And speaking of true religion, the scene outside the arena was utterly devoid of any sense of evil, as we’re pretty sure that — while the folks in this crowd may have come to indulge themselves — most of them will be at church on Sunday. Nevertheless, a handful of self-appointed soul-savers were on hand, passing out religious pamphlets and shouting soap-box scripture through megaphones. Unlike Def Leppard, these people really do need to update their act and realize that yesterday’s hesher heathens are today’s suburban squares, and they’re not playing records backwards in search of subliminal messages to justify suicide solutions. Perhaps these street preachers should save their efforts for Skrillex, which actually just might be the devil’s music.
That said, walking into the arena felt like doing the time warp, as opener Lita 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 this very 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-chocked with 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.” They definitely lose points for that. Of course, the crowd wouldn’t let Bret Michaels out alive without playing the power ballad par excellence “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” That lighter-cuing moment was so magical that, at least for The Spin, it was hard to believe what we were seeing was real.
Bret Michaels may look like a makeup-caked, transparently wig-clad freak in close-up reality show shots, but from 20 or 30 yards away, he still looks like a golden god. Along with his bandmates, Michaels lives in a bubble of a world in which 10,000-plus people a night enable them to think flame patterns on guitars, bedazzled cowboy hats atop bandanas, boot-scootin’ boogie steps down stage catwalks and multiple attempts to play blues harmonica are totally awesome. 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.
Was Mutt Lange himself doing the front-of-house mix? With Joe Elliott nailing both his sky-reaching choruses as his breathy low verses with studio clarity and the band replicating its recordings with pomade-slick precision, it certainly sounded like it. A quarter-century past the peak of their success and Def Leppard still performs with the same precision of their prime. 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. We wondered if we were actually just seeing a Tupac-at-Coachella-style hologram when gazing in disbelief at the guitarist in all his shirtless glory.
By the end of the band’s first song, the crowd was howling like they’d gotten their money’s worth. That’s quite a feat, seeing as how Def Lep opened with “Undefeated,” a single from 2011. New material was not the rule of the night, however, as over the course of a couple hours the band treated fans to an all-killer-no-filler hit parade that included a whopping eight selections from its 1988 blockbuster LP Hysteria in addition to 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 pigeon-holed as harbingers of hair metal, the band puts on a show befitting of classic rock legends. We came to Bridgestone lookin’ for nothin’ but a good time, and for our money it didn’t get better than losing our shit as Def Leppard played “Photograph” right into “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” only to come back out and encore with “Rock of Ages.”