As much as it loves its sports teams, Kansas City loves its classic rock.
Tuesday night, more than 7,500 fans nearly filled Starlight Theatre to hear three vintage rock bands that have been frequent visitors to Kansas City: headliner Def Leppard, playing its fourth show here since 2009; Styx, playing Kansas City for the ninth year in a row; and Tesla, which headlined a show at the Midland in February.
Nonetheless, for almost four hours, all three bands kept the big crowd stirred and stoked by feeding it a steady diet of classic rock hits.
Def Leppard’s set was the longest and loudest of the night. The band opened with “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop),” the opening track from “Pyromania,” its breakthrough 1983 album, then “Animal,” one from its blockbuster follow-up, “Hysteria.” Those two albums would contribute eight songs to set list.
Lead singer Joe Elliott, one of two founding members still in the band, turned 56 this month, and though his voice is a bit lower and rough around the edges, it sounded sturdy and suitable, whether unleashing brash pop-metal anthems like “Let It Go” and “Foolin’” or a buttery power ballad like “Two Steps Behind,” which he performed solo/acoustic.
He shared the spotlight generously with his bandmates, giving solo time to drummer Rick Allen and his shirtless bassist Phil Collen, who had either bathed in baby oil or was sweating profusely on a crisp summer evening. The crowd indulged heartily in each of the 18 songs, including the cover of David Essex’s “Rock On,” but most vocally during the mega-hits, like “Bringing on the Heartache,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Photograph,” one of the most durable and indelible pop-metal anthems of its time.
Styx preceded Def Leppard with a one-hour set that pretty much revived its previous eight shows in Kansas City. Guitarist Tommy Shaw shared lead vocals with keyboardist Lawrence Gowan, whose stage antics often recalled the Bill Murray’s smarmy lounge singer Nick Ocean. Shaw was a cheerleader in constant motion, skipping and bopping from one side of the stage to the other, keeping the crowd aroused and rowdy. Gowan made good use of his small rotating stage.
The set list was filled with greatest hits: “The Grand Illusion,” which opened the show, “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Miss America” and “Lady.” Gowan performed a brief medley of covers that included Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” in a tribute to NASA’s naming the fifth Plutonian moon Styx. The band then joined him on “Come Sail Away,” which ignited one of the loudest sing-alongs of the night.
The night began with a set from Tesla. These days, lead singer Jeff Keith sings in a ragged bobcat yowl, but it gets the point across. The best part of its 40-minute set was the one-two punch of “Love Song,” another classic power ballad, and the cover of “Signs.” Both were songs almost everyone in the place had heard dozens of times, including six months ago at the Midland, but that was the point on a night where familiarity and nostalgia were the prime destinations.
Def Leppard: Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop); Animal; Let It Go; Foolin’; Promises; Love Bites; Armageddon It; Rock On; Two Steps Behind; Rocket; Bringin’ on the Heartache; Switch 625; Hysteria; Let’s Get Rocked; Pour Some Sugar On Me; Rock of Ages; Photograph.
Styx: The Grand Illusion; Too Much Time On My Hands; Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man); Miss America; Lady; Blue Collar Man (Long Nights); Medley/Come Sail Away; Rockin’ the Paradise; Renegade.
Tesla: Edison’s Medicine (Man Out of Time); Gettin’ Better; Hang Tough; Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out); Signs; Love Song; Little Suzi; Modern Day Cowboy.