Def Leppard, Styx, and Tesla Formed a Power Trio of '80s Rock at BB&T Center

Def Leppard, Styx, and Tesla Formed a Power Trio of '80s Rock at BB&T CenterEXPAND
Eliot J. Schechter for Sunrise Sports & Entertainment

When the enormous logo curtain fell, the sizzling guitar licks of Phil Collen, Vivian Campbell, and Rick Savage of Def Leppard immediately validated the hysteria of the crowd this past Friday at BB&T Center. Joe Elliott took centerstage to a mass of screaming fans, belting out the first words of the anthem “Let’s Go” from their long-awaited new release, Def Leppard.

And, well, it wasn't great. Rolling into “Animals,” it only got worse.

Gone were Elliott’s unmistakable powerhouse voice and his usual swagger as he humbly solicited the crowd’s forgiveness, explaining in his endearing English accent that he had been ill for days and had never performed this sick in 38 years. A disastrous attempt at “Dangerous” was followed by Elliott’s plea to the crowd to take over for him on “Fooling.” His willing legion of faithful fans belted out the lyrics word-for-word, followed by “Love Bites,” while Elliott held the microphone toward the crowd and bowed his head in appreciation.

The silver-studded, gloved hand of Rick Savage shredded some impressive licks on “Armageddon It” as Elliott descended from a platform donning a feather hat and white jacket. The band broke out a funky groove and owned the audience on David Essex’s “Rock On.” Elliott seemed to take the title to heart, and by “Rocket,” he had the crowd in his back pocket as he hit his stride with “Bringing on the Heartbreak,” “Switch 625,” “Hysteria,” “Let’s Get Rocked,” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

Despite the tragic circumstances that have surrounded the band — current drummer extraordinaire Rick Allen lost his left arm in a 1984 auto accident, “Riffmaster” Steve Clark lost his battle with alcoholism in 1991, and former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell is currently battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma — Def Leppard proved why it's still headlining world tours while other '80s bands have been relegated to grainy iPod playlists. When Elliott brought out old friend and Tesla lead singer Jeff Keith to help finish off the remainder of the set, forgiving fans went wild as the duo brought it home with encores including “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.”

Def Leppard, Styx, and Tesla Formed a Power Trio of '80s Rock at BB&T CenterEXPAND
Eliot J. Schechter for Sunrise Sports & Entertainment

The laser-light show and backdrop photos of Def Leppard’s early years bore witness to enduring appeal of one hard rock’s most beloved bands, and fans were quick to embrace them, strained vocals and all.

As always, Collen’s abs were as ripped as his guitar licks, Savage’s solo was flawless, and while Campbell‘s energy was understandably subdued, his riffs were powerful. Allen sported an English-flag emblem in place of his left arm, his bare feet banging the electronic pedals with enough power and precision to rival any world-class drummer.

Preceding Def Leppard was seasoned headliner Styx, which whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a high-energy opening of “Grand Illusion,” followed by “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Fooling Yourself.”

Tight and clean with magical harmonies, there is no denying that Styx thrives on performing live, sharing a grandeur that only 40 years of touring can produce. For many, Styx represents the soundtrack of their youth, and fans rocked down memory lane with hit after hit, highlighted by the multitalented Tommy Shaw dominating the guitar and vocals on “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade.”

Spinning around on a rotating keyboard platform, Lawrence Gowan delivered a stellar performance of the infamous “Come Sail Away” that would have made Eric Cartman proud, followed by an abbreviated version of “Changes” in heartfelt tribute to the late, great David Bowie.

Def Leppard, Styx, and Tesla Formed a Power Trio of '80s Rock at BB&T Center
Eliot J. Schechter for Sunrise Sports & Entertainment

To the delight of some and chagrin of others, the ballad-laden set was noticeably missing “Babe,” but satisfied the sentimental with the rich melody of “Lady.” Indicative of the endurance of one of the best-selling rock bands in history, gone were the thumb-charring lighters of yesteryear, the venue instead lit up by the cool glow of cell phones.

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The climax of Styx's show came during a scorching rendition of “Miss America,” courtesy of the commanding vocals and crushing guitar of James “J.Y.” Young. Then, in a dramatic transformation of style, the encore of “Rockin’ the Paradise” brought out Gowan in a black-sequined jacket and top hat, kicking up his feet like an Irish River Dancer.

Vacillating between hard rock, gentle ballads, and a touch of the theatrical, Styx offered something for everyone, but it was the heart-pounding percussion and seat-shaking power of its hard-rock songs where Styx shined the brightest.

Tesla, in peak form, kicked off the night as a hippie-looking Jeff Keith draped in a long, flowing shirt belted out the kind of power vocals that made ’80s music a religion to those who still to pray to the Gods of Rock. Think you don’t know Tesla? Remember the song you loved but couldn’t place who did it? That was Tesla.

Def Leppard, Styx, and Tesla Formed a Power Trio of '80s Rock at BB&T Center
Eliot J. Schechter for Sunrise Sports & Entertainment

After announcing, “Everything is cool, bitchin’, and outta fuckin’ sight in Fort Lauderdale tonight!” Keith strutted, shuffled, and spun his way into favorites such as “Rock Me to the Top,” “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out),” and “Little Suzy.”

The double acoustic guitars on Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs” lay testament to the fact that a cover song can outshine the original, but it was “Modern Day Cowboy” that showcased the flawless musicianship of the band and the personality, raw vocals, and energy that make Keith one of the best frontmen in the business. Both with Tesla and then again with Def Leppard, the night belonged to Keith. 

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BB&T Center

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