Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Poison bring nostalgic noise to packed U.S. Bank Stadium

·5 min read

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I’m talking, of course, about the hairspray metal era of the ’80s, when the hair was big and the songs were bigger. And dumber! While grunge did temporarily push the genre out of the spotlight, it has long since bounced back for a prolonged second act on the nostalgia circuit. (At this very moment, at least one Twin Cities radio station is spinning an old Bon Jovi hit.)

Sunday night, three titans of the era — Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Poison — joined forces for a big, dumb 6½-hour celebration of all things pop metal. Imaginatively dubbed “The Stadium Tour,” the outing is the summer’s biggest rock tour and it came pretty close to filling U.S. Bank Stadium with both survivors of the original era and new generations of fans unaware that “Beavis and Butt-Head” was a parody.

But wait, you may say. Didn’t Motley Crue wrap what they swore was their final tour in 2015? And isn’t Vince Neil’s voice shot? And doesn’t Poison typically play casinos, fairs and rural festivals? And is Def Leppard the band with the one-armed drummer? Yes, yes, yes and yes! But details don’t matter. Rocking out does.

After a brief set from new-ish Los Angeles rock band Classless Act, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts took the stage just after 4:30 p.m. Jett’s presence on the bill was odd but certainly welcome, as the 63-year-old remains a must-see live act. No frills, no fuss, just a series of memorable hits, including “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” “Cherry Bomb,” “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” “Bad Reputation” and “Crimson and Clover” complete, as always, with Jett lustily crooning “Now I’ve been waiting to show her crimson and clover” with a wink and a smile.

Poison followed with a surprisingly entertaining hour-long set. Unlike many of his peers, Bret Michaels can still sing! And while he’s a super hammy, old-fashioned, finger-pointing frontman, it was tough not to fall for his goofy charm. Back in the day, Poison first turned heads due to their advanced devotion to their hair and makeup. And somehow, in 2022, the four guys have even more hair than ever, even if some of it appeared to be of the purchased kind.

They only played seven songs — and tossed in an extended C.C. DeVille guitar solo and a momentum-killing solo turn from drummer Rikki Rockett — but Michaels was so enthusiastic, it really brought out the party band aspects of their oft-thin songs. “Talk Dirty to Me” was playful and “Nothin’ but a Good Time” delivered on its promise, despite a painful mid-song rap (yes, rap) from Michaels. I enjoyed watching a beefy older dude nearby pumping his fist and intently singing along to every word of “Fallen Angel” as if Jesus himself had written it. Magic, I tell you.

And then there was Motley Crue. It’s no secret that Vince Neil can’t sing anymore and some would say he never could in the first place. As they did on their faux farewell tour, the band did everything and anything to distract from Neil, who was gasping for breath 90 seconds into the first song, “Wild Side.”

Bassist Nikki Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee both addressed the crowd directly, and Sixx’s wife even brought their 3-year-old daughter Ruby (in headphones) on stage at the top of “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).” Guitarist Mick Mars brought the noise, so much of it that many of the songs sounded murky and messy, traits amplified by the notoriously awful acoustics inside the Vikings stadium.

And yet, Neil threatened to ruin the performance at every turn. He let his backup singers (dressed as exotic dancers), or the audience, handle many of the choruses. When he did issue noises from his mouth — I don’t think it can legally be called singing — it sounded like he was doing so through a kazoo. Bless his heart.

It is worth noting again the rampant, retrograde sexism that oozed through the Crue’s set, including the moment Lee demanded the women in the crowd show him their bare breasts. A handful did, and the cameras got live shots of the naked flesh up on the big screens. Perhaps booking Jett was an attempt to counter such nonsense?

Motley Crue and Def Leppard swap headlining spots each night and Sunday was Def Leppard’s time to close things out. Joe Elliott has struggled to sing his own songs for years now, and last time he was in the Twin Cities four years ago, he appeared to be lip-synching during the encore.

Perhaps vocal processing technology has made great strides in the years since, as Elliott’s voice vocals sounded much stronger than they have in years, even if they also sounded bathed in digital wizardry.

During the pandemic, Def Leppard managed to write and record their first new album in seven years, “Diamond Star Halos.” They worked three tracks into the first half of the show, opening with “Take What You Want,” which like another new one, “Kick,” felt similar to their big hits. Elliott introduced the ballad “This Guitar” by saying the band had been kicking it around for years and finally got around to recording it.

But the fans were there for the songs that play on a near-continuous loop in strip clubs (and on KOOL 108 and JACK FM). “Pour some sugar on us,” the crowd demanded, and Def Leppard did just that.

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