Sunday, September 11, 2011

Def Leppard, Heart headline Jack's 6th Show in Irvine

Def Leppard's Phil Collen and Joe Elliott perform for the crowd during the Jack FM event at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Sept. 10, 2011.

Over the last several years, I've come to the realization that nostalgia-minded music festivals bring out crowds more interested in drinking beer (or alcohol of any variety), shooting photos of pals with their cellphones and generally just taking advantage of any excuse to party.
Such was mostly the case at Jack's 6th Show, an annual event held at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Saturday, Sept. 10.

The good news was despite the casual attitude of the majority of the less-than-capacity crowd, there was some solid music making courtesy of Def Leppard, Heart, Dramarama and Marcy Playground.

Best known for their 1997 hit "Sex and Candy," Marcy Playground performed that hit and other solid original rock during a nine-song set. In truth, while the fans responded loudest when the trio out of NYC played "Sex and Candy" near the end of their 30-minute outing, other songs outdistanced that; the indie rocker "Poppies" and Nirvana-styled "Saint Joe on the School Bus" were decidedly more powerful.

Singer-songwriter John Easdale led Dramarama through a mighty performance, even overcoming a power failure that silenced the quintet's music making only two songs into their all-too-brief set.

"We broke the system," Easdale joked.

The good news is that Dramarama was ultimately able to start playing again, performing that song ("Scenario") and many others with a fiery style highlighted by "Prayer," "Work for Food" and "Last Cigarette." The ferocious performance of "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)" ended a 30-minute set celebrating one of the 1980s' unsung alternative rock heroes.

There is nothing necessarily wrong Everclear, although I admit to never having been a big fan of the outfit. I had reviewed Art Alexakis and company several times before seeing them perform on Saturday and I found the group's best-known hits ("Father of Mine," "I Will Buy You a New Life") still don't resonate with me. What's worse is that Alexakis' voice was croaky and by the time the band got to the breezy, reggae-tinged "Wonderful" (my favorite song by Everclear) nine songs into the 10-song set, it was a painful listen. Don't even get me started on his flat acoustic version of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" a few songs before that.

When the action shifted over to the main stage at Irvine Meadows - oops - Verizon Wireless - singer-songwriter-guitarist Evan Watson took the stage to offer up a short set of acoustic blues. His voice was not especially effective, with his set reaching its zenith when Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell joined him on the stage for a cover of the Prince classic "Purple Rain."

Thankfully, there were a couple of good acts on the way to keep the party crowd and even us few discerning listeners happy.

Heart, featuring sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, offered up plenty of firepower over the course of an appearance stretching just over an hour. From the opening salvo, a straight-ahead cover of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" to new material ("WTF" from the group's 2010 effort Red Velvet Car) and an assortment of '70s and '80s hits, the crowd was given frequent reasons to cheer. "Barracuda," "Heartless," "Crazy On You" and "Magic Man" showcased Ann's still-powerful soprano, while Nancy's rhythm guitar work and work on the mandolin (notably on "These Dreams") was as impressive as her fantastic harmony vocals - all of which really helped elevate the set.

Heart's encore featured the one-two punch of Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore" and the Who's epic "Love Reign O'er Me."

Headlining was Def Leppard, who turned in a fantastic, heavy-on-the-hits 90-minute showcase; the only downer being the bass mix that made everything sound a bit muddy. In fact, sometimes the lead guitar solos just didn't sound as mighty as they should have. I'm not the first to note this; writer George A. Paul also wrote this in his review that ran on the Soundcheck blog.

The performance was solid, with Joe Elliott and his long-time band mates belting out hits like "Let's Get Rocked," "Hysteria" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me." A strong lighting component and effective visuals projected on large screens added to the show, notably during the opening "Undefeated" (a new song featured on Def Leppard's recently-issued Mirror Ball - Live & More collection).

Guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell offered up plenty of flashy solos, with Campbell shining on "Love Bites" and Collen's fretwork shining on "Photograph" and "Foolin’."

The most emotional part of the show came when Def Leppard paid tribute on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Performing an acoustic-styled "Two Steps Behind," the group then remained on a small stage that was positioned out in the crowd. After playing that poignant song, the ensemble performed "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" with acoustic guitars most of the way, before Collen and Campbell were handed electric guitars to bring the classic home in full electric glory.

Setlist: Def Leppard at Jack’s 6th Show, Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Irvine, Sept. 10, 2011
Main set: Undefeated / Let’s Get Rocked / Animal / Foolin’ / Love Bites / Rock On (David Essex cover) / Rocket / Two Steps Behind / Bringin’ on the Heartbreak / Switch 625 / Hysteria / Armageddon It / Photograph / Pour Some Sugar on Me
Encore: Rock of Ages

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