In the spirit of the NBA Finals and the state’s upcoming Republican primary, it’s tempting to want to cast Wednesday’s Usana Amphitheatre concert as a Battle of the Bands.
Which hard-rock band — Def Leppard or Poison — bested the other?
In the end, it was no contest, though opening act Poison, led by the death-defying and eternally tanned Bret Michaels, certainly did its best to warm up the crowd before Def Leppard’s headlining set.
But Poison was at a disadvantage because the L.A. foursome went onstage at 8 p.m., with the sun still high in the sky. Compared to Def Leppard’s phalanx of lights, high-resolution video screens, enough fog to replicate London’s, and the oiled chest of guitarist Phil Collen, Poison’s set design of a banner proclaiming the band’s 25th anniversary was understated.
But showmanship goes a long way, and though Poison’s best song-writing days ended 20 years ago, Michaels showed why he is one of the most likable frontmen in rock, no matter what red bandanna and green-glittered cowboy hat he sports on any given day. There is a reason The Donald chose him as the Celebrity Apprentice several seasons ago.
Once Poison finished its 50-minute set in front of a surprisingly packed amphitheater, Def Leppard took the stage with a solid confidence that differed from Poison’s party-hardy anthems of youthful decadence. In comparison to Poison, Def Leppard seemed almost cerebral.
Note: That will be the last time “Def Leppard” and “cerebral” will be used in the same sentence. It is impressive that the British band’s frontman Joe Elliott can sing, with a straight face, lyrics from “Pour Some Sugar On Me: such as:
Livin’ like a lover with a radar phone
Lookin’ like a tramp, like a video vamp
Demolition woman, can I be your man?
But the band sells it with a militaristic approach despite two decades without a hit, and thousands didn’t seem to care Wednesday night. And with impeccable background singing (which is no small feat, and underrated), layered guitars, electronically programmed drums, the quintet was précise with its catchy, twin-guitared songs that included the best parts of glam and what was once called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
It was good night for big, dumb rock. And with songs such as “Unskinny Bop” and “Armageddon It,” brainless chewing gum never hurt anyone. But it certainly doesn’t produce any thought bubbles.
Def Leppard and Poison
When • Wednesday, June 20
Where • Usana Amphitheatre, West Valley City.
Bottom Line • Def Leppard and Poison create night of big, dumb rock