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Def Leppard delivers what its nostalgic fans crave at Sprint Center

The rock band Def Leppard performed Friday, August 26, 2016 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The rock band Def Leppard performed Friday, August 26, 2016 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Special to the Star

The 13,000 fans who filled the Sprint Center to the rafters on Friday were served a heaping helping of tasty oldies-but-goodies. Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon and Tesla, road-tested and battle-scarred rock veterans with decades of seasoning, dished up hits exactly the way nostalgic fans remembered them.

Def Leppard, a British quintet that rose to stardom in the 1980s with a handful of candy-coated heavy metal anthems, headlined the show. Only their decision to play one too many selections from their most recent album prevented Def Leppard’s 95-minute set from achieving perfection.

Although the twin guitars of Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen still roar like fighter jets, Def Leppard’s music poses as much danger as a declawed kitten. The band traded anger for exuberance on riff-heavy songs like “Armageddon It,” “Rocket” and “Photograph.”

The live footage projected on a giant video screen included high-definition close-ups of Collen’s oiled torso, images that evoked the shirtless flag bearer for Tonga who caused a sensation at the Rio Olympics earlier this month.

Vocalist Joe Elliott took an informal poll that confirmed the visual impression that more than a quarter of the audience hadn’t been born when his band formed in 1977. The sight of children singing along with the sultry 1988 hit “Love Bites” was unnerving.

Def Leppard’s sugary crunch produced heartier fist-pumping, but REO Speedwagon’s 60-minute outing induced more heartfelt responses. Front man Kevin Cronin noted that “you guys have been with this band … from the early seventies.”

The visceral reaction of fans to REO Speedwagon songs including the 1978 hit “Time for Me to Fly” indicated that the band’s repertoire has become a fundamental component of their identities.

Cronin said that “our lives have not been quite the same since” he composed “Keep On Loving You” in 1980. Prior to the success of the chart-topping power ballad, the band specialized in burly heartland rock. A rendition of the weather-beaten “Back on the Road Again” was the most vivid representation of that bygone style. A version of the languid 1985 ditty “Can’t Fight This Feeling” reflected the band’s later soft rock phase.

Surprises aren’t ordinarily welcome at oldies concerts, but Tesla delivered an unexpected treat. Following a rendition of the 1990 hit “Signs” during its opening set, the California hard rock band gave the marvelous new blues-based song “Save That Goodness” its concert premiere. Abetted by contributions from Def Leppard’s Collen and the soulful vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook, Tesla demonstrated that old bands can learn new tricks.

DEF LEPPARD SET LIST

Let’s Go

Animal

Let It Go

Dangerous

Foolin’

Love Bites

Armageddon It

Rock On

Man Enough

Rocket

Bringin’ on the Heartbreak

Switch 625

Hysteria

Let’s Get Rocked

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Rock of Ages

Photograph

REO SPEEDWAGON SET LIST

Don’t Let Him Go

Take It on the Run

Keep Pushin’

Can’t Fight This Feeling

Tough Guys

Time for Me to Fly

Back on the Road Again

Ridin’ the Storm Out

Keep On Loving You

Roll With the Changes

TESLA SET LIST

Rock Me to the Top

Edison’s Medicine

Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)

Signs

Save That Goodness

Love Song

Little Suzi

Modern Day Cowboy

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