Words & Deeds

Flashback review: Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon roll into Boise

Joe Elliott, left, and Phil Collen perform with the band Def Leppard in this photo taken in 2012 in Los Angeles.
Joe Elliott, left, and Phil Collen perform with the band Def Leppard in this photo taken in 2012 in Los Angeles. Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Recently perusing a 2008 review I wrote of a Def Leppard/Reo Speedwagon concert at the Idaho Center, I realized that it might be possible to bend time and space and actually pre-review the two bands’ show Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Taco Bell Arena in Boise.

The evenings will be slightly different. In ’08, Styx also was on the bill. This week, less-comedic Tesla will fill that opener slot. But, basically, we can see into the future here. Everyone is eight years older. (How can REO frontman Kevin Cronin be 64?) Not much else will have changed. So, in a marvel of time travel — and concertgoing altruism? — here is that 2008 concert review.

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Def Leppard/REO Speedwagon/Styx

April 22, 2008, Idaho Center

It felt perfect that Styx opened Tuesday’s sold-out concert in Nampa, because the next four hours were a grand illusion.

Everyone was young again. REO Speedwagon was way cool. Def Leppard rocked hard — way too hard for “Mix 106” to be the radio station set up outside the Idaho Center.

If you closed your eyes, you could even pretend that hordes of parents hadn’t brought their offspring to watch gray-haired men cavort in tight pants.

OK, so there were a few reality checks — whether you bumped into an old high-school flame or suddenly realized that concert shirts cost as much as an entire trip to Chuck E. Cheese. And, Lord, that was not your old vice-principal taking tickets at the rear entry, was it?

(Don’t worry, he’s retired and doesn’t remember you.)

Mostly, the triple-bill concert was a nostalgic blend of fun, fantasy and foolery for 9,277 fans who didn’t really care if they looked hip rocking to the oldies. Let’s put it this way: There were probably more costume mullet wigs in the crowd than actual mullets.

It is a shame Styx has been relegated to county fairs. The group would be better off at a circus. Thanks to flamboyant keyboardist-singer Lawrence Gowan — who replaced original singer Dennis DeYoung some 400 years ago — Styx often came across as the potential new fundraising act for Sen. Larry Craig.

“They’re a little fruity,” one concertgoer observed while Gowan pranced about singing “Come Sail Away” like Martin Short on Broadway. “And he doesn’t sound anything like Dennis DeYoung.”

Nobody seemed to notice. Fans swayed, holding up lighters and illuminated cell phones. Who cared if Styx actually had any original members? Long-haired dudes with mustaches all sort of look the same, anyway.

And lustrous-locked guitarist-vocalist Tommy Shaw — the only Styx member anyone ever really recognized — looked outstanding.

Still, it was hard to ignore when the Baryshnikov-like Gowan kept playing keyboards standing backward.

Wriggling across the stage, he even posed with one toe pointed, ballerina-style.

People loved it. The crowd stomped so furiously for an encore that it felt like the arena would collapse. Styx uncorked its bombastic, hard-rocking anthem, “Renegade,” as moms leaped up and danced like it was a disco cut. Seriously, a few people looked like they might moonwalk.

Styx members tossed swag into the audience afterward, from beach balls to tote bags. No CDs, though. Why bother?

REO didn’t sound as guitar-squealingly stupendous as Styx, but Cronin’s voice was nearly CD-perfect on hits such as “Keep the Fire Burning” and “Time for Me to Fly.” You almost didn’t notice when his guitar player began twiddling on a ridiculous double-ax. Or the shirtless drummer’s gong.

Shifting into low gear, the REO station wagon had the gall to play a new song called “Find Your Own Way Home,” which Cronin hilariously described as “our latest single.”

Wouldn’t that require radio play?

REO quickly atoned. Announcing “This one’s for you girls” — cue shrieks — Cronin stood in the spotlight, held his hands out and crooned “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”

It was cheese, but fine cheese.

If concertgoers obviously enjoyed REO, you also got the sense that an inside joke was wordlessly understood. The second the silly keyboard intro to “Keep on Loving You” began, two young women looked at each other, screamed, and gave each other the Elaine Benes shove. A surprising number of fans were under 30.

Graciously, REO encored with its best song, “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” a fist-pumping anthem that finally allowed male audience members to rock out without worrying if anyone was watching.

Def Leppard triggered no such insecurities. The British band burst onto the stage with “Rocket,” a 1987 song that instantly swallowed up the entire arena.

“Rock it!” every person in the room roared. “Yeah!”

Unlike the first two bands, there was little comedy to be found. Still muscular, Def Leppard was planning to deliver a real rock concert.

Of the night’s bands, Def Leppard is the youngest and most intact, missing just one dead guitarist and that infamous left arm. Guitarist Phil Collen was ripped like the Hulk for a 50-year-old. He tore off his shirt and posed with tan, six-pack abs.

Vocalist Joe Elliott arguably was the group’s weakest rock-star link. Carrying extra weight, he’s getting those Ozzy Osbourne jowls. And his voice wasn’t particularly strong. (Granted, he’s been ill recently.)

Or maybe Elliott’s voice wasn’t that strong 20 years ago. Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” album — which sold more than 20 million copies globally — introduced a mega-produced vocal sound. Those familiar air-brushed harmonies and synthetic drums still rushed through the arena.

Def Leppard’s stage was large but not titanic. (Van Halen is definitely doing it bigger.) But the band successfully revived the colossal arena-rock vibe that everyone paid up to $75 to remember. As Def Leppard pounded out “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Love Bites,” beers joyfully got spilled. Yet the crowd was fairly tame, even if an occasional woman wearing no shirt and a push-up bra terrorized security with her menacing jiggles.

Def Leppard could have gotten away with a set closer in length to the 50 minutes that Styx and REO played. Instead, the band cranked for an hour and a half. You sort of had to pity the worn-out, seated child whose dancing dad kept smacking him on the shoulder euphorically at 10:30 p.m.

Def Leppard’s most satisfying moments came during timeless headbangers such as “Foolin’,” from the band’s classic 1983 album “Pyromania.” The worst were throwaways such as “Armageddon It,” from the commercially massive “Hysteria.”

Naturally, Def Leppard felt compelled to perform a new song, served up as a collaboration with country singer Tim McGraw on the band’s next album. (Why the still-current McGraw would duet with Def Leppard is a mystery.) Predictably, the tune was a snooze. Maybe McGraw’s presence would have saved it. Either way, you sort of had to forgive. Def Leppard kindly dipped all the way back to 1981 for “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes).” And everybody secretly loves “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

Undoubtedly, most fans felt like the night was worth every penny, if for nothing else than a brief escape from bills and bosses. As thousands shrieked along to encore hit “Rock of Ages” — you know, the “gunter glieben glauchen globen” song — it was clear what this experience was all about: “What do you want?” we all screamed. “I want rock ‘n’ roll! Long live rock ‘n’ roll!

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