WASHINGTON – Shortly after finishing a boisterous set of party-vibe rock anthems, Poison frontman Bret Michaels grinned as he expressed his feelings about the first few dates of The Stadium Tour.
“The fans are having a great time and we’re having a great time,” he said in his small “quick change” tent backstage, his red bandana soaked with sweat and his spirit still high from bouncing around the Nationals Park stage. “I’m letting everything hang out.”
He paused and laughed: “Wait, check that. I’m giving 1,000%. It’s nice to survive and thrive. The expectations (for this tour) were high and it’s exceeded my expectations. ”
Three years of planning and two years delayed because of COVID-19, The Stadium Tour showcases the titans of ’80s-era hard rock. Poison is the sandwich act on this massive rock circus that erupted last week in Atlanta and will crisscross the country until wrapping in Las Vegas in September. Los Angeles-bred Classless Act kick-starts the six-hours of music, followed by the ageless Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Poison and headliners Motley Crue and Def Leppard, who flip-flop closing slots each show.
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Wednesday’s DC production in front of about 40,000 fans also marked the second of the first four dates disrupted by rain and lightning.
At the close of their stomp-along smash “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott informed the audience that incoming bad weather necessitated a hasty end to their visually dazzling performance (“Pyromania” stingers “Rock of Ages” and “ Photograph ”remained).
With Motley Crue on deck to close the night, the majority of the crowd endured the 90-minute wait until the lightning – but not the rain – ceased and Motley stormed the stage with “Wild Side.” After all, fans hadn’t seen the band perform since 2015, when the quartet announced its clearly-not-binding “cessation of touring agreement.”
The Stadium Tour might be built on nostalgia, but the generations of fans wearing T-shirts of all of the acts indicated that the appeal stretches beyond Gen X-ers bred on MTV.
Here’s how the show unfolded.
Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
The unchanging Jett – still sporting a black shag and ebony attire – sliced through singalongs, including “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” “Bad Reputation” and her harmonious rendition of Tommy James and the Shondells ’“ Crimson & Clover. ” Backed by the potent Blackhearts, as well as stalwart manager / producer Kenny Laguna in his usual residence behind the keyboards, Jett delivered her songs with ferocity balanced by cool, a smile mixed with a sneer. The lone female on the tour (aside from the dancing girls / backup singers accompanying Motley Crue), Jett ruled her stage with stealth fierceness.
Is there a more genuine frontman in rock than Michaels? Bursting onto the catwalk jutting from the stage for the opening cruncher “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” Michaels employed his side-shimmy move, slapped the shoulders of guitarist CC DeVille – hair draped down his back – and engaged the crowd with his aerobic activity. An expert ringleader, Michaels had fans clapping overhead during “Ride the Wind” and frequently dropped to his knees on the wet ramp to smack hands with the faithful pressed against the stage.
DeVille grabbed his Flying V guitar for “Talk Dirty to Me,” its buzzing riff emblematic of Poison’s music – uncomplicated and fun.
As Michaels and DeVille entertained at the front of the stage, Rikki Rockett flipped his drumsticks throughout fan favorite “Fallen Angel,” while bassist Bobby Dall showcased his anchor role on the bottom-heavy “Unskinny Bop.”
Michaels shouted out the military veterans in the crowd before the band’s signature ballad, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” – the audience singing along heartily – before ending the musical party with “Nothin ‘But a Good Time,” a rational closer for this rock ‘n’ roll revelry.
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Beneath their visual array of lasers and super-sized video screens, Def Leppard unveiled a set list that tapped deep into their 40-year catalog.
Singer Joe Elliott, a silver fox in his natty jackets, led the quintet through “Animal” and “Foolin’ ”before springing into the most delectable song on the band’s new“ Diamond Star Halos ”album, the ultra-catchy“ Kick. ”
Bassist Rick Savage and guitarists Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen – whose admirable torso still gets its own spotlight – provided the honeyed harmonies on the band’s layered offerings, and drummer Rick Allen, wearing his trademark Union Jack headphones, powered by unrelenting enthusiasm.
Elliott sounded particularly strong on “Bringin ‘on the Heartbreak,” a song that still swoons and soars, and the gliding shuffle that is “Rocket.”
However, it might be time to retire “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad,” a beautiful ache of a ballad that for years has sounded off-key when performed live.
Fortunately, Def Leppard squeezed in their epic “Hysteria,” which was accompanied by a video scrapbook of the band’s legacy, including their 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and mega-size newspaper headlines underscoring their endurance. Elliott looked very “A Clockwork Orange” in his black bowler hat and red and black-striped jacket, still effortlessly cool as he commanded the stage.
The curved steel staging was erected long before the band was able to take the stage, giving fans hope through the rain that Motley Crue would indeed appear.
A faux news bulletin intro bled into the opening slammer, “Wild Side,” the stage alight in red as singer Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee and guitarist Mick Mars thundered through the menacing hit.
The band – primarily the bass and drums – often overpowered Neil’s vocals, particularly on the rumble-to-a-roar “Shout at the Devil.”
Lee slammed away at his kit with his usual wild man abandon, so it was no surprise when he reminded fans after three songs about his four broken ribs that prevented him from playing most of the set. Tommy Clufetos, a veteran of Ozzy Osbourne’s band, hopped in starting with the sweeter sounds of “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).” He’s a terrific sticksman, but Lee’s personality was missed (as his departing gesture, he tossed spare ribs into the front rows while sharing, with many expletives, how much pain his injury was causing him).
Neil’s voice vacillated between barely discernable (“Too Fast For Love”) and surprisingly supple (“Live Wire”); frenetic strobes, scissoring red and white lights and sheer adrenaline covered for a lot of his vocal deficiencies.
Was it a perfect Crue? No. But there’s a lot of “Dr. Feelgood ”when the band is unleashed live.