, Nancy Wilson is just, flat-out, one badass chick. She wears the bands Led Zepellin influence on her sleeve, shredding on the guitar while, at the same time, channeling some sort of inner rocker zen, as if she is one with the very gods of rock n' roll - the same divine entities that powered the likes of Janis Joplin, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and Stevie Nicks. Still looking lean, mean, and positively cougar-ish, Nancy tore the house down all night long.

Speaking of Heart's Zepellin roots, the band opened up with a blistering cover of Zep's "Rock n' Roll" that got the crowd on their feet. Later in the night, they got magical and mystical with a trip to Middle Earth, via a transcendental cover of "The Battle of Evermore." In between, Heart played one classic hit after another. The driving rocker "Magic Man," the soaring power ballad (and my personal favorite) "What About Love?", classic rocker "Crazy On You," and finally, their iconic anthem "Barracuda." Also in the mix was the more soulful, ethereal tune "These Dreams," and the newly-popular "Alone" - which had the crowd singing along. There was also "WTF," a cut off of Heart's most recent album, which propelled them back into the Billboard Top 10 and resestablished them as a top-selling rock act. The final song of the night was an absolutely thundering, epic endition of The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me," that ended the set on a true high note.

Again, I really was blown away by the power of Ann Wilson's incredible voice and Nancy's guitar prowess. These gals still have it, and they are legit - talented as hell and badass to the bone. It was a real treat to see HEART kick ass and play at the top of their game, and I think that on that night in September, they quite simply stole the show.

Now, DEF LEPPARD had a tough act to follow, but comparing them to Heart was a bit of an apples and oranges scenario. While Heart has a couple of full-on 80's-style rockers, they really owe more to the 70's-era stylings of Led Zepellin and Fleetwood Mac. But DEF LEPPARD is just straight-up, no-apologies 80's pop-metal arena rock. And though some may knock them for it, to me, they are the best in the business at that particular style. Each of their songs is designed simply to get a crowd on their feet, fists in the air, lighters (or here in 2011, iPhones) a-wavin'. And though the band may be a step slower, and singer Joe Elliott's voice a tad raspier than in their 80's heyday, the band still knows how to work a crowd like few others, and they have the catalog of classic rock anthems to do it.

The band very quickly dove headfirst into the vault of iconic Def Leppard rockers. After kicking things off with the slightly more obscure "Undefeated," it was mostly just the hits from that point on. In succession, we got "Let's Get Rocked," "Animal," "Foolin'," and "Love Bites." All classics tailor made for three things: driving down the street with the window down on a summer day, singing along with friends in a crowded bar, or sharing with thousands of others in a jam-packed arena. Later, the hits kept coming in the form of "Two Steps Behind" and "Bringin' On the Heartbreak." Eventually, the band wrapped up with a crowd-pleasing sequence of "Hysteria," "Armageddon It," "Photograph (my personal fave)", and of course, everyone's favorite, "Pour Some Sugar On Me." Finally, the band closed things out with an epic encore of "Rock of Ages." There were no big surprises, but for me, Def Leppard is still an awesome band to see in concert with a huge crowd - and you could tell that the band was genuinely appreciative of all the fans who came out to support them, a full 30 years since they first hit the scene.

One thing was for sure - on this night, rock n' roll was alive and well.

CHEAP TRICK at the Greek Theater:

- Now ... this one was a surprise. A while back, I was actually supposed to have seen Cheap Trick open for Aerosmith, but we ended up getting to that concert late and missing Cheap Trick altogether. As fate would have it though, a couple of years later, I finally got to see Cheap Trick up close and personal and at a special performance as part of their Dream Police tour. It all worked out for the best: not only am I a bigger fan of the band now than I was then, but after seeing this show, I realized that, clearly, Cheap Trick is worthy of seeing in their own show - they are truly too awesome of a band to be anyone's opening act.

Now, this was actually my first time at LA's fabled Greek Theater. But, my friends and I, through a lucky twist of fate, managed to score free tickets - and not just any free tickets, but VIP box seats that put us front and center at one of the most famous music venues in the world. And this couldn't have happened for a better concert. Because Cheap Trick is one of those bands that - as good as they are in the studio - they're really and truly a band that needs to be seen live. For one thing, they just bring an amazing energy and showmanship to the table. For another, their songs are surprisingly intricate, complex, and just plain impressive when seen performed live. The band is known as a pioneer of the power-pop style, but their songs mix classic-rock power and crunch with new-wave experimentalism and unpredictablity. On top of all that, this show was part of the Dream Police tour - a celebration of the band's Dream Police album that, back i nthe day, helped transition their style from more simple classic rock to more complex, full, and even symphonic rock. To celebrate the album, the band is now touring with a full orchestra and choir, lending the entire show an added air of epic grandeur and overall "bigness." Suffice it to say, from a visual standpoint alone, the effect was jaw-dropping, with the band's flamboyant rock act backed by dozens of supporting musicians, perched high up on an elevated, two-tier stage. Both tiers were equipped with giant video screens, projecting all sorts of thematically-linked pieces that tied into each song. We got dazzling displays of color and light, archival footage of the band, a montage of all of the band's music or mentions in movies and TV shows, and even a specially-commisioned video graphic novel inspired by one of the songs. Awesome.

As for the songs themselves - it was a true pleasure to see Cheap Trick roll through a mix of big hits and lesser known rarities. I genuinely came away from the show with a handful of new favorites from their catalogue. At the same time, it was amazing to hear blazing renditions of all-time favorites like "Dream Police," "I Want You To Want Me," and of course, "Surrender." Even the cheesy-yet-hopelessly-catchy "The Flame" was a hell of a lot of fun to see live. But like I said, there were plenty of great surprises during the show. I wasn't familiar with the grinding, ultra-badass rocker "Gonna Raise Hell" before the show, but my friends and I were all totally enamored with the song - an instant new-favorite. "I Know What I Want" was another great one that really kicked ass.

Really though, it was cool to just sit back at the Greek and watch the band in action. Singer Robyn Zander, well, he's still got it. The guy is a legend, and seeing him rock out onstage with his trademark police uniform was great - we were watching an icon in action. And again, for a guy who's got to be getting up there in years, his voice is in pretty remarkable shape. Same goes for guitarist Rick Nielsen, who's just a true master. The guy absolutely shreds, and powers through power chords like nobody's business. He had some great energy, even if he seemed a little winded by the end of the show. But the guy just has a great presence and rapport with the audience. He seems like he's having a blast up on stage. And bassist Tom Petterson is a machine - ripping through songs on the setlist with the utmost levels of badassery. Also cool: the fact that Rick Nielsen's son Daxx was subbing in on drums for this tour. Daxx just seemed to be in seventh heaven playing along with his legendary dad, and he brought an added jolt of youthful, head-banging energy to the precedings.

All in all, I came away from the concert feeling like I had just witnessed true legends in action, and these were not just fossils, but guys who could still rock and rock hard and show up most bands half their age. I came away with a much greater appreciation for how deep and diverse the Cheap Trick catalog is as well. Definitely a show to be remembered, and a great way to bring the month of September to a close.

Just another reminder that even as you get older, you're never too old to rock n' roll.

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