Fourth of July eve is possibly the best night of the year to hit up an arena rock show. That much was clear before The Spin even set foot inside Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night to catch a pop-metal triple threat of Def Leppard, Poison and Lita Ford. A patriotic nobody-has-work-tomorrow lack of inhibition was in the air on Lower Broad as throngs of yuppies — whose idea of letting their hair down is wearing novelty glam-metal wigs — congregated outside the enormodome.
Walking into the arena felt like doing the time warp, as opener Ford was midway through her seven-song set, rocking out on the edge of the stage with a "Stairway"-worthy double-neck guitar that matched her trademark Texas-sized platinum locks. By the time we found our seats — beers and hotdogs in hand — Ford was introducing her biggest hit, "Close My Eyes Forever." With duet partner Ozzy Osbourne absent, the singer encouraged the still-thawing crowd to sing the Dark Prince's parts. It's unfortunate that they didn't sing louder, because that model-A power ballad only really works as a duet, and true be told, Ford was only singing it in key about half the time, resulting in a rather tepid rendition. Luckily the singer got her sea legs back, drawing the crowd to its feet and then some with a set-closing "Kiss Me Deadly" — the first of many rousing, seminal fist-pumpers we'd hear by night's end.
Remarkably, or perhaps not so remarkably, Poison played Bridgestone on the very same night last year, opening up for Mötley Crüe on the Glam-A-Geddon 25 Tour. What's more, the band played the exact same 11-song set as last year. But what Bret, CC, Bobby and Rikki (thankfully) lack in spontaneity, they make up in panache, turning in a set full of crowd-pleasers like the anthemic "Ride the Wind," the hedonistic rallying call "Nothin' but a Good Time" and the undeniable, New York Dolls-worthy pure sleaze-pop gold of "Talk Dirty to Me." The only real bummer about the set was that the band could find time for drum and guitar solo breaks and a Grand Funk Railroad cover, yet they didn't play their best song, "Cry Tough." Of course, the crowd wouldn't let Bret Michaels out alive without playing the power ballad par excellence "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Just as "Unskinny Bop" makes for a great concert moment but is still a terrible song, we didn't know whether to applaud Poison or make fun of them for cocksuredly displaying almost every passé cliché in rock in under 60 minutes. With each passing beer, we did more of the former and less of the latter.
Def Leppard, on the other hand, is some serious business. Within seconds of a stage-obscuring Union Jack curtain dropping to reveal the larger-than-life British quintet in all its glory, we'd forgotten that Poison ever existed. In an instant it was like we were watching a Michael Bay movie, as if the band came armed with bazookas loaded with billion-dollar pop hooks and pitch-perfect vocal harmonies and started launching them right into our fucking faces. Joe Elliott nailed his sky-reaching choruses and his breathy low verses with studio clarity, the band replicating its recordings with pomade-slick precision — all this a quarter-century past the peak of their success. And what's up with guitarist Phil Collen? That dude seriously looks like he hasn't aged a day since the "Pour Some Sugar on Me" video.
Over the course of a couple hours, the Lep treated fans to an all-killer-no-filler hit parade that included a whopping eight selections from the 1988 blockbuster LP Hysteria, plus Teflon staples like "Foolin'," "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" and "Let's Get Rocked." Shit, we don't even think 30 minutes had gone by before the band had already pulled out the power-ballad one-two punch of "Animal" into "Love Bites."
While Def Leppard is often pigeonholed as harbingers of hair metal, they put on a show befitting classic rock legends. We came to Bridgestone lookin' for nothin' but a good time, and it didn't get better than hearing DL do "Photograph" right into "Pour Some Sugar on Me," only to come back and encore with "Rock of Ages."
Fortified by our hot-weather dietary regimen of watermelon, beer and cheese fries, The Spin got down to The End on a sultry night perfect for a lesson in new-style punk rock. The Spin has, of course, followed Those Darlins since Nikki and Jessi Darlin and the recently departed Kelley Anderson were but Carter Family-loving, chicken-eating babes in the woods. Playing their first Nashville date in a while, they promised to show off their garage-pop chops, with the heat inside The End both externally produced and a product of their charisma.
Openers Psychic Hotline didn't disappoint The Spin, who were busy keeping to our regimen minus the watermelon and cheese fries. Lead singer Jessica McFarland, who also makes a fine racket with her other band, Heavy Cream, displayed deadpan attitude as the group made its way through clipped, brief tunes — The Spin didn't have a stopwatch, but we don't think any song topped two minutes. Guitar solos were kept to a minimum as the group kept alive the legacy of The Clash, The Adverts and The Vibrators. They maintained complete control, crossed the Red Sea of punk aggression and made a case for pure mania. As the words to one tune went, McFarland knew what she wanted and what she needed.
The Spin has seen some strange bands in our time, but we're not sure if we've ever seen anything quite like Atlanta's Black Lodge. Featuring not one but two bassists playing odd and somewhat gawky patterns — Jennifer von Schlicten and Karen Horn-Smith played unison lines that anchored the tunes without ever finding a groove, while drummer Adam Bruneau circled around the beat — this is a quartet worthy of a modern-day Charles Manson, were Manson out on parole and intent on bad deeds, looking for a group of fun-loving women to serenade his victims as he went about his ghastly work. With roots in goth and Throbbing Gristle, Black Lodge may be geniuses for whom the constraints of rhythm, melody and coherence are shackles. The Spin is no stickler for traditional musical values — that's just not rock 'n' roll — but Black Lodge challenged those values with every note, even covering proto-Oi! outfit Cock Sparrer's 1984 song "They Mean Murder."
Those Darlins seemed like traditionalists after Black Lodge, and the band — featuring Nikki and Jessi on guitars, along with drummer Linwood Regensburg, bassist Spencer Duncan and saxophonist and percussionist Adam Schatz — displayed their mastery of Nick Lowe-influenced garage rock. Doing tunes from last year's full-length Screws Get Loose, they made such songs as "Tina Said" and the record's title track sound like the future classics they no doubt will be. Jessi and Nikki traded guitar moves, with Jessi stalking the stage and Nikki playing it cool, calm and collected.
The band showed off their influences with covers of Lou Reed's blithe "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" — Reed would have approved of the way they changed his "too darned fast" line to the more punkish "too fuckin' fast" — and Rockpile's "Pet You and Hold You," a vehicle for Nikki's fine vocal. Jessi sang a new song titled "Why Can't I," which sounded great, while Schatz contributed crazed saxophone licks throughout the set. Apart from their songs and their matchless stage presence, Those Darlins impressed The Spin with their mastery of the basics — that mixture of dynamics and rhythm that Black Lodge seemed intent on leaving behind. Those Darlins are a great rock band and a great pop group, and The Spin noted no lingering country-Americana influence. At one point toward the end, Nikki told the audience, "It's so hot, we may burn the pants off you, and in that case, you'll be cooled off and dancing." That may have happened all over town after the show was over, but the Darlins generated plenty of heat on stage, and kept their pants on.
Johnny Depp get mad!
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