Thursday, April 13, 2017

Def Leppard, Poison, & Tesla: Pics & Thoughts from the Show

Sally and I saw Def Leppard, Poison, and Tesla last night at the Mohegan Sun Arena, and it was a blast.  This week has already been something of a blast from the past, and last night was a bit like being transported back in time, save that we're adults now and can pretty much do what we want.  That's no small change.

Rockin' out!
Still, we hemmed and hawed about going to last night's show.  I can remember when concert tickets didn't feel particularly expensive.  You could get decent seats for $25 or $30 when I was a kid, and it didn't necessarily feel like an investment.  One time in particular, I literally broke open my piggy bank to scrounge $25 worth of quarters, so my buddy and I could see Styx on the Edge of the Century tour.  Going was a last-minute decision, but that was a great show.  Last night was a great show, too, but why did they put Poison and Def Leppard on the bill when either could have filled an arena on their own?

Because our tickets were more than $150 apiece, and at that price point, just one of those bands might struggle.  Put both together, though, and it gives the event a much more epic, experiential feel.

Look.  I started going to shows around 1989.  Assuming a starting price point of $25 and nominal inflation around 2.5%, those tickets were $49.91 in today's dollars.  Sally and I paid more three times that last night, granted in better seats than I'd have bought as a kid.  Still, this is why bands have to tour together today, and why every show has to be an Event.  The economics of music have changed a lot more than just via the passage of time.  Tours used to be loss-leaders to sell albums.  Today, bands make most of their money touring, with the old albums serving as loss-leaders to put asses in seats.

The unfortunate corollary is that bands like Tesla--mid-level acts with a couple of hits, including two of my all-time favorites--never make it onto the scene these days, leaving us with mega-hits, indie records that no one has ever heard of, and precious little in between.

Could Bob Seger make it in 2017?

Now imagine what music would've been in the mid- to late-1980s without Seger's influence.

I bring it up because Def Leppard is actually touring in support of a new album, and some of the tracks off of it are really cool.  But despite their status as Legendary Rockstars Who Fill Arenas Every Night, their new stuff still can't get any airtime in modern America.  What the fuck is that?

Rock and Roll, and especially Hair Metal, were wild in the 1980s.  Brilliant bands flamed out because of the lifestyle.  Constant touring, partying, and substance abuse ended excellent collaborations far too soon, and not everyone survived to tell the tale.  Bands would hit the stage an hour late but play ninety minutes over time just because the mood was right.  They just... they didn't give a fuck, to be honest.

One thing I noticed last night is that this has changed.  All three bands were populated by survivors.  Whoever these guys were back in the day, they're now seasoned professionals.  They are mid-40s or mid-50s career performers, still at the height of their powers but also keenly aware of what's going on with the business around them and what their place is in it.  They keep the schedule, respond to the crowd, and generate exactly the response that they came for at any moment.  If a group of Bank Presidents and Army Brigade Commanders spent six months putting together a rock concert, it would go off with about the same level of precision that we saw last night.  Seeing this was kind of amazing, and recognizing the work it takes to get to that place of professionalism, I suppose, shows my own growth as a member of the audience.

Headed to the show.
Finding our seats.
My wife, a natural Wild Child.
Last night's show took place at Mohegan Sun Arena, located inside the casino on the Mohegan Reservation.  It wasn't--technically--in Connecticut.  It's on sovereign Native American land.  That's why they can have gambling in a state where gambling isn't legal.

What's weird about that is that smoking is still legal inside the casino, too.  They have Smoke Free Gaming Rooms, but unlike most of the Northeast these days, they'll let you walk around with a cigarette in your mouth if that's what you want.  The kids today don't really smoke... but they're also not the casino's target demographic.  This was yet another Blast From the Past, and it happened on the same day that we saw the Cold War return to Europe and Def Leppard with Poison in concert.

Later in the show, I would learn that the kids today hold up their cell phone lights instead of the lighters that they no longer carry because they no longer smoke.  That's cool, but I still envied the guy a few rows in front of us who brought an actual Zippo for the appropriate parts of the show.  No one feels stupid holding up a spark of genuine fire, but holding up my cell phone made me feel like an idiot.

