Review: Def Leppard, KISS provide electrifying show in Pittsburgh stop

| Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, 1:17 a.m.

KISS and Def Leppard gave electrifying performances Sunday night at First Niagara Pavilion, as the legendary bands took fans through the rock and roll of the '70s and '80s in front of an audience that included all ages.

Technically, since KISS wrapped up the show, it was the headliner, but Def Leppard, a British rock band known mostly for its energetic hits from the 1980s, is nobody's opener. It was definitely a co-headlining concert.

Def Leppard nailed it with an understated, simple performing style that used few theatrics or pyrotechnics. The band focused on performing the strong music with charisma and giving fans some good, clean rock and roll. Video effects, like the series of clips that showcased the band during its 30-plus year run during the playing of “Hysteria,” were rare.

Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott still sounds very good and, at moments, he sounded like he would have at a concert 25 years ago. His aging tenor voice can't hit some of the very high notes, but to remedy that, the jeans-clad Elliott sang at a lower octave during high-pitched songs like “Love Bites.”

Def Leppard's 75-minute setlist included all of the favorites from its phenomenal 1987 album “Hysteria,” including “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Animal” and “Rocket.” Def Leppard also touched on its “Pyromania” album, playing earlier hits like “Rock of Ages” — its encore song — and “Photograph.”

Rick Allen amazed the crowd with his one-armed drumming, using extra foot pedals to compensate. Guitarist Vivian Campbell looks healthy and energetic after his treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

While a Def Leppard show offers a feast for the ears and emphasizes music over showiness, a KISS show — with those outlandish costumes, clownish makeup, fiery special effects and fancy stunts — offers a visual spectacle that's still entertaining even if the music isn't.

The centerpiece of this tour's KISS show was a giant, illuminated spidery structure that introduced the band members at the beginning of the show. They appeared on top of the spider singing “Psycho Circus.” The eight-legged spider, with plenty of lighting effects, hovered over the band for the whole show, often squatting down or rising.

Gene Simmons, the KISS class clown, entertained the audience with his ever-present tongue wagging like Miley Cyrus, and his grotesque, but popular shtick of bleeding from the mouth.

Lead singer Paul Stanley — who, along with Simmons, is an original KISS member — flew out over the audience on a cable near the end of the 75-minute set to perform “Black Diamond” on a mini stage. Stanley clearly loves his fans, as he spoke to the crowd between every song in his New York accent and telling Pittsburghers to go crazy with the music.

KISS ended the set with its signature hit “Rock and Roll All Nite” in a shower of confetti.

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