It was a bit of a time warp at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday night, with two of the biggest bands from the 1980s — Poison and Def Leppard — rockin’ like it was 1989, not, as it was, the last night of their 2012 Rock of Ages Tour.
Poison kicked off the evening with a high-energy (and loud!) set of their party-themed hard rock, which earned them several years of mass popularity back in the MTV-fueled hair band era. And while their songs aren’t particularly known for their depth, they sure are fun, especially when enhanced by onstage smoke plumes and still-intact rock star swagger.
Some of the highlights were “Unskinny Bop” (with singer/reality TV star Bret Michaels helpfully telling the audience when there were four “bops” in the chorus), “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (the band’s only No. 1 song, which no doubt gave many in the audience flashbacks to their high school dances), “Talk Dirty to Me” (probably my favorite of Poison’s catalog, whose main riff seems to be a rip-off from the Sex Pistols song “Bodies,” but the Pistols probably stole it from the New York Dolls anyway), and “Nothin’ But a Good Time” (how can you resist?).
There was also an extended guitar solo by C.C. DeVille, with lots of ‘80s flourishes such as finger tapping, classical-ish arpeggios, even a brief quote of “Hall of the Mountain King,” and a drum solo by Rikki Rockett in a cover of the Led Zeppelin song “Moby Dick.”
Michaels really played it up to the crowd, yelling out “Santa Barbara, California” multiple times to guaranteed applause. More seriously, he also expressed gratitude for still being at it after his brain hemorrhage a couple of years ago, and for “26 awesome years of doing what we love to do — playing music and partying with our friends.” He stayed and shook hands with excited audience members for a few minutes after Poison’s set ended.
Next up was headliner Def Leppard, with a bit more of a serious vibe as they cranked out songs spanning their long-running and massively popular career. The band consists of singer Joe Elliott still sounding the same after all these years, the shirtless and ripped guitarist Phil Collen, the guitarist “who puts the ‘fast’ in ‘Belfast’” Vivian Campbell, the seemingly plucked from 1987 bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen, who you’ve gotta admire for sticking with it after losing an arm due to a car accident when Def Leppard just started hitting it big.
As more of a fan of their heavier, less-poppy material, it was a real treat for me to hear the band play “Let It Go,” “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” with its classic twin guitar intro, and “Switch 625”
from their hard-rocking 1981 High ‘N’ Dry album.
After that album, the band started (admittedly, masterfully) incorporating pop elements like slick harmonies into their songs, resulting in mega-sales from their 1983 breakthrough album Pyromania (represented in concert in sounds-just-like-the-record form by the MTV smash “Photograph,” plus “Foolin’” and “Rock of Ages”), and the even-bigger 1987 follow-up Hysteria (represented in concert by the likes of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” with cool images provided by the fretboard cam, “Love Bites” and “Rocket”).
An unexpected moment, for me at least, came when Elliott walked out to the extended part of the stage strumming an acoustic guitar, which turned out to be for the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. This medley’d into bits of Def Leppard songs, with Elliott joined by the others on acoustic guitars and Allen playing a maraca.
At one point in the show between songs, Elliott started to mock one of the many audience members who was wearing an ‘80s hair band wig, but this turned out to be all in fun. Sure, we all were there to laugh at the decade, but also celebrate and relive it — because it was the 1980s all over again for one glorious night at the Bowl.
Look What the Cat Dragged In
Ride the Wind
Your Mama Don’t Dance (Loggins & Messina cover) guitar solo
Moby Dick (Led Zeppelin cover)
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
Talk Dirty to Me
Nothin’ But a Good Time
Def Leppard Setlist
Let It Go
Make Love Like a Man
Let’s Get Rocked
Gods of War
You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones cover)
Where Does Love Go When It Dies
When Love and Hate Collide
Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad
Two Steps Behind
Bringin’ on the Heartbreak
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.