Def Leppard redeems and delivers

July 30, 2015


After Saturday night’s Motley Crue fiasco which left many fair goers seething with anger and frustration, rock fans and California Mid-State Fair officials were certainly hoping for some rock and roll redemption Monday evening.

Photo by Jennifer Campa

Photo by Jennifer Campa

Well, they got it as Def Leppard and opening act Tesla powered through two and half hours of hard rock hits from that big hair decade we call the eighties. There were smiles and souvenir drink cups aplenty in the grandstand by show’s end at 10:30 p.m. on another balmy Paso Robles summer night.

Photo by Jennifer Campa

Photo by Jennifer Campa

Opening act Tesla’s lead singer Jeff Keith did his best David Coverdale of Whitesnake impression by shrieking and screaming his way through the Sacramento-based metal band’s 55-minute set. Dude, you have a microphone and a great voice so it’s okay to sing loudly but no need to yell, there’s a big difference. They played most of their hits ‘Signs,’ ‘Little Suzi,’ ‘Love Song’ and ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ at the end to finally energize a crowd that had been growing restless.

As for Def Leppard, these guys know the drill. Sure, they could have played a few more early era songs like ‘Too Late for Love,’ ‘Rock Brigade’ and ‘Wasted’ to extend their 90 minute set but they packed 18 solid songs in, doing it with a style and ease that was energetic but never rushed.

The boys from Britain delivered what we clamored for and were denied two nights before: hard-charging, fun-loving, memorable outdoor rock and roll.

Of course it’s superficial party music but this has always been the key to the Mid-State Fair’s brand and reputation as one of the best in California. A grandstand headliner concert is the one county-wide event everyone feels they need to attend.

And the positive vibe inside the Chumash Arena is exceptional, nothing beats it. From the cool but firm Cal Poly security staff, who always let my friend Diane and I visit our front stage guard pal Kenny to the friendly beer dispensers, it’s always an inviting, exciting concert experience.

For singer Joe Elliott and his multi-platinum record selling band mates, their performance was a nostalgic if unsentimental journey through a series of classic rock tracks from the 1980s that is unmatched for that decade. It’s hard to compare anyone to Led Zeppelin but you can make an argument that Def Leppard, while obviously not as prolific, were to the 1980s what the might Zep were to the 1970s.

The fellas know they had a great artistic run and are always eager to celebrate it, it’s probably why their popularity as a live act endures.

Technically however, the sound mix. as on Saturday night for Motley Crue, was lacking. I’m no audio engineer but it’s a problem when the bass is thumping and vibrating, overpowering and muddying the guitar and vocals. The mixer is like the unseen sixth man who has to perform well for the team to win. Getting back to Tesla’s screamer, sound board guy has to adapt to these situations on stage and neutralize his vocals if it’s drowning out the other instruments.

Where’s Bill Gaines when you need him?

Still, that’s a minor quibble on an otherwise festive night at the fair. The formula, whether it’s pop, rock or country, works to perfection when a band’s energy matches the crowd. By their final musical note, it was pretty clear that Def Leppard, who last performed at the Mid-State Fair in 1999, appreciated their enthusiastic central coast reception and don’t plan to wait another 16 years to return.

The feeling is mutual.

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Well, while I didn’t see Crüe or Def Leppard, my family did go and see Boston on Friday night – and the band was actually good. VERY good. The only complaint (if any, grasping at straws, really) was there were a few too many long “solo” time-fillers, but I think Tommy DeCarlo was resting his voice once or twice. Not to worry, as Beth Cohen (who often is used for the sustained high’s) sang as front-woman on two songs, and played guitar and keyboard.

The band was in top-from, and the crowd was electrified; a good time was had by all. The average age of attendees was probably around 50, as can be expected, with my teenage kid being the exception.

Plus it was PERFECT weather. WOW, I mean, I dread going to Paso in the summer, and I am not a big “midstate fan” person, so it was a double-dread night for me. By the end of their 1½-hour+ set (no break, apart from long solo’s) I was having a great time, great weather, and great people! PLUS, I was in the cheap, stage-right $25-35 seats, and those turned out to be some of the best seats in the house!

I actually preferred Tesla over Def Leppard, even though I acknowledge the iconic nature of DL. DL was too loud. Jeff Keith did not screech. He has a powerhouse voice like Steve Tyler of Arrowsmith, and I think the crowd enjoyed their opening act, and was not restless.

What was the excuse in Paso? The stage is set up and ready…..

This just in folks about Crue. They did it AGAIN last night (Wed) in Salt Lake City. Hmm another hole in the plane??

Yea I was on the fence of which show to see, Crue or Leppard. Yea I made the wrong choice. Glad to hear they were much better than the other. The fans deserve it.