As a concert photographer that covers at least ten shows a month, I sometimes feel numb to the experience. I enjoy the concerts, I love photographing them, but I don’t get into it like a typical fan. When Def Leppard hit the amphitheater stage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 24th that changed. I danced. I sang. I put my horns up. I was in the moment. I felt the energy of the crowd. I didn’t hear the music from a critics point of view, but from a fans. Something that I rarely get the pleasure of doing anymore.
Most fans were thrust back in time when rock was ROCK. You couldn’t fight the uncontrollable urge to bust into an air guitar solo. The girls were screaming as Joe Elliot took the stage just like it was 1988, except now those girls were in their 30s or 40s. That didn’t mean their kids weren’t screaming along side them, the crowd actually covered every age group. There were truly three generations of rockers in the audience, and each one knew every word to such classics as “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Rock of Ages,” “Let’s Get Rocked,” or one of the slew of other hits the band had over the past 38 years.
Def Leppard isn’t stuck on the 80s however, they are still creating new music. In 2008 they released Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, and the first single “Nine Lives” even had country music star Tim McGraw singing along side Joe Elliott. The band is scheduled to release a new album this year, and there are no signs of slowing down for the British rockers.
With all the excitement of Def Leppard, I don’t want to neglect the two openers. Legends in their own right. The arena rock gods, Styx, and fellow 80s phenoms, Tesla.
Styx was absolutely on point, both musically and performance wise. They have always played to the crowd, and in turn the crowd eats it up and gives that energy right back at them. They started their set out with a Dennis DeYoung classic “Grand Illusion.” The crowd jumped up off their feet and they never sat down the rest of the warm summer evening. From the pit to the back stretches of the lawn, fans were dancing as Styx played their seemingly too short of a set. With only ten songs from one of the bands that have absolutely been snubbed from the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, I was left wanting more. Lawrence Gowen and Tommy Shaw still sing in the key the songs were written nearly 40 years ago. That’s just something most singers into their late 50s (Gowen) or early 60s (Shaw) don’t do anymore.
The night’s opener was none other than the American rock band Tesla, who broke into the scene in 1989 with The Great Radio Controversy and the single “Love Song.” In 1990 they released the Five Man Acoustical Jam album that consisted of a few covers including “Signs” along with their own hit “Modern Day Cowboy.” On this night they played all three to an appreciating crowd that continuously filled up the famed amphitheater and lawn of SPAC. Jeff Keith gave an emotional and tight performance, showing off his vocal talents and — surprisingly enough — his range. Tesla failed to play a single song off their latest release, 2013’s Simplicity. In fact the band didn’t play any of their songs written after 1991, even though they have five original releases since then.
I have to say, overall if was a fun night of music. The energy overwhelming and the crowd was contagious. Watching the faces and bodies of old school rock stars light up and transform into their much younger selves truly exemplified the power of music. As if there were any doubt. I’m sure it won’t be long until LiveNation brings Def Leppard back to SPAC, and I will definitely be there — as both a fan and photographer.