More Tesla.
It took us an hour and some change to get to the casino, and we spent maybe fifteen minutes looking for a parking space.  It's not hard to find parking, but I hadn't been to Mohegan Sun since early 2001, so it's not like I know my way around.  I'd hoped to get there a little early and have a leisurely dinner, but as is wont to happen in a family with actual children, we fell behind the schedule my internal military planner told me we ought to try to keep.  Still, we were able to grab a quick bite to eat at the bar at a little grill a hundred yards or so from the arena entrance.  The food was far better than I expected.  I had a massive hamburger topped with some kind of cheese and a gin-and-tonic.  Sally had some kind of scrambled egg and hashbrown thing that she declared delicious.  She matched it was a dry chardonnay from Argentina, which was also very good.

We got up from the bar right at 7:00 and made it into the arena just as Tesla was hitting the stage.  We missed about half of their first song but still found our seats before they launched into any of their biggest hits.

Tesla played maybe thirty-five minutes.  They played a couple of smaller cuts and then launched straight into "Signs," which surprised me because that was one of their biggies.  You may remember their cover from Five Man Acoustical Jam, a live acoustic record they put together in Philly that marked Peak Tesla back in early 1990.  I remember listening to it by way of controlling my mood while waiting for the finals of the 100 Fly back at the Florida State High School Championships my junior year of high school.

I love that album.

After "Signs," they played "Love Song," probably my favorite power ballad.  I sang along with every word, and I wasn't the only one who did.  They closed up with "Cowboy of the Modern Age," a Cold War rocker that was on point considering the events of the day itself.

What goes through the mind of a young West Pointer, who heads to the Academy thinking that he or she is facing one kind of world, only to discover that his or her wars are going to be totally different than what was expected?  It's not the first time we've asked ourselves this question lately, nor will it be the last.

I will say this about the Russians: they reinforce success and abandon failure, keeping a deliberate eye on the reality that some of their soldiers are going to give their lives for the Rodina.  This, though, means that you have to meet them head-on, with strength versus strength.  Anything less will look like success on their side, and they'll double-down.  That's their doctrine, and yes, it totally works.

Cell phones & lighters during "Something to Believe In."
Poison hit the stage right at 8:00 and played for exactly an hour.  They were outstanding.  Sally's not much of a Poison fan, but Brett Michaels and company won her over completely.  They are really an amazing band live.  We both loved their show.

Poison, unfortunately, is not touring in support of a new album.  Last time I saw them was in 1999 out in Kansas while I was at CAS3, and it was an absolute blast.  I swear, half the girls in the audience took off their shirts by the end of the show.  It was really something.  We were laid back on this big grass lawn, drinking beer and screwing around.  That was a great day.  My buddy Dan reminded me about it last night when I posted some of these pictures to Facebook.

If anything, Poison is an even better band today, perhaps because they approached last night's show as consummate professionals.  They played all their hits, hitting high points with "Something to Believe In" and, of course, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."  Their rockers were great, too, though.  Really, the whole show was awesome.  They tore the house down.

Def Leppard came on a little after 9:00 and played until exactly 11:00.  They opened with a mix of new and old but gradually transitioned into mainly greatest hits, closing out with "Pour Some Sugar On Me."  They came back at the encore to play a couple of cuts off of Pyromania, ending with "Photograph."  It was a great show, both nostalgic and new, achieving a mix that was truly impressive.  They noted during the show that Def Leppard have been a band since 1977.  This is their 40th year!

As you've seen, I took a bunch of pictures.  I doubt they do justice to what we saw.  Sally and I were maybe fifteen rows off the floor, just off center stage.  My phone makes it look like we were far away, but in person, the guys looked plenty close.

Def Leppard
"Animal" from Hysteria.

They made me miss all that old time Rock and Roll.  As I wrote on social media, "[I]f the Cold War is coming back, I would also like more Hair Metal, please."

If anybody's interested, I could really do with a new Poison album.  That'd be great, thanks.

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