Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, Tesla
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 22, 2016
Monday was the first day of school for a lot of kids in the Houston area, but nonetheless all the adults came out to the Woodlands Pavilion to check out the triple threat of Tesla, REO Speedwagon and headliners Def Leppard. Interestingly, many of their parents hadn’t even been born when these three groups were in the prime of their careers. But the theme of the night wasn’t nostalgia as one might think. It was hands down about longevity and sustainability.
Just after 7 p.m., the tall and lanky Tesla front man Jeff Keith got the crowd pumped early, sounding great spitting out his power ballads while spinning and dancing on his stacked heel boots. Flinging his hair about, Keith interacted with fans as many of them were still entering the venue and filling their seats. “We’ve been doing this for 30 years," he told them. "The best part is of it is still being here after 30 years!”
Guitarist Dave Rude’s licks were equally as impressive as his counterparts that have been with the group since the beginning. His back-bending solo work had the crowd in awe when he strutted out onto the extended stage. Tesla's energetic performance came as a personal surprise, but not to the tons and tons of fans who sang along to almost all of their songs, not just “Signs.”
Next, REO Speedwagon rolled onstage to plow through their long list of breakup songs. Check that — make-up songs. Wait, no. As displayed by several couples, they were make-out songs. Seriously, there were so many later middle-aged couples with their tongues stuck in each other’s mouths you would have thought they were all in the high-school parking lot in the back seat of a Camero IROC Z smelling like Aqua Net.
And it was all Kevin Cronin’s fault. The lead singer of a band that has been playing for five decades spoke to the fans so often it like watching a live, pumped up version of VH1 Storytellers. Then there were times where the sound could have passed for snippets of Megadeth. No kidding; these guys are much heavier than sweet songs heard on the 107.5 The Eagle. This is in large part to the shredding of Dave Amato, who is an extremely underrated guitar player; watching his talent unfold live is something to behold.
Then came the Englishmen from Sheffield, the heavy hitters that people came back to see again. Joe Elliott and the boys suddenly appeared onstage as the curtain was sucked up into the roof. The shirtless Phil Collen glistened in the Pavilion’s spotlight like he was an extra from Magic Mike XXL. After belting out “Let’s Go” and “Animal,” Elliott said the first time they played in Houston was 1980, when they were first up opening for Ted Nugent and Scorpions.
Def Lep's popularity really peaked in 1987, when one of the greatest rock cassettes of all time, Hysteria, was unleashed on the world, powered by guitar-rock hits such as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rocket.”
Monday, Rick Savage played a bass solo on the extended walkway directly in front of the resilient drummer, as Elliott eventually rose from a hydraulic platform from behind the drum kit. Collen and Vivian Campbell flanked the sides as the solo transitioned to the fitting David Essex cover, “Rock On.” However, the greatest roar of the crowd came after Rick Allen’s drum solo. His perseverance was showered with appreciation and love.
Nostalgia popped in for a short bit and hit full force during “Hysteria” as a video compilation played through the band’s old MTV collection and concert footage extending from their inception through their most recent tour videos. The late Steve Clark flashed on the screen several times during the early years. When that wrapped up, Elliott asked, “Who was born before ‘77? Who was born after ‘77? That's great — you have to keep this rock n' roll thing going!”
The Pavilion was full and stayed that way until the end of the final song. It is rare now days to go to a show and the crowd stays through the whole thing. People tend to try beat traffic, leave after hearing the one song they really like or have to get home to relieve the babysitter. But something rare happened on Monday night — Houstonians remained for the long haul.
Personal Bias: As a kid sitting in a Southern Baptist Sunday School class, my heathen friends and I always thought it was funny to ask the teacher if we could sing #342 out of the Baptist Hymnal. It was “Rock of Ages,” but it sure didn’t start with “gunter gleiben glauchen globen.”
The Crowd: An older crowd of hardworking folks that just clocked out and were ready to rock.
Overheard In the Crowd: “Did you know his [Kevin Cronin] net worth is about $25 mil? It pays to be the lead singer of REO Speedwagon!”
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REO SPEEDWAGON SET LIST
Don't Let Him Go
Take It on the Run
Can't Fight This Feeling
Time for Me to Fly
Back on the Road Again
Ridin' the Storm Out
Keep On Loving You
Roll With the Changes
DEF LEPPARD SET LIST
Let It Go
Bringin' on the Heartbreak
Let’s Get Rocked
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages