On the last stop on their fall tour of the United States, the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena paid witness to a boisterous night featuring a trio of treasured hard rock advocates, Night Ranger, Foreigner, and the headlining NWOBHM unit Def Leppard.
Seeing as a series of unfortunate events would ultimately prevent our usual breed of comprehensive event coverage during this October 17 performance, what this reviewer would be subject to was six songs of primal prowess that defied the age of the veteran performers; profuse musicianship that could ignite the casual listener to raise their metal horns; and the rush of adrenaline that’s packed alongside the six stringed axes and plentiful rations of guitar picks in the tour vessel.
While racing out from the offices of the venue, the themes of “Touch of Madness” from one of the quintessential Night Ranger albums ‘Midnight Madness’ was heard protruding from the main hall, where a full house of energetic, screaming rock and rollers were already standing and screaming along. Found onstage was the newest incarnation of Night Ranger, which prominently includes frequent stand-in guitarist Keri Kelli now as a full-time member.
The onstage chemistry and energy of Night Ranger was evidently contagious, considering each of the following bands delivered excitable sets that would have fans in the audience finding it difficult to remain still. Frontman Jack Blades was hitting high notes with passion during the opening track but soon switched to backup duties as drummer Kelly Keagy traded roles for the melodic anthem “Sing Me Away.” The twin guitar harmonies were especially prominent during this rowdy rendition. This would be my first time experiencing the Night Ranger live show, which made walking off to “Four in the Morning” a difficult accomplishment.
Returning out to the roars of the crowd in response to Foreigner’s “Double Vision” proved to be a refreshing plunge back into the waves of melodic refrains and instantly distinguishable compositions on lead guitar. Founding member and ax wielder Mick Jones stood front and center while lead vocalist Kelly Hansen wielded his microphone stand like a trained martial artist would a guandao. No side of the stage would remain vacant for long with this seven-piece assaulting the senses, especially when the title track from ‘Head Games’ was brought before this admiring audience.
Brawling against the alluring “Cold as Ice,” another personal favorite, while turning back was challenging. Yet all of those emotions dissipated, even temporarily, as the banner with Def Leppard’s striking insignia was displayed across the length of the stage. After all, Vivian Campbell, the virtuoso guitarist for Def Leppard that has admirably stood toe-to-toe with his fight against cancer, was back onstage with the band in Florida for the first time since their tour in support of KISS back in 2014. This was still an event that couldn’t have been missed.
Def Leppard’s Jacksonville show was also the first time the rock group would be performing material off of their new self-titled album, due for release on October 30. They would delve right into those latest sessions from the start by opening with “Let’s Go,” a song highlighted by growling chord progressions and those defining vocal harmonies. When Joe Elliott motioned for the crowd to cheer, they were all too glad to do so. When Phil Collen neared the edge of the stage to perform a blistering solo, all eyes were focused on the muscular guitarist. Vivian and bassist Rick Savage were feeding off of each others’ energy and jamming along as Rick Allen laid down some concrete percussion work. This was Def Leppard at their finest as the world remembers them, even if it was sans hairspray.
Following a top notch take on “Rock Rock (‘Til You Drop)” and that signature intro to “Animal” raced out from the speakers, we were escorted back out through those doors one last time. Despite the shortcomings of the evening, the highlights were still prominent; even if brief, what moments they were. Each band won’t be escaping the touring scene anytime soon, and considering Def Leppard will soon enough be back out on the road with Styx and Tesla in early 2016, one could say this Jacksonville experience was only the prelude of what’s to come from these seasoned talents.