Vintage rock and the fair go hand-in-hand like a bucket of Sweet Martha's cookies and a half-gallon of milk, so it's safe to say more than a few people were excited for Def Leppard and Heart's show at the Grandstand on Friday. What better way to follow a day consuming greasy State Fair munchies in jorts and old-time rock tees than with a little "Armageddon It" with your fellow Minnesotans?
Guitarist Nancy Wilson absolutely demolished her solos as usual -- especially with her acoustic part on "Straight On" a bit later -- and the two sisters traded affectionate compliments about the other's performance. "She's the goddess with the golden hair," Ann said of Nancy after a rendition of "Sweet Dreams" that took everyone straight back to the '80s. The set favorite throughout the night came when Ann belted out "Barracuda," the intro riff like the motor of a candy-red muscle car barreling down on the track. By its end, Ann reminded everyone with just a few verses that she has one of the most unique and enduring voices in rock. While it wasn't their most energetic performance and the audience seemed more geared for Def Leppard's headlining slot, Heart certainly got things started off right.
After about a half-hour of stage prep that took Heart's modest set-up into a Leppard-worthy digital display, fog rolled in. Frontman Joe Elliott and his mates came out with big guitar riffs and the opening lines of "Undefeated" -- maybe not the best choice for an opener but at least it was out of the way for the next two tracks back-to-back: "Animal" and "Let's Get Rocked" really set the tone and kept the crowd on their feet for the entire 90-minute set of hits that made it feel like 1988. Bros in backward baseball caps and with sunglasses atop their heads high-fived each other, girlfriends bopping around with plastic cups of beer in their hands. By mid-set, the whole place smelled like a frat house after a keg party, but what else would you expect?
It's been rumored Elliott lost his voice long ago and needs extra support from his bandmates, but I didn't find that to be necessarily true. He maintained his rock-n-roll wail, complete with that tuneful British slack, only waning during the highs of "Photograph". Old-school photos of the band from the '80s appropriately flashed on the screen during this part, adding to the nostalgic theme.
During a break at the end of the set, the whole band loaded up onto the partition and Elliott addressed the audience, still standing since the first riff. "It really is great to be here," he said. "You keep coming and we'll keep coming -- simple as that." Elliott asked the audience to partake in a sing-along of their love ballad, "Two Steps Behind", and before we knew it, the last leg of the set was in full swing with some of the band's biggest hits: "Armageddon It" (featuring one of many indulgent guitar solos), "Hysteria", and, of course, "Pour Some Sugar On Me". After what played out as an hour-plus of greatest hits, you realize "Sugar" isn't nearly their best song.
Oh, and we can't forget the dramatic fireworks that followed their quick, one-song encore of "Rock Of Ages", likely sealing the deal for many in attendance as the best show they'd seen in a long time. As we exited the Grandstand, my cynic sister (and concert-going buddy) looked over and said, "That was WAY better than I expected it to be." That's the double-edged sword of Def Leppard's popularity -- they're over- and underrated at the same time. But then, so are cheese curds.
Personal Bias: Grew up watching Leppard videos on illegal MTV in my parents' basement and loved their arena-rock style. "Animal" and "Photograph" are easily my favorite Leppard songs.
The crowd: Bros of the past, bros of the present, bros of the future.
Random Notebook dump: Just for one night, it is 1988 again.
Overheard in the crowd: One bro to another bro: "Dude! It's the one-armed drummer!"
Def Leppard set list:
Undefeated (long version)
Let's Get Rocked
Rocket (extended version)
Two Steps Behind
Armageddon It (full version)
Pour Some Sugar On Me
Rock Of Ages
Heart set list:
(Led Zeppelin cover)
What About Love
Crazy On You
Battle Of Evermore