It was a dark and stormy night in Tampa Florida. You know what ol’ Jack always says? Let’s go to a rock show!!
Def Leppard picked Tampa to kick off their 2015 United States tour; sixty dates in 5 months. The first leg of the tour features openers Styx and Tesla. It’s a pretty strong bill. Strong enough to pack the Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheater (I know, horrible name) to the gills, pun intended. Tampa is a notoriously lazy market. The capacity of the venue is 29,500 including the grass. The last time I was there it was a Saturday of a three day weekend, to see a festival featuring Godsmack, Pop Evil, and 15 other hard rock bands whose new songs are being played on the radio. If there were 7,000 people there I’d be shocked. The Tampa Bay Rays have the worst attendance in Major League Baseball and the Buccaneers home games have all been blacked out for the last 5 years because the games don’t sell out. It takes a big event to get people in this area to get off the beach or off their couches to go out and do something. The opening of the Def Leppard tour was that event.
The basic rule of thumb for Florida is in the summertime, it’s hot and humid during the day, until the atmosphere can’t take it any longer and then it rains. On a normal day the rain lasts for about a half hour. The sun comes out and then it’s even more humid than before. On certain days, like the day of the Def Leppard show an actual storm rolls in and that combined with the normal rain pattern, you get heavy rain, lots of lightning, and a good amount of wind. The epicenter of that night’s storm seemed to be right over the amphitheater.
Tesla was scheduled to go onstage at 7pm. At 7pm we were still watching the lightning and listening to the rain pelt off the car. It wasn’t safe for, not only the band to play but for the fans to enter the venue. By 7:30 the doors were open and 29,000 wet rock fans made their way in.
Because the venue is outdoors, there is an 11pm curfew. I’m doing math in my head to try and figure out how they were going to be able to pull it off. At 8pm someone came on stage and said that it had been decided that Tesla would not play, so that Styx and Def Leppard could play their full sets. An offer was made to anyone who wanted to refund their tickets. They could do so as long as they did it before Styx went on stage. I’m sure some people did but I didn’t see anyone.
8:30pm: Houselights went down, intro music started and Styx was on stage. As it turns out we didn’t get the full set but an abbreviated 7 song version. I’ve seen them many times, a couple of those times when they were the headliners, they went off the deep end to play some deep cuts. On this night, they stuck to the hits opening with "Fooling Yourself" off "The Grand Illusion" record. Four of the seven songs were from that record.
Tommy Shaw’s voice never seems to change. He can still hit all the notes. The crowd, ready for some fun, sang along loudly. After 45 minutes they were finished and the road crew worked furiously to clear the stage.
9:35pm: The lights went down as AC/DC’s Shoot the Thrill played. A big Def Leppard banner was draped in front of the stage. Intro music started, everyone was on their feet. The curtain dropped and Leppard launched into "Rock Rock Til You Drop". It was raining again and no one cared. A big bolt of lightning lit up the night sky just as Phil Collen ripped into his first solo of the night.
Next up, from Hysteria, was Animal. After that song lead singer Joe Elliott spoke to the crowd for the first time. Thanking everyone for coming out in the rain and how they were “a man down”. Guitarist Vivian Campbell was back home in "Los Ann gee lees.” In his Sheffield England accent. He is recovering from a third bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Filling in for Viv was Steve Brown from Trixter.
With that introduction they did a face melting version of "Let It Go" from High and Dry. They never took their foot off the gas pedal. Their set was also shortened by two songs but they made the most of it. Reports the Joe Elliott voice is shot are grossly wrong. I’ve seen them every tour since Pyromania and he has never sounded better. Phil Collen is one of rock’s most unsung guitar heroes. I’m still blown away by the fact that Rick Allen plays the drums with only one arm.
With shows booked through the end of the year and a new record coming out in the fall, Def Leppard shows no signs of slowing down. They just might Rock Rock Til They Drop.