KISS / Def Leppard Opening Night by Nick Jezierny

I made a last-second decision to drive five hours to Salt Lake City, Utah, from Boise, Idaho, to see Kiss and Def Leppard open their tour. My original plan was to buy a cheap lawn seat and take in the show. It would be my ninth time seeing Kiss and my maiden voyage seeing Def Leppard, and with the ability to work in Salt Lake, I wouldn’t have to drive back immediately after the concert to be at work on time.

The lawn seats were sold out when I got to the Usana Ampitheatre, so I purchased the $89 ticket toward the back of the lower bowl. Well, that seat turned out to be right behind a light pole, so I walked back up to the ticket office and my only other option was a $159 ticket. I bit, and I was in the 8th row, second seat in from the aisle. This proved to be very handy for easier access to the $9/24 oz. cans of beer (note: Utah beer is lower alcohol, so I don’t feel bad for the five cans I consumed) and also a great view of the stage. I also took a cab to and from the show.

Def Leppard impressed me. I’ve heard that Joe Elliott’s voice was shot, but that wasn’t the case. I thought he sounded great. Did he hit the truly high notes on “Foolin’” or “Bringing On The Heartbreak?” No, but he held his own in a big way. Who knows if he can keep that up over the full tour, but he shined on Opening Night.

The band took the stage as The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was blaring through the sound system, and as a nice touch, they played the final verse of the tune before running right into “Let It Go."

Vivian Campbell, Phil Collen and RIck Savage were energetic and provided some oomph on the backing vocals throughout. Hard to believe that it’s the same Vivian Campbell that I saw back in August of 1984 performing with Dio. The long hair is gone, but his flashy playing remains.

The highlight of the set for me “Bringing On The Heartbreak,” which started out as an acoustic number. Midway through, the band swapped guitars and finished the song with a rousing electrical version that went right into “Switch 625.” This was surprising to me as it was the only “non-hit” performed. It’s an instrumental where neither guitarist was a part of the original.  (Steve Clark and Peter Tom Willis were on the “High N Dry” album.)

The band’s visual show was solid. Throughout the songs, images from videos past flashed on the screen. The crowd got a real kick of the old band photos that kept showing up on the stage, which showed just how young these boys were when they started.

Most of the set-list was from “Hysteria,” and the two-song encore was “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.”

As for Kiss, it was a typical Kiss show. All of the same tricks — breathing fire, spitting blood, Paul gliding out to sing to the people in back, Gene “flying” to the rafters, the big drum riser and Tommy Thayer shooting pyro from guitar — made appearances. The only old trick that didn’t surface was the classic Ace Frehley smoking guitar.

Though it was predictable, I most definitely enjoyed it. I guess I viewed this as my farewell tour. I last saw Kiss in 2001 on the “farewell tour” and figured that was it. No, Kiss showed they can still deliver a solid show. I just wish some of the old tricks would be freshened up or retired. Judging by the reaction of the jam-packed crowd, I was in the minority. People were eating this up.

Kiss only played 13 songs. There was no encore as Paul said they were trying to beat the 11 p.m. curfew. It was the first time I’ve seen Kiss where “Deuce” wasn’t a part of the setlist. We got “Hide Your Heart,” which was the biggest surprise to me. Nothing from “Monster” or “Sonic Boom,” so it was strictly a case of the old stuff.

Paul didn’t sound very good. It was almost as if he had a sore throat. He only sang six songs (King of the Nighttime World, Hide Your Heart, Shout it Out Loud, Makin’ Love, Psycho Circus and Detroit Rock City). Just watch the video clip below and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

Gene also sang six songs (Cold Gin, War Machine, Christine Sixteen, I Love It Loud, Let Me Go Rock N Roll and Rock and Roll All Nite). Drummer Eric Singer handled the vocals on “Black Diamond.”

I’m curious to see how the tour progresses. Will set lists change? With a catalog of 200-plus songs, Kiss can’t play everything. I was overall pleased with the mix I got to see. They probably could have snuck in a 14th song had Paul not asked the crowd to scream the chorus of “Hide Your Heart” a million times. Seriously, I hate when bands do this. I’m paying (in this case $159, plus beers, plus cabs) to hear the band sing, not the audience.

There also were no solos (by either band). It was a night about the hits and seeing two legendary bands in one night. That’s what made this show a success in my eyes.

FYI - Kobra and The Lotus opened up. I hadn’t heard of them. They did a killer cover of “Barracuda” among their six-song set.


Nick Jezierny is a former sports journalist who has worked at newspapers in Ohio (including the Columbus Dispatch), Texas and Idaho. He used to review CDs, too. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, and has to drive to big cities to see bands that routinely pass over Idaho on their way from Salt Lake City to Portland or Seattle.