It wasn’t a pretty start, but most fans attending the Heart/Def Leppard show at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood would likely agree that the payoff was worth the wait.
The venue lost power during Saturday’s vicious storm, which led to an hour of will-there-or-won’t-there-be-a-show guessing as fans waited for the gates to be opened.
Eventually, with the storm passed, electricity restored and safety concerns cleared, the concert was a go, with Heart taking the stage at 9 p.m. for a condensed 40-minute set (they’ve played about an hour and 10 minutes on the first two stops of the tour, which launched Wednesday in South Florida).
But anyone who has seen Ann and Nancy Wilson and the rest of Heart live before knows that the sisters pack a ton of power – no pun intended – into everything they do.
Though Ann’s voice was lost in a poor mix of the opening “Cook With Fire,” the sound clarified for the sweetly sexy “Never,” re-dressed with an acoustic foundation and harmonica, and “What About Love.”
Ann, looking slimmed in black leggings and boots and the eternally cool Nancy, who came onstage wearing a top hat and still, at 57, managed to scissor kick her way through “Crazy on You,” navigated a set high on fulfillment even if short on time.
The ‘80s hits “These Dreams,” steered by Nancy’s wispier voice, and “Alone,” anchored by Ann’s husky pipes, have easily retained their singalong quality – a necessity at this show – even if they represent the poppier side of Heart.
But lest anyone forget Heart’s roots, the sisters and the four members of the band, including the indispensible Debbie Shair on keyboards and percussion, tore through a trio of classic rock staples – the prog-rockish “Magic Man,” a thunderous version of “Crazy on You” and the serrated guitar steamroller, “Barracuda.”
Devoted fans were no doubt disappointed by the relative brevity of their performance, but hey, a little Heart is better than no Heart.
At 10:15, after the recorded strains of Def Leppard’s traditional pre-show song, AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You),” boomed through the nearly sold-out venue, a mirror ball dropped above the stage and the quintet appeared, banging out the new “Undefeated.”
A four-on-the-floor fist pumper born to be played relentlessly at a stadium near you this fall, the song, from the just-released live “Mirrorball” CD, represented the only detour for a band that hasn’t much altered its playlist the past few tours.
Granted, since the new record is essentially a live collection of smashes, it makes sense to still trot out the well-worn radio faves, including the awesomely mindless “Let’s Get Rocked” and the half-dozen hits from the now-21-year-old (!!) “Hysteria” album.
But what Def Leppard might lack in set list creativity (“Rock On”? Really? Still? How about “20th Century Boy” or “Stay With Me?”), it more than compensates for with impressive stage craft.
Performing on a spectacular tiered stage lined with panels of video screens and beneath a ridge of relentlessly spinning lights, the band had ample space to roam.
Singer Joe Elliott’s voice has always been a gruff instrument, and on this night, while it was sometimes swallowed by the huge sound of the band, it just as often soared on long-held notes in “Animal” and “Rocket.”
The front line of bassist Rick Savage and guitarists Vivian Campbell and (shirtless) Phil Collen doused the band’s songs with gorgeous harmonies – always a hallmark of Def Leppard’s sound – that are the perfect complement to their metallic guitar riffs and drummer Rick Allen’s steady electro-beats.
“Foolin’,” in particular, sounded full and fresh, and the extended version of the beautifully complex “Rocket” included a dynamic interplay between Campbell and Collen.
Though it appeared that Elliott wasn’t going to talk to the crowd, instead to focus on fitting in the band’s full set, when he, Collen, Savage and Campbell sauntered down the catwalk extended about a dozen rows into the crowd for an acoustic segment, he indeed had something to say.
“We weren’t going to let a little proper rain spoil the party were we?” Elliott asked as the crowd roared. “But you should all get a pen and paper and write to your local electricity board and [tell them] that their generators suck!”
With that statement – delivered with a smile masking some obvious annoyance – Elliott and the boys strummed through “Two Steps Behind” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” which kicked into its full electric grandeur midway through.
Savage pulled out his Union Jack bass for the zippy instrumental “Switch 625,” which segued into what is perhaps Def Leppard’s most epic song, the melodically layered “Hysteria,” which aped its recorded counterpart with technical proficiency and lyrical heart.
It was impossible for most in this generation-spanning crowd to refrain from playing air guitar or air drums at the first notes of “Armageddon It” and “Photograph” – playful pop-rockers that by the last chunk of the show, likely erased the headaches and hindrances of earlier in the night.