Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon (concert review)

Def Leppard / REO Speedwagon / Tesla – 7/5/26 – Riverbend Music Center – Cincinnati, OH (review)

A trio of bands play familiar favorites

At first glance, these three bands together seem like an odd pairing for a concert.  But, after a closer look, they all share several things in common.  One is their ability to write hook-laden, memorable rock songs.  The other is that they all have hugely-successful power ballads to their credit.

Tesla took the stage first, opening with a couple of lesser-known tracks – “Rock Me to the Top” from their debut Mechanical Resonance, and “Edison’s Medicine” from Psychotic Supper.  They made sure to play their cover of Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs,” which is surprisingly Tesla’s biggest Top 40 hit.  Their power ballad, “Love Song,” was the only point in the set where vocalist Jeff Keith seemed to struggle – everywhere else, he sounded great.  Their short set closed with a raucous version of “Modern Day Cowboy.”

REO Speedwagon began their slot with “Don’t Let Him Go,” the opening track on their insanely huge Hi Infidelity album.   LP cuts like “Keep Pushin’” and “Back on the Road Again” sounded great in a live setting.  Kevin Cronin’s voice has definitely thinned out, especially apparent on their cash-in power ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling,”  but sounded better on “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”  “Keep on Loving You” got everyone singing, while “Roll With the Changes” made a fitting closer to their set.

Sporting the same stage setup as 2015’s show (read review here), Def Leppard opened with a new song, “Let’s Go,” before launching into “Animal,” one of six cuts from the their multi-platinum Hysteria album.  “Let it Go” is one of the band’s most underrated songs (from High n’ Dry) and they turned in a blistering rendition.  Their so-so cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” has been in their setlist for a while now, while their power ballad, “Hysteria,” brought out old photos of the band through the years on the video screens.  “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak / Switch 625” is another live standout.

Besides a pair of new songs, “Let’s Get Rocked” was the only post-Hysteria song they tackled.  Despite getting one of the best crowd responses all night, you’d be hard pressed to find a radio station in the country with that one in rotation.  The main set closed with their stripper anthem, “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  Their encore was two key tracks from Pyromania, “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.”

It was great to see guitarist Vivian Campbell, who’s been battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, still plugging away.  His solos were a welcome change from main lead guitarist, Phil Collen, whose lead work can be shrill and over the top at times.  Singer Joe Elliot sounded surprisingly good considering his age.  And if there ever was a symbol of determination, it’s drummer Rick Allen, who’s now played with one arm for over thirty years.

Out of the 33 songs performed tonight, only two were recent, which means there was plenty to sing along to.  A great rock n’ roll show.  —Tony Peters