Music

Def Leppard, Motley Crue deliver one sloppy, awesome mess of a stadium show (Photos)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The year was 1987. The highlight of every teenage rocker’s summer was Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls Tour.” The music was mindless. Life was good.

Fast forward 35 years and “The Stadium Tour” featuring co-headliners Motley Crue and Def Leppard, along with openers Poison and Joan Jett, served as a time warp. I can’t speak on 1987 (I was making my mark in pre-school). But I can speak to Thursday night’s concert at FirstEnergy Stadium.

And…it was pretty good. Gnarly even, which is more than you can say for many of the past-their-prime acts that strolled through Northeast Ohio throughout the year.

This was the third attempt at “The Stadium Tour.” It was supposed to happen in 2020 but the pandemic hit. The bands tried again in 2021 to no avail.

“We’re here, at last,” said Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott to a huge roar.

But all that built-up anticipation didn’t do much for attendance. There were plenty of empty seats in the stands, as “The Stadium Tour” never really felt like the extravaganza of other recent shows at the venue such as U2, Jay-Z and Beyonce, or Taylor Swift (though Elliott’s hair could give Swift’s a run for its money).

But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Every act went for fist-pumping glory, starting with Joan Jett. Has any rock star this side of Mick Jagger oozed cool more than Jett. The 63-year-old strolled out to the stage at 4:30 pm in front of a smallish crowd only to have people in bathroom and beer lines drop everything upon hearing “Cherry Bomb” and rush to their seats.

Some of Jett’s biggest career highlights have taken place in Cleveland, including her 2015 Rock & roll Hall of Fame Induction. Not surprisingly, she seemed at total ease in front of the crowd, referencing her role in 1987′s “Light of Day” — the movie she filmed in Cleveland with Michael J. Fox – before breaking into her song of the same name.

The opening chords of “Crimson & Clover” brought the crowd to life. But it was “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” that marked the first time Thursday night felt like a massive stadium concert.

Jett closed things out with the one-two punch of “I Hate Myself for Loving You” and “Bad Reputation” before throwing out a handful of guitar picks to the crowd. She was there and gone in a flash – barely 45 minutes – but she was damn good.

During the half-hour intervals between sets, fans flocked to refuel (You were lucky if you made it back for the start of the next performance), while marveling at the look of the crowd.

“Everybody looks so familiar,” one man said. “It’s like the ’80s again.”

Indeed, the concert tees were faded. The jeans and leather pants fit a bit tighter. Most of the tattoos haven’t aged well. For younger readers, imagine Eddie from the most recent season of “Stranger Things,” only in his 50s and multiplied ten-thousand times.

Poison kicked off its set by blasting AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” from the speakers. And those were the best vocals you were going to hear for the next 45 minutes.

Frontman Bret Michaels doesn’t so much sing as he shouts words these days. His voice didn’t project all that well inside FirstEnergy Stadium. But the crowd was there to help him out on anthems like “Ride the Wind” and “Talk Dirty to Me.”

And damn if Michaels isn’t one of the most likable rock stars that has ever existed. His enthusiasm was at a 10 during the entire set, touching hands in the front row and giving a shoutout to photographers who he let stay at the stage for an extra song.

Heck, it’s hard to knock a guy who wears his band’s own T-shirt during shows, goes wild on a harmonica before a cover of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and even lets fans strum his acoustic guitar. The stadium shook for the first time during “Talk Dirty to Me” and Michaels’ voice still sounds fairly decent on “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”

But Michaels’ crowning achievement Thursday was coming up with the most appropriate catchphrase of the evening. “This is one big, backyard karaoke,” he proclaimed. Yep, a very sweaty one.

Still, labeling anything about Def Leppard’s performance karaoke would take away from just how good the band still sounds. Like, jaw-dropping good for a bunch of guys in their late 50s and early 60s.

Def Leppard helped establish this stadium rock thing with the members putting in the work to make sure they can still do it. The band sounded loud (very loud) on Thursday. The guitar solos were blistering, the drums thunderous.

Most importantly, Elliott’s vocals sounded impeccable. Granted, he has the benefit of some stellar backing harmonies and slick production effects. But Elliott hit every note, even on new songs from this year’s “Diamond Star Halos” that fit in nicely with the band’s biggest hits.

Guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell (neither has apparently ever skipped a gym session) were on point the entire night. Their electric energy seemed to inspire several 50-something men in the crowd to remove their shirts. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a man with a body built on cases of Budweiser caressing his goosebumps during “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.”

The acoustic-driven portion of Def Leppard’s set was a bit of a snooze. But Collen and Campbell soon kicked off the night’s greatest moment, ripping through “Switch 625″ before it transitioned into Rick Allen’s amazing drum solo (one arm be damned). That led to “Hysteria,” marking a final stretch of songs that brought the house down.

At the onset of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” a woman tapped me on the shoulder to inform me, “This is what they call the white people’s anthem.” As a person of color, I was not offended. She was simply speaking the truth.

After all, you know a set was epic when a bunch of shirtless, barefoot dudes are escorted away by security during the chorus of “Photograph.”

If that was the end of the night, it would have been worth the money (Well, maybe not the $750 for seats near the stage because that’s insane). But there was more!

Def Leppard and Motley Crue have been taking turns closing out shows on tour. It was the Crue’s turn Thursday. Were they as good as Def Leppard? Not even close. But Motley Crue’s barrage of special effects, including laser lights and tons of smoke, felt like the right way to go once the sun went down.

There is one truth about Motley Crue fans have to be willing to accept these days. Vince Neil can’t really sing anymore. His voice has been reduced to a high-pitched squeal. Nothing more, nothing less.

But once the pink smoke started to fill the arena and Tommy Lee’s face hit the big screen (the drummer is back to playing full sets after breaking his ribs early on the tour), fans who stuck around after Def Leppard went nuts.

Lee’s pulsating drums and every other sound from the stage drowned out Neil’s voice, possibly for the better. Not that it mattered. Fans were committed to embracing every fist-pumping moment from “Wild Side” and “Shout at the Devil” to “Dr. Feelgood” and “Kickstart My Heart.”

If the energy wasn’t enough to consume you, Motley Crue brought along its backup dancers (and sometimes singers) known as the Nasty Habits. The trio of stunning women was the focus of the band’s cameramen throughout the night, only leaving the stage to change into outfits that revealed more skin.

Things reached a racy level during “Looks That Kill.” So, you can probably imagine what “Girls, Girls, Girls” was like.

Midway through its set, Motley Crue led a karaoke medley of other band’s hits (“Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” “Anarchy in the UK,” “Helter Skelter,” etc.) before loading the home stretch with its biggest songs.

Nothing about it felt earth-shattering. But that wasn’t the point. Thursday gave fans a chance to relive their glory years and the Heydays of rock bands who were built to perform on the biggest imaginable stages.

It wasn’t exactly the World Series or Rock (nothing is these days). It wasn’t even a show you’d someday tell your kids about. But you might tell your parents about it…assuming they weren’t there.

